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Playing Under the Worst Kind of Pressure, Fiori Wins a Title

March 12, 2004|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Ed Fiori sat in the back of an ambulance on a golf course outside Mexico City on Saturday with a blood pressure cuff tightly wrapped around his arm and EKG wires attached to his chest.

The next day, he stood on the 18th green at Bosque Real Country Club hoisting a trophy after overcoming a seven-stroke deficit for his first professional victory since 1996.

Toward the end of his second round at the MasterCard Classic, Fiori could feel his heart pounding. He was having trouble breathing, his hands were shaking and he was sweating. It was a scary situation for Fiori, who had suffered a heart attack 2 1/2 months earlier.

"I was thinking we were getting ready to go there again," Fiori said.

Turns out, it was a blood-pressure spike induced by the high altitude in Mexico City combined with the stress of the tournament and a recent reduction in Fiori's blood-pressure medication.

Fiori shot a five-under 67 Sunday for the second-biggest comeback in Champions Tour history. It was also the second-biggest comeback in Fiori's career.

On New Year's Eve, Fiori, 50, went to his doctor for a yearly checkup. Moments after a stress test, he started feeling dizzy and had tightness in his neck. The doctor hooked up the EKG and delivered the bad news.

"He said, 'Mr. Fiori, you're having a heart attack,' " Fiori said. "I said, 'Huh? Are you sure? I don't feel that bad.' "

Within two minutes, Fiori was in a wheelchair and headed to an operating room. Doctors inserted a stent through his groin and opened an artery that had collapsed.

Since then, Fiori has had another stress test, and everything was fine. He has been taking blood thinners, beta blockers and a prescription for high cholesterol but they were making him feel groggy. Days before the Mexico tournament, his doctor reduced his dosages.

During the second round, he began feeling the symptoms. He toughed it out and finished the round seven strokes behind Graham Marsh, but fearing the onset of another heart attack, he immediately headed for the on-site ambulance where it was discovered his blood pressure had skyrocketed to 180 over 120.

A dose of medication brought it down, and the next day he shot 67 to tie Marsh, then won on the third hole of a playoff. Only four players broke par that day.

"It's pretty amazing," tour player Bruce Lietzke said. "You know that heart was really pounding and being taxed heavily those last few holes. To get out there and play top-notch golf that quickly, it's a pretty cool deal."

Fiori, who will be playing in the SBC Classic at Valencia Country Club this weekend, has changed his diet since the heart attack. Listed at 220 pounds when the season began, the 5-foot-7 Fiori has lost 15 pounds and plans on losing more.

"Bacon and eggs has become Cheerios and bananas," he said. "And instead of a filet mignon, we're having tuna steak and broccoli. I'm fine with that. It's just a little slight change, nothing major."

In the 1996 Quad City Classic, Fiori overcame a one-shot deficit to PGA Tour rookie Tiger Woods to win. In 1979, he won a playoff over Tom Weiskopf in the Southern Open, and in 1982 he won a playoff over Tom Kite at the Bob Hope Desert Classic.

The victory last week, his first on the Champions Tour, ranks higher than all of them.

"It's a great feeling," Fiori said. "It's nice, it really is."

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