Nielsen rallies to win Champions Tour at En-Joie

ENDICOTT, N.Y. (AP) — Lonnie Nielsen shot a 9-under 63 on Sunday, passing second-round leader Fred Funk with a flourish on the front side and holding on to win the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open by three shots over Funk and Ronnie Black.

Nielsen, who will turn 56 today, finished at 21-under 195, a record in the three-year history of the event.

After going 6 under over the first four holes to move quickly into the lead, Nielsen made birdie at No. 12 to break a tie with Funk and followed with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 to win for only the second time on the Champions Tour.

He won the 2007 Commerce Bank Championship, and his best finish this year was a tie for third at the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in April.

It was the fourth straight finish of seventh or better for Funk (69), who was bidding to become the first player to win a PGA Tour event and a Champions Tour event on the En-Joie Golf Club course. He won the B.C. Open in 1996 at En-Joie.

Black (66) had not won in 498 starts — 484 on the PGA Tour and 14 on the Champions Tour, a span of 24 years, 11 months, and 13 days since capturing the 1984 Anheuser Busch Classic.

In the first two years of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open, second-round leaders R.W. Eaks and Romero went on to win. Funk figured to keep that string intact after beginning the day with a three-shot lead.

After all, he’d won the three previous times he led going into final round — at the 2006 AT&T Championship, at Turtle Bay in 2007, and at the 2008 JELD-WEN Tradition.

Romero had promised he would win if he shot 65, but he and Black had to settle for tap-in pars at Nos. 2 and 3 when their birdie tries stopped just short. Funk rolled in a 6-foot birdie putt at the second hole and had a four-shot lead over his playing partners.

Playing in the group ahead of Funk, Nielsen began his round birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie — and suddenly had a two-shot lead. His long eagle putt at the par-5 third was too hard, but bounced off the back of the cup and somehow dropped in.

It was down to Nielsen and Funk after that.

Nielsen birdied No. 4 and went for the green with a hybrid on his second shot at the 565-yard, par-5 fifth, statistically the easiest of the day. The ball landed in a greenside bunker and Nielsen blasted to 5 feet and made birdie for a two-shot lead.

Nielsen parred the next six holes, while Funk made birdies at Nos. 5 and 6, curling in a perfectly paced 10-foot putt to tie for the lead. But the touch that produced a 64 and 65 his first two rounds went away, and Funk failed to make another birdie.

He left his birdie try an inch short at No. 13, and although Nielsen groaned moments later when his own birdie putt stopped on the lip at No. 14, he made a nice par save at 15 and opened a two-shot lead at the par-4 16th hole.

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