2004: ‘No rhyme or reason,’ but Stadler wins

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Naples, Fla.

Make no mistake, Craig Stadler wanted to win. But his rooting interests included more than himself.

Stadler, playing at the Ace Group Classic at The Club at TwinEagles, had his thoughts on the West Coast. That’s where his son, Kevin, would finish tied for 59th at the PGA Tour’s Buick Invitational after holding the first-round lead.

When his son’s chances of winning slipped away – and possibly dad’s chances after a bogey on No. 13 Sunday – the elder Stadler was pulling for his playing partner.

“There’s no rhyme or reason I should’ve won the golf tournament,” said Stadler, who said he was rooting for Gary Koch after double-bogeying the 13th hole to fall three back.

Stadler (final-round 72) regrouped and eventually topped Koch (71) and Tom Watson (67) on the first playoff hole Feb. 15 with a 27-foot birdie to capture his fourth Champions Tour title in 16 starts. All three tied at 10-under 206.

“I thought I left it short,” Stadler said of his winning putt that earned him $240,000.

In the playoff, Koch missed a 31-footer for birdie before Stadler’s putt. Tom Watson had a chance to force a second playoff hole, but his 10-footer went left. Watson finished second in the event for the fourth time in five years and third consecutive time.

Second-year Champions player and NBC announcer Koch was looking for his first triumph on the over-50 circuit. Koch, who last won on the PGA Tour in 1988, had a three-shot lead after Stadler hit his tee shot out of bounds on No. 13.

But Koch missed a short par putt on No. 14 and an 8-foot par putt on No. 17. At the 17th, Koch had some bad luck when his second shot landed in a half-filled divot 78 yards away. His third shot ended up running over the green, a couple feet from a hazard.

“I felt like I played well enough to win the tournament,” said Koch, who shot a course-record 62 in the first round that included four birdies and two eagles in a back-nine 28 Friday.

It was the second consecutive week Koch was in contention. Koch, who earned his best finish in 21 career Champions Tour starts, was a shot off the first-round lead at the Royal Caribbean Classic Feb. 6-8 before tying for 63rd.

– Staff and wire reports

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