Simi Valley Senior Golf Tournament : Charles, 10 Under Par, Leads by 7 Strokes

Times Staff Writer

Only the Super Seniors segment of the GTE Senior golf tournament was supposed to end Saturday, but to all intents and purposes, the entire show is over.

Bob Charles, ignoring shifting winds and severe greens, shot his second five-under-par 67 at Wood Ranch Golf Club to take a seven-stroke lead in the $275,000 event.

Charles, a left-hander from New Zealand, has used only 134 shots for 36 holes. His closest pursuers were Australian Bruce Crampton and South African Harold Henning at 141.

Aside from the top three, only Tommy Aaron is under par. Aaron, tied for the tournament lead with Charles after 25 holes when both were four under par, ended the day one under par, at 143.

Gallery favorites Arnold Palmer and Gary Player were further back. Player shot a 69, lost two more strokes to Charles and was at 144. Palmer, who had a majority of the crowd of 11,250 following him, soared to a 74 and was at 145, along with defending champion Dale Douglass and Howie Johnson.

There have been two Super Senior events, and Johnson has won both of them. Last week at the Vintage tournament, he took a 54-hole event by seven shots. This one was only 36 holes, and Johnson won by three strokes. He had a 71 Saturday. Bob Rosburg, the first-round leader, shot a 77 and finished at 148.

All the seniors agree that Wood Ranch is one of the toughest tests on their tour. But for Charles, the back nine has been a breeze. He has shot par on the front side both days, then charged back with a pair of 31s on the back nine for his 10 under. Why has he done so well while others have struggled?

"Perhaps, it was built for left-handers," Charles said. "I do well on the back nine because the greens are better. They have more grass. Today, I also was fortunate that the wind died down after the second hole.

"On the practice tee, it was a 50-mile-per-hour gale. Fortunately, it didn't stay that way."

Henning had a better explanation for Charles' success.

"We all knew last year that he just needed a breakthrough to get going," Henning said. "He finished second about five times. All along, he was hitting the ball well. Winning at the Vintage was all he needed. He has always been a great putter, the best in the last 20 years."

Henning, 52, has one victory on the Senior Tour and has won more than $360,000 in the last two seasons. He was asked the inevitable question about the greens.

"I refuse to answer the question on the grounds I might incriminate myself," he laughed. "They are too severe. I think whoever laid out the greens did some of them at night."

Charles, who complained at the Vintage that a vision problem caused him to start his putts off line, is seeing much better.

After making bogeys on two of the first three holes when the wind was gusting, he had seven birdies in the last 15 holes. He had two birdie putts of 20 feet and one, on the 16th, of 50 feet. He also holed a 10-footer and an 8-footer.

"(Bruce) Crampton was playing well, too," Charles said. "He would have been close to me if putts had dropped for him the way they did for me.

"My concentration has been very good. I'm not concerned about protecting a big lead, I'm happy to have it."

Most of the seniors have stressed the importance of playing cautiously on the course, which would indicate the chances of overtaking the leader are not good.

Palmer tried a gamble on the eighth hole and when it failed, he started to fall out of contention.

The eighth is a 329-yard dogleg right. A large lake guards the front of the green. From the elevated tee, most of the golfers have used a 5- or 6-iron to lay up near the water.

But Palmer came to the eighth just three shots out of the lead and decided it was time to gamble. Using a wood, he hit his drive fat, and as his ball was headed for the middle of the lake, his followers groaned and he dropped the club in disgust.

He wound up with a bogey on the hole and never challenged again.

Johnson may be losing money by committing to the Super Seniors. Last week, he tied for second in the regular senior event and would have earned about $7,000 more. Saturday, he was tied for eighth, but all he can earn is the $8,000 for winning the Super Seniors.

"You may not think so much of it," he said, "but I like the idea of winning. I haven't won a lot of tournaments, but I have no qualms about the Super Seniors. In a few years, let's have a 70 group.

"It may be that not having so much pressure on me is one reason why I'm playing better than I ever have. Maybe that's why Arnie plays so well. How can there be any pressure when you have $100 million in your pocket?"

The field was cut to 56 players for today's final round. The cut was 157.

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