Tuesday, February 17, 2015


ACE Group Classic-Champions Tour in Naples

 Spectators were permitted to walk down the 18th fairway on the last round...until the playoff!

There were typical, somewhat nasty breezes pushing golf balls around the fairways at Twin Eagles Golf Course in Naples throughout the weekend. They did not affect Colin Montgomerie significantly, as he carded a five under par 67 to lead the field after the first round.

I spent the day following Rod Spittle, Marco Dawson and Gene Sauers. Dawson played well, and finished at three under, two strokes back of Montgomerie. Spittle bogeyed the first hole, recovered to birdie the third. He also birdied the 11th, and finished the day at one under par.

“I played pretty well today,” he told me after the round. “Good, steady golf”. Several opportunities to birdie holes fell just short, or rimmed the cup. These putts were not short ones, all outside ten feet. But they were not dropping, and that affected the bottom line.

                                     Harry R. Meek, Ohio State supporter of Rod Spittle
                                      (Walked the entire course all three rounds.)

I believe he was in the sand but once, and, on that occasion, chipped close enough to hole the putt to save par. He plays methodically, as did his playing partners. In fact, many of the fans observing these pros on the Champions Tour remark at how accurate they are. On most holes it comes down to the simple game itself. Par four: drive, chip, two putts, par.

Spittle ended the tournament with three identical scores of 71 for each round. That placed him in a group that included Fuzzy Zoeller, and they received $ 14 920 for their efforts. Dawson finished at nine under par, and pocketed $ 54 400.

The tournament ended in a truly amazing fashion. Lee Janzen trailed Bart Bryant by one stroke as they headed to the 18th tee. The hole can be a real killer, as the pin was set near the edge of a nasty water hazard. It is reputed to be the second most difficult hole to birdie on the entire tour. Both players drove to the centre of the fairway. Janzen chipped to with 12 feet. Bryant pared the hole, and Janzen, remarkably, sunk his birdie putt. They headed back to the 18th tee for a playoff.

                                              Lee Janzen, after sinking his playoff putt.

                                                             (Courtesy PGA Media)

Bryant chipped his second shot into the drink, and Janzen won easily. It was an emotional win for Janzen, understandably so. His last tournament win was the U. S. Open in 1998. Esteban Toledo finished third, followed by Scott Dunlap and Colin Montgomerie. Bryant tied the course record with his final round 62, which he began with an eagle on the first hole.

Montgomerie is a true competitor. Wherever he plays, he plays to win. He is a very successful professional athlete, pocketing almost $ 10 000 000 last year, with three million coming from the game, the rest from endorsements. His itinerary almost defies logic. In the two weeks surrounding the ACE Classic, it reads something like this: Hawaii to L. A., California to Scotland, to Miami, back to Scotland, then on to Sydney, Australia, to the Middle East, then on to Arizona. "Ive got my season ticket on British Airways, I'm all right," he added. "The Commute is rather long...but well worth it".

I followed Spittle for most of the tournament . He is surrounded by family, for the most part, on his rounds: children, grandchildren, friends, in-laws, and his wife Anne. Even a few supporters from Ohio State, his alma mater. Occasionally, a fan would holler, “Nice shot, Chippewa,” Spittle’s home town. He marks his ball on the green with a Canadian dime.
                                                                      Stephen Ames

Two other Canadians were in the hunt. Stephen Ames finished at four under par, while Jim Rutledge was three over, finishing with a sparkling round of 68.

                                   Fuzzy Zoeller fan, Yvon Guillemette, from Sherbrooke 
                                           (Zoeller signed several balls during the round)

It is great opportunity to see so many of your favourite golfers, up close and personal: Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Bob Gilder, Steve Pate, Jeff Sluman, Duffy Waldorf and Mark O’Meara, just to name a few. The boys head to Arizona in a couple of weeks to continue the tour. You can follow their exploits on the Golf Channel.

                                                 Yours truly with Rod Spittle

James Hurst
February 16, 2015    

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