Swashbuckling Lanny Wadkins, whose go-for-broke style can bring a championship golf course to its knees under the most difficult conditions, found Riviera with its guard down Thursday, and the result was a record- equaling eight-under-par 63.
The 31-32 round over the par 35-36 Riviera Country Club course equaled the record 63 shot by Terry Mauney in 1982--but it didn't put Wadkins very far in front after the first round of the 59th Los Angeles Open.
With little or no breeze swirling through the Pacific Palisades ravines, and with fairways hardened from a cold winter, Riviera proved little more than a dart board for the 137 professionals and three amateurs. Sixty-seven of them --nearly half the field--shot par 71 or better.
"I think we caught Riviera on a vulnerable day," understated Wadkins, who won the L.A. Open in 1979 with an eight-under-par score for 72 holes. "The tees were up more than I've ever seen, there's no rough to speak of and the greens were holding. When it's like that, it has to yield low scores."
THROUGH 18 HOLES
Lanny Wadkins 31-32--63 Tony Sills 31-34--65 Pat Lindsey 31-34--65 Gary Koch 35-31--66 Bruce Lietzke 32-34--66 Scott Simpson 34-32--66 Hal Sutton 33-33--66 Bob Gilder 33-33--66
Complete results, Page 15.
The Barbers, father and son. Dan Hafner's story, Page 20.
Tony Sills, who attended Palisades High, a few miles from Riviera, and caddied in the L.A. Open when he was a teen-ager, shot a 65 and is tied for second with Pat Lindsey of Palm Harbor, Fla.
Scott Simpson, who was a teammate of Sills at USC, is at 66 with Bruce Lietzke, Gary Koch, Bob Gilder and Hal Sutton, who won the PGA Championship on the same course two years ago.
Sills, once a junior member at Riviera, got off to a flying start when he chipped in for an eagle on the first hole, a 501-yard par-five. His second shot was about 12 feet off the green to the left, from where he wedged his ball to the putting surface and watched it run about 45 feet to the cup.
"It must have had a break of six to seven feet," Sills said. "It was a no-brainer, but it got me going, for sure. The last time I eagled that hole was when I was 15. My lowest round at Riviera before today was a 67, when I was 15 or 16." Sills turned 29 last month.
The remarkable fact about Sills is not that he shot a 65, but that he was able to play golf at all. Fourteen months ago, he underwent an eight-hour surgery called a continent ileostomy in which a pouch was formed internally from his lower intestines, so that a tube could be inserted through a hole in his stomach to relieve waste. When he was 18, his colon and rectum were removed, and he carried an external pouch until last year's operation.
"It's much better now because I don't have to run to the bathroom so often, but I still don't have my weight back from the surgery," he said. "I weighed about 165 then, and I'm only up to 152 now. But I'm lifting weights, so I feel stronger."
Sills' main problem when he came on the tour in 1983 was his lack of length off the tee.
"I was the second-shortest hitter on the entire tour my first year," he said, "but I picked up about 10 yards last year and another 10 this year. That really makes a big difference in my game.
"I especially enjoyed playing today with all my pals in the gallery," he said. Sills, who learned the game by hitting balls at Walter Keller's indoor range in West Los Angeles, won the L.A. junior championship in 1971 and the Southern California Amateur in 1976.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world just to be playing on the tour. It took me six tries to get my PGA card. Before that, I worked for a beer distributor, I ground clubs at Jerry Barber's factory, I worked as a short-order cook, I picked up balls on the driving range, I delivered pizzas and I caddied here at Riviera for six or seven years. All that time my mind was set on playing golf for a living. Now that I've made it, it's a dream come true."
In addition to his new-found length off the tee, Sills' big weapon was his putter. He sank two putts of 15 feet for birdies and another of about 30 feet on the 17th hole for his fourth birdie.
Riviera's other favorite son, former club champion Barry Jaeckel, withdrew because of the flu.
Wadkins' younger brother, Bobby, shares the 67 spot with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Mark O'Meara, Andy Bean, Mike Reid (who had a hole in one on the sixth hole), Howard Twitty and rookie Phil Blackmar, playing in his second tournament as a professional.
Blackmar, from the University of Texas, is the biggest man on the tou standing 6-7 and weighing 265 pounds.
By contrast, Lanny Wadkins is 5-9 and weighs 160.
Wadkins' 63 was his 10th straight round this year of par or better. He won the Hope Classic two weeks ago in a playoff with Craig Stadler after shooting five rounds in the 60s and then had nothing worse than a par 71 at Phoenix, where he tied for 10th.
"I'm hitting the ball solid," the former PGA champion from Dallas said. "I worked hard so I could come out shooting this year and that's what's happening. I worked hard, so it's nice to see it paying off. It doesn't always work that way."
Wadkins, ridiculing the oft-heard theory that it's easier to be a couple of shots behind than a couple of shots ahead, said he'd take the lead anytime.
"I don't change my game plan either way, so it's better for me to be ahead because it gives me a couple of shots to play with," he said. "At Riviera, it's easy to fire right at the pins because even if you miss the green, the ball won't go very far because the kikuyu grass stops it. To shoot well here, you either have to hit the greens or be able to chip well, and I've always seemed to do that."
Wadkins, 35, had a balanced round with four birdies on each nine holes and not the hint of a bogey. He birdied all four par-3 holes, hitting a 3-iron to the 238-yard fourth, 6-irons to the 170-yard sixth and the 180-yard 14th, and an 8-iron to the 168-yard 16th. The only time he needed a long putt was at No. 4, where he rolled in a 30-footer.
"I've been playing here every year since 1973, and the PGA in '83, and today is the first time I ever hit a 3-iron to the fourth green," he said.
Watson, making his first start in 1985 after winning his sixth PGA Player of the Year award last season, said he "didn't play particularly well, but kept the ball in play to come out of it with a pretty good score.
"I don't know what we're going to do with Lanny," said Watson, who came on the tour in 1971 from the same qualifying school as Wadkins. "He's really playing good, I mean really, really good. You can never feel safe when he's around the leader board. It's like taking the lid of a basket with a cobra in it."