The old baseball pitcher in Larry Nelson returned yesterday in the final round of the $1.5 million Constellation Energy Classic. He shook off the pain in his right pointer finger, which resulted not from a stinging base hit but from a stinging bee.
He went after the par-5 16th hole at Hayfields Country Club as he did all those hitters he faced years ago.
One more thing: Nelson got the "W" - and a very big "W" at that.
After going for the green on the 553-yard 16th with his second shot, Nelson birdied out of a green-side bunker to take a one-stroke lead over Doug Tewell before finishing with a 70 for a 9-under-par 207 total and a two-stroke win over Tewell and Jim Dent.
The victory was Nelson's 17th since turning 50 and his first on the recently renamed Champions Tour. It earned him $225,000 and ended a two-year winless drought.
The last part was the most significant to Nelson, who turned 56 last week.
"You never know when the last event is that you're going to win," Nelson said. "For a long time, you feel like you've had your last win."
Nelson, whose 10 PGA Tour victories include the 1983 U.S. Open and the 1987 PGA Championship, had come close to winning several times in the past two years. He had finished second three times, including twice this season. Just last week, he had finished tied for third.
But after sharing the lead through each of the first two rounds and being no more than a shot off the lead yesterday, he did what he has done many times during his career. He got aggressive, knowing that he had to birdie the 16th hole to draw even with Tewell at 9-under.
"I've probably been too aggressive most of my career," said Nelson, who attributes that trait to his years playing baseball in high school and college and later in the Army. "Sometimes people ask me why, and I tell them, `That's the only way I know.' Sometimes it's cost me."
It didn't this time. After hitting his drive on the right side of the 16th fairway, Nelson went for the green. Using a driving iron, he wanted to avoid the water to the right of the green by aiming at - and finding - a bunker to the left. From the bunker, he hit a 60-foot shot to within 15 feet and made the putt for birdie.
With that birdie, Nelson pulled even with Tewell. He then watched as Tewell made a sloppy bogey on the par-4 17th and another on the par-5 18th. Nelson made things a little exciting by hitting his approach on the closing hole into a greenside bunker, but was able to get up and down for par.
"I knew I could make 6 and still win," he said.
There was a moment a couple of hours earlier when Nelson didn't know what to expect. It came as he contemplated a 12-foot putt for par on the ninth hole. He felt something on his belt and went to flick it away. It was then he was stung by a bee.
"I actually didn't feel my finger for about three holes," said Nelson, who treated the sting with ice and then with tobacco. "It gave me something else to think about instead of what I was thinking about, which wasn't very good."
Nelson made the putt on the par-4 ninth to stay within a shot of Ireland's Des Smyth, who would falter down the stretch and finish tied for third at 6 under. Nelson then made a 25-footer for birdie on the par-3 11th hole.
Until he saw Tewell make his bogey on the par-4 17th, Nelson said he didn't think much about winning.
It was a much different mind-set for him than earlier in his career. Nelson recalled being in contention at Oakmont during the 1983 Open and daydreaming about what he would get if he won.
"I'd be thinking 10-year exemption, Ryder Cup points," he recalled. "I would physically have to put it out of my mind."
Yesterday's thoughts required no heavy lifting on Nelson's part.
"Sometimes you have to make things happen, and sometimes you have to let things happen," he said. "This week, I just let things happen. ... Today, I thought it would be nice [to win again]. You're successful only if you can stay in the moment."
Nelson said he was inspired as much by Dent's performance as by his own. Dent, 64, who came into the day one stroke behind Nelson and Sigel, shot a closing 71 to finish tied for second with Tewell.
Asked how long he plans to continue to play, Nelson said: `As long as I'm able to stay in good shape and enjoy it, enjoy practicing. Jim Dent nearly won this tournament. I've got eight more years. [But] for a while, I didn't think I was going to win again."
That feeling came back yesterday, right around the time some of the feeling left the bee-stung finger on his right hand. Had the bee stung the same finger on his left hand, he might not have been able to make the kinds of swings and putts he did down the stretch.
What did he think when his felt the sting?
"First, I was really ticked," he said. "But it would have been great. I would have had an excuse if I didn't win."
That didn't happen. The old baseball pitcher from Southern Tech in Marietta, Ga., rubbed some tobacco on it and went back to work.
Constellation Classic winner ...
Larry Nelson 67-70-70--207
... and selected followers
Doug Tewell 71-69-69--209
Jim Dent 73-65-71--209
Bruce Fleisher 73-68-71--212
Complete scores. [Page 3c]