Darren Clarke wins Sanford International in playoff over Steve Flesch, K.J. Choi

SOUIX FALLS, S.D. — Steve Flesch had his chance to win the fourth edition of the Sanford International in regulation.

K.J. Choi had the win in front of him on the first playoff hole.

Both men missed their opportunities.

Darren Clarke, meanwhile, just kept hanging in there, and when he got his chance he didn’t miss.

Clarke, Flesch and Choi finished the three-day PGA Tour Champions event tied at 12 under, forcing a playoff on the 18th hole, where it took two tries for a winner to emerge. It was Clarke, whose long chip from the fringe stopped just feet from the cup, giving him a relatively easy birdie putt that secured the win and $270,000 in prize money.

Clarke had similar approaches on the 18th hole in regulation and on the first playoff, and he didn’t execute either very well. When given a third chance, he didn’t miss.

“The second time around I thought, I know the speed now, the ball just went right,” Clarke said. “The third time around I was just that stubborn that I was gonna prove to myself that I could hit it the right distance and I did. In a playoff you never know what can happen. Anybody can make birdie. Luckily it was my day today.”

Clark shot a 5-under 65 on Sunday to pull even with Flesch and Choi. Choi entered the day at 11 under, two strokes up on Paul Stankowski and Alex Cejka, both of whom quickly played themselves out of contention.

That allowed Clarke and Flesch to make their moves, which they did steadily amid a fierce wind that at times made birdies difficult. Choi came out steady and conservative, starting the day with 12 straight pars before notching his first birdie on 13.

On the par-5 16th, Clarke unleashed a monstrous drive that set him up for the late push that pulled him even. Still, he needed help to eventually hoist the trophy.

After Choi settled for par on 16, Flesch headed to the 18th tee box with a one-stroke lead at 13 under. But his tee shot left him behind a tree, and rather than cut his losses and knock the ball back into the fairway, he tried to wrap his second shot around the tree. Instead, he smacked right into it, knocking his ball backward. He needed a strong finish to the hole just to get a bogey, which allowed Clarke and Choi to advance to the playoff.

In the first playoff Choi was the only one to hit the green in regulation, and had a 12-footer for a birdie and the win. He missed, so he and Clarke advanced to a second playoff hole while Flesch was eliminated.

The wind was a factor all day, with gusts of up to 40-mph, but Clarke was able to use that to his advantage, something the Minnehaha course adheres to anyway.

“I think if you drive it well here you can score well,” Clarke said. “And the driver is probably my favorite club in the bag. So today I drove the ball well. I hit it long and I hit it straight and when I do that I have a chance to contend.

“(The wind) was tough, it was tricky, but you saw good scores yesterday and you saw good scores today,” he added. “The course was eminently playable, but if you were slightly off with your ballstriking you could play a big penalty with that wind.”

Miguel Angel Jimenez, last year’s winner, finished strong with a 66 to end up tied for fourth at 10 under with Rod Pampling. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker finished 9 under, followed by John Senden, Steven Alker, Retief Goosen and Cejka, who all finished at 8 under.

Clarke said in addressing the fans after the win that the Sanford International is one of the most well-attended and supported events on the entire Champions tour.

“The fans have been very good to me,” Clarke said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time in Sioux Falls. The fans have been brilliant. I’ve had a beverage with one or two of them in the past, so it’s been nice to be back out here.”

Clarke’s third win of the season ties him with Jim Furyk for most on the Champions tour. Clarke has three PGA Tour wins and 10 European Tour wins.

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