After four sun-filled days of fun and frustration in the Bob Hope Classic, the amateurs turn the golfing over to the real players today, with prospects of a birdie-strewn shootout between Craig Stadler and Lanny Wadkins.
That's Stadler, the Walrus from USC, a former Masters champion and winner here in 1980, against Wadkins, the Gambler from Wake Forest, a former PGA champion and golf's most aggressive player. Two of the streakiest players in the game. And Ryder Cup teammates.
Indian Wells, only 6,478 yards and the shortest of the four Hope courses, is the site.
Wadkins, without a win on the U.S. tour since the 1983 Tournament of Champions, shot a six-under-par 66 Saturday at Indian Wells to move within one shot of Stadler. When Stadler played Indian Wells two days ago, he had a 68.
Stadler's 69 at Tamarisk gave him a 72-hole total of 267, which is 21 strokes below par.
"I'd say, if it's calm here Sunday, there'll definitely be a record set," Stadler said.
The 90-hole Hope record is 335, 25 under par, set by Bruce Lietzke in 1981 and equaled four times since.
"There are too many holes out here where you're standing in the fairway with a short iron in your hand not to have a lot of birdies," he continued. "That's the challenge here, to see how many birdies you can make."
Wadkins is a man who makes birdies in bunches. He made four in a row on the front nine at Indian Wells and would be tied for the lead but for losing a gamble for a birdie at the final hole that turned into a bogey.
After driving in the short rough, Wadkins used a 3-iron for his second shot at the green on the 501-yard 18th hole. "I caught it a little thin and it nicked a palm tree and I didn't have a shot at the green for my third shot," he said. He pitched out to the right, then chipped to the putting surface and missed a six-foot putt.
"I thought I hit a good putt, but it caught the right edge of the cup and spun out. I think it might have hung up because of that white paint they put inside the cup. I had a couple of others that way that looked like they wanted to fall in but didn't."
Stadler and Wadkins, who played together to help the U.S. win the 1983 Ryder Cup match against Europe, are the headliners today, but they have a strong supporting cast of challengers.
Ron Streck (70 at Bermuda Dunes) and Larry Mize (68 at Tamarisk) are three shots behind Wadkins at 271. Another three back of them at 274 are Chip Beck and 1982 Hope winner Ed Fiori, who both had 69s at La Quinta.
Brisk winds blowing off the snowy Santa Rosa Mountains helped make the scores a bit higher than in the previous three days, but it still took 285, three under par, to survive the cut. Twenty-one pros who shot par or better failed to make today's round, including five-time winner Arnold Palmer and European champion Bernhard Langer of West Germany. Both had 286 to miss by a shot.
Congressman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, proved that golf and politics mix as he and partners Ed Twining of Bermuda Dunes and C. E. Oranges of Thunderbird finished 65 strokes under par to win the pro-am trophy by six strokes. A testimony as to how well they played is the fact that three of their four professional partners (Palmer, Langer and Gene Littler) failed to make the cut.
Their Saturday partner, Raymond Floyd, is still in the hunt, however. Floyd shot a 70 at Indian Wells, putting him at 275 with Jack Renner and former Hope champions Johnny Miller and Hubert Green. Miller, the only back-to-back winner in Hope's 25-year history, had a 67 at Tamarisk. He won here in 1975-76.
Stadler credits his fast start to the way he played in the last two rounds of the Spalding Invitational last week where he shot 71-70 at Pebble Beach.
"That gave me an indication I would play well here," said Stadler, who won with a 343 in 1980 for his first PGA win. "I didn't play well Tuesday at Morningside in the All-Americans, but I hit some good shots and enjoyed myself riding around in a cart.
"I'm looking forward to playing with Lanny. Our games complement each other. We're both very quick players, we hit the ball and go on, we don't mull over things. Obviously, he's playing well, and I'm playing well, so there will be plenty of birdies to make, and they'll be made."
Wadkins, who doesn't know any way to play the game except to attack, agrees.
"Indian Wells is the kind of a course where you want to get ahead of it early, and when you do, you want to put it away," he said. "If you drive it well and keep the ball in the fairway, you can't help but score here."
Wadkins and Stadler both had a lot of help from their putters on the carpet-smooth greens. Lanny sank three of more than 25 feet, and Stadler had a 40-footer and 20-footer.
The most difficult part of his round, Wadkins said, was having to listen to Telly Savalas' fans.
"If I never hear, 'I love ya, baby,' again, it'll be too soon," he said. "I must have heard it a thousand times." Like Stadler, Wadkins credits his fast start to having played a lot last week.
"I came out to Los Angeles on New Year's Eve to get ready. I played Hillcrest and L.A. North last week, then Indian Wells on Monday and Morningside on Tuesday in the All-Americans. I worked harder at getting ready than I used to a few years ago, but I'm 35 now and if I work hard, I hope to have some of my best years in the next four or five years.
"Naturally, I wasn't real pleased at not winning a tournament on the tour last year, but I was encouraged at the way I played at the end of the year. I won a big tournament (World Nissan Championship) in Japan and beat a great bunch of players."
Wadkins said he will play in the first four tournaments (Hope, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Crosby) and then take some time off. One of the tournaments he plans to miss is the Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational, starting March 20.
But the winner today will be eligible for a $250,000 bonus if he can parlay the Hope to a Las Vegas win. And, if he can also win the Crosby, the bonus becomes $1 million.
"I won't go," Wadkins said last Wednesday when informed of the rich bonanza. The question being asked Saturday night in the golfing hangouts along Highway 111 is, "Will he change his mind?"
The question won't mean a thing if he doesn't win today.