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Fleisher Defends Royal Crown

Bruce Fleisher is picking up where he left off last season on Senior PGA Tour.

Fleisher, a seven-time winner last year as a rookie on the 50-and-over circuit, successfully defended a title for the first time in his pro career Sunday, winning the Royal Caribbean Classic.

Fleisher, who had five birdies and a bogey Sunday for eight points under the Modified Stableford scoring system, finished with 30 points for a two-point victory over Argentina's Vicente Fernandez. Fleisher earned $165,000.

"I didn't play very well today. I'm glad it's over," said Fleisher, who won only one tournament in 30 years on the PGA Tour.

"About midway way through, my caddie, Dennis, kind of kicked me in the butt and said, 'Bruce, this tournament isn't won on the front side, it's won on the back side."'

With a one-point lead heading into the 18th, Fleisher last year's Senior PGA Tour player and rookie of the year needed only to finish with a minus-1 bogey or better to win. He missed a plus-5 eagle putt by about two feet, then tapped in for a plus-2 birdie moments after Fernandez finished his round.

"When I got to about this far out," said Fleisher with his hands at about shoulder width. "I was feeling real good."

Fernandez made an eight-foot birdie putt to briefly tie Fleisher.

"I'm very pleased with how I struck the ball," Fernandez said. "It's more difficult to concentrate overall with this format. This format is exciting for spectators. I'll come back and play again."

Jim Dent, who started with 12 points, had the best round of the day to finish third with 27 points. He made a plus-5 eagle at the par-5, 538-yard first hole. He then took the lead twice on the back nine, first with consecutive birdies at 13, 14 and 15, then with birdies at 17 and 18 after a bogey at 16.

Mike Hill, 61, who dropped off the tour last year because of back pain, struggled a day after winning the super seniors (over 60) portion of the tournament and $34,000. He started the day two points behind Fleisher and finished tied for 11th with 19 points.

Tom Kite, the PGA Tour's fifth-ranked career money winner making his senior tour debut, had four birdies and one bogey to finish with 20 points. Kite said he had been suffering from back spasms during the weekend.

"It was a little bit of a scrambling week for me," Kite said. "I came down here with the intention to get off to a win. But with the little problems I had with my back, I'm not too dissatisfied."

Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, playing on a sponsor's exempton in his first Senior PGA Tour event, had five bogeys and finished at minus-1 for the tournament.

Walter Hall started the day only one point behind Fleisher. However, he faltered with a double bogey and three bogeys, and finished with 19 points.

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