Flesch raises Masters hopes with strong start at Tesoro

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MIAMI, Oct 26 (Reuters) American Steve Flesch, with one eye firmly fixed on next year's Masters, made a strong start in the opening round of the Ginn sur Mer Classic at Port St. Lucie.

The left-hander, who needs to stay inside the top 30 in the PGA Tour money list to qualify for his fourth appearance at Augusta National, strengthened his position by shooting a five-under-par 68.

Flesch lies 25th in the money list with earnings of 2,278,167 dollars this season and he ended a soggy day at Tesoro Club's Palmer Course four strokes off the first-round lead yesterday.

''With the wind blowing, it was a challenge out there but I struck it well and putted pretty good,'' the 40-year-old told reporters after piling up six birdies and a lone bogey. ''I'm happy with my start.

''Plain and simply, I'm here to maintain my spot at Augusta.

Neither one of my victories earlier in the year gave me an automatic exemption to Augusta so I'm here to maintain my position in the top 30.'' Winner of the Reno-Tahoe Open in August and the inaugural Turning Stone Resort Championship last month, Flesch is in control of his Masters fate with just two events remaining on the 2007 Tour.

''Robert Allenby, he's right behind me, is playing this week and beyond that it's Jerry Kelly and maybe a couple of guys around 32, 33 on the money list,'' the four-times PGA Tour winner said.

Australian Allenby, 26th in the money list, opened with a 75 and Kelly, in 37th spot, carded a 72.

Reuters SZ VP0538

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