Wadkins Waltzes Down Alley With L.A. Open Record of 264

Times Staff Writer

Lanny Wadkins came out shooting birdies Sunday like he was half-a-dozen strokes behind--instead of being the leader--and before he finished destroying Riviera Country Club's fearsome par-71 course, the only question was by how many strokes he would beat Johnny Miller's Los Angeles Open record.

Or who would finish second--seven strokes behind the winner.

Wadkins ended up 20-under par (63-70-67-64--264) for four rounds over Hogan's Alley to win his second L.A. Open. By a way of comparison, Hogan set a record of nine-under par when he won in 1948, and Miller was 14-under in 1981. When Wadkins won in 1979 he shot 276.

The $72,000 that Wadkins won made him the ninth golfer to win more than $2 million in his career.

"Penny (Lanny's wife) told me this morning that if I was going to go over the $2-million mark, to do it in style," Wadkins said. "I guess I did, I didn't have a 5 on my card, and that's something at Riviera."

The battle for second-place money of $43,200 went down to the last green where Hal Sutton sank a 12-foot putt for a 69 to edge Corey Pavin by a stroke. Pavin, last year's PGA rookie of the year from Oxnard and UCLA, won $27,200 after finishing with a 70.

Sutton finished three-shots under his winning score in the 1983 PGA Championship at Riviera, yet was never a factor after Wadkins reeled off four birdies in a row in mid-round.

"There were two important holes for me today," Wadkins said. "I came out feeling it was very important to make a birdie on the first hole. I wanted to establish myself right at the start and not let anyone get the idea I might let down. I didn't hit a particularly good drive, but I hit a 3-wood for my second shot and put the ball in the middle of the green." He took two putts from 40 feet for a birdie on the 501-yard, par-5 hole.

"And the putt I made on nine was a big one. Hal (Sutton) had just made a great birdie from off the green and I was looking at a 12-footer that broke four or five feet. I hit it right in the middle of the hole to top Hal's birdie. Then I hit it three feet (from the cup) on No. 10 and made birdie there to go five in front."

Wadkins, who also won the Bob Hope Classic two weeks ago, said he was surprised at the low scores this week but not that he played so well.

"We caught Riviera in a vulnerable position. There was little wind, there wasn't much rough and the greens were softer than I've ever seen them here. Usually, at least once a week the weather makes it tough to score at Riviera, but it never happened this week.

"I wasn't surprised at how well I played because I worked hard to get ready for this year, and I played solid golf at Palm Springs, and I played good last week in Phoenix. I tied for 11th there, but if I'd birdied the last hole, instead of making a bogey, I would have been fourth."

Wadkins shot a 65 at Indian Wells on the final day of the Hope to tie Craig Stadler and then won a five-hole playoff.

"I had Palm Springs on my mind when I teed off today," Wadkins said. "I didn't want what happened to Craig to happen to me."

Stadler started in front and shot a final-round 66 in the Hope--only to lose. Stadler also shot a 66 in the final round Sunday at Riviera to move into a tie for fourth with Chip Beck (70) and Gary Koch (71) at 273.

Calvin Peete, last week's Phoenix Open winner, finished tied for 14th at 278. This was one stroke ahead of Jack Nicklaus, who is still without a win at Riviera.

After equaling the 18-hole course record with a 63 in the first round, Wadkins was never more than a stroke out of the lead during the entire 72 holes. On Friday, when Larry Mize lowered the course record to 62, Wadkins shot 70 and dropped one stroke behind Mize, Sutton and Koch, but the next day Wadkins shot his way back into the lead with a 67.

"It's hard to believe I was 20-under par. Normally, it takes me two or three years to get that many under at Riviera. If there was a key to how I played, it was my driver. I hit it solid off the tee all week and that set up everything. I kept the ball in play and hit a lot of greens. I didn't miss a green today until I got to 15, and by then it was all over. It was a round and a week I'll remember a long time."

Wadkins said he rated his 264 alongside the course-record 267 he shot at Firestone to win the 1977 World Series of Golf.

Next is the Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, where Wadkins won the 1977 PGA in a playoff against Gene Littler.

"I'm looking forward to next week at Pebble Beach, and I don't anticipate a letdown because of the way I have been playing. I expect so much of myself."

Neither Sutton nor Pavin, who started the final round two shots behind Wadkins, mounted a serious challenge in the early holes, but all thoughts of catching the leader vanished when Wadkins birdied 9, 10, 11 and 12.

"The way I felt out there, the bigger the lead I got, the bigger I wanted. Once I got to five (ahead), I wanted six. I got really pumped up and put the pedal to the metal."

Other than the big-breaking putt at No. 9, Wadkins was hitting the ball so well, the birdies looked easy. He put his second shot three feet from the hole on the 311-yard, 10th hole, sank a 12-footer on the 11th hole and nearly holed out his 8-iron, second shot for an eagle on the 413-yard, 12th hole.

"I thought I'd made 2 for a second," he said. The ball stopped about six inches from the cup.

Wadkins' final birdie, to make it 20-under par, came on No. 17, a long (578 yards), uphill par-5. He followed a driver and 3-wood with a sand wedge that led to a five-foot putt.

The win was Wadkins' 14th in 14 years on the tour, but he has never had a start like this year. His three-tournament earnings of $172,350 is almost equal to his entire 1984 winnings: $198,996.

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