O'Meara Takes 2-Shot Lead Into Crosby Final

Times Staff Writer

The last two times Mark O'Meara has played the Pebble Beach golf course during the Crosby Pro-Am, he has left with a frustrated feeling.

Last year, in the final round, he missed an eight-foot putt on the last hole that would have won the tournament.

Friday, in the second round of the 1985 Crosby, he played "the best round of golf I ever played, from tee to green," and came off with no better than an even-par 72 on the fabled links course that runs along Carmel Bay.

"My teacher (Hank Haney) said today I played the last two rounds the best he has ever seen me play," O'Meara said. "Tomorrow (Sunday) we go back to Pebble and I think it owes me a good score."

O'Meara shot a four-under-par 68 at Cypress Point on a windy Saturday for a 54-hole total of six-under-par 210 and two-shot lead over Curtis Strange going into today's final 18 holes.

Strange, like O'Meara, played Cypress Point and also had a 68 for 212. Tied at 213 are Kikuo Arai, a 40-year-old Japanese pro making his U. S. tour debut, and Jay Haas.

"We got all the best of it in the draw," O'Meara said. "We played the back side of Spyglass, which is sheltered by the trees, when it was so windy on Thursday, and we played the back side of Cypress today before the winds got bad again.

"You can look at the scoreboard and see how fortunate we were. Curtis played in the group right behind me, and the two guys at 213 (Arai and Haas) were in our draw, too."

O'Meara and Bernhard Langer, the young West German starting his first year on the American tour, put on quite a show for Cypress Point galleries. They had 12 birdies, seven by Langer and five by O'Meara. Langer also had four bogeys and a double bogey, however, for a 71--215. Also at 215 is Lanny Wadkins, winner of two straight tournaments, who had a 68 Saturday at Pebble Beach.

O'Meara said: "I don't think my score could be any higher, the way I've hit the ball. I've hit a lot of good putts, but I just haven't made many. Pebble Beach is difficult to putt because so many people play it every day. All you can do is strike the ball the best you can and watch it bounce around and hope it finds the hole.

"Despite my frustrations, though, I love to play Pebble Beach. I won the California Amateur here in '79 and I played well in the Spalding four weeks ago, so I'm looking forward to the final round."

For most of Saturday, it appeared no one wanted the lead. Johnny Miller started off tied for the lead with George Archer, but a double bogey on No. 8 and five bogeys knocked him out with a 77. Archer fared little better, shooting 38-38--76 to slide down from the top.

Tom Watson surged to the front with a four-under-par 31 on the front side at Pebble Beach, but he fell back with four bogeys on the back side for a 71--217. Ken Brown, one of the Britons on the PGA tour, inherited the lead when Watson slipped, but his three-under-par figure was short-lived when he lost four shots to par in his last 11 holes and finished 76--217.

Meanwhile, O'Meara was struggling along with seven pars and a bogey when he suddenly surged out of the pack with a string of five birdies in his final 10 holes.

"I was hitting it so pure, and so close to the hole, that I could have had a couple more birdies," O'Meara said. "I hit some pretty incredible shots."

His string started on No. 18 (his ninth hole) when he sank a 20-foot putt after hitting a 7-iron to the green on the 342-yard hole.

"That got me started a little bit," he said. "I'd been hitting greens all day and not getting a birdie, and I'd been watching Langer making birdies from everywhere. On 18, he put his second shot in the bunker up in back of the hole and the cup was cut close to the back. I figured he'd be fortunate to keep the ball on the green when he popped it out, and it ran right into the hole. Then I ran in my 20-footer and got in stride."

Langer may have holed out from the bunker, but it didn't prevent him from blasting the condition of the Crosby sand.

"I think these are the worst bunkers in the world," said the young man who last year won the Irish, Dutch, French and Spanish opens. "There is so much sand in them that every ball plugs. It's a joke. They are very unfair. It's bad enough to be in a trap, but being plugged every time is too much. At least, it certainly is for me."

O'Meara missed a birdie opportunity on the 551-yard second hole when he put his second shot about a foot off the green, chipped weakly and missed his birdie putt.

He sank 10-foot birdie putts at the fourth and sixth holes before nearly making a hole-in-one on the 163-yard seventh. His 6-iron shot stopped two inches from the cup.

"It was one of the best golf shots I ever made," O'Meara said. "I don't know if John Mahaffey saw my swing or not, but he was playing right behind me and he hit exactly the same shot--only it went in the hole."

Mahaffey's ace was the third of the tournament. Hal Sutton and Hubie Green each had one Friday.

O'Meara hit another 6-iron for his second shot on the next hole and it wound up less than three feet from the hole, but his birdie attempt lipped out. Apparently convinced he had grooved his 6-iron swing, O'Meara used it off the tee on the tricky little 291-yard ninth hole. That shot, followed by a sand wedge, left him a 12-footer for his fifth birdie.

"It didn't make up for Friday, when I got the worst score possible by making bogeys on the last three holes at Pebble," he said, "but I was proud of the way I came back today and kept my poise and rhythm and kept plugging away."

The Friday disaster consisted of consecutive three-putt greens on No. 16 and No. 17 and a wedge shot that hit an overhanging branch in front of the green on No. 18. The ball dropped straight down, and O'Meara needed three shots to get down.

Strange eagled the first hole he played, No. 10, when he reached the green on the 491-yard hole with a 3-wood and sank a 15-foot putt.

"I have always had my worst round at Cypress, so I'm really pleased with a 68," Strange said. "I was pretty lucky, though, to be able to hit out of the ice plant on the 16th to save par."

Strange pulled his tee shot on the 233-yard, across-the-water hole into ice plant to the left of the green.

"If you can have a good lie in ice plant, I had it," he said. "It was sitting up and I just blasted away at it and got it 20 feet away (from the hole) and made the putt."

The 16th hole was not too kind to Langer. He pushed a 1-iron tee shot too far to the right, and it landed on the rocks and bounded into the ocean. He hit another 1-iron about 18 feet from the flag but missed the putt to take a double-bogey 5.

The low round of the tournament was shot by Andy Bean, but his six-under-par 66 at Pebble Beach came after a 78-72 start and leaves the big man from Florida still six shots behind O'Meara.

Hubert Green and amateur partner Dean Spanos continue to lead the pro-am portion of the Crosby with a 27-under-par 189. Spanos, a 12-handicapper from Stockton, has helped Green 30 shots.

William Swing, an Episcopalian bishop from San Francisco, helped pro Rick Rhoads by 29 shots, which prompted a fan to comment, "You must not be spending much time in the pulpit."

The bishop, also a 12-handicapper, replied, "No, but when I do, I always keep my head down."

THE CROSBY 54-HOLE LEADERS

Mark O'Meara 70-72-68--210 Curtis Strange 75-69-68--212 Jay Haas 75-68-70--213 Kikuo Arai 73-69-71--213 Doug Tewell 72-70-72--214

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