Dave Hill Still on Top in Seniors : Barber, Geiberger Are Tied, One Shot Back

Times Staff Writer

It wasn't easy, but Dave Hill retained his one-stroke lead after three rounds of the Senior division of the Tournament of Champions.

Hill overcame an aching elbow, a cold start and a four-putt hole Saturday at La Costa to shoot a one-under-par 71 for a 54-hole total of 211, five under par.

Miller Barber, who held a two-stroke lead until he double-bogeyed the par-3 14th, and Al Geiberger were tied for second at 212. Barber had a third-round 71. Geiberger shared the best round of the day for the 50-and-over group with a 70 and said he played better than the score indicated.

Hill's injury is believed to be either a chipped bone or a strained tendon. He said that around midnight Friday, it hurt so much he didn't think he would make it to the first tee. But the Butazolidin he went searching for, after his elbow started hurting on the last two holes of the second round, began to take effect.

Although the elbow didn't hurt, it was stiff, he said, until about the eighth hole. The outspoken Hill indicated that television was, at least in part, to blame. He teed off with Barber at 7:54 a.m. and was teed off about it.

"In the old days," he said, "if you shot a good round and were leading, you were rewarded with a late starting time.

"But that's all changed. Now, it's television running things. The regular tour gets 85% of its money from TV. The seniors don't. We get ours from the amateurs."

Hill, who hit only one wood shot and fewer irons than usual at the range, was tentative and had problems with his swing early. Before he warmed up, he was three-over after six holes and appeared to be on his way to oblivion.

He switched putters after missing a birdie putt and really got his game together on the back nine. He shot a four-under 32, including birdies on 15, 16 and 17. With a little putting luck, he could have had birdies on 13 and 14, too.

"I was afraid to waste shots on the practice tee," he said. "But once I loosened up, I was all right. I really thought I should have had six birdies in a row, but the putts just didn't drop."

Obviously, Hill's elbow wasn't hurting the way it did Friday in the interview room when he held a beer in his left hand. While explaining what happened at No. 6, a short par 4, he was holding the drink in his right hand.

On that nearly disastrous hole, Hill's drive stopped in a fairway divot. His approach with a wedge came out hot and carried to the top of the green. The cup placement was about 10 feet from the bottom of the undulating green. His first putt rolled past the cup and off the green onto the apron. His next putt, uphill, went three feet past, and he missed the one coming back.

Was he discouraged and about to quit?

"The last time I was discouraged was 1974."

Even with a birdie on 10, there was no indication he was ready to challenge for the lead. When his playing partner Barber birdied No. 13, the man called Mr. X was six under, Hill just two under. There was a sudden change at the next hole.

On No. 14, a harmless-looking par 3, Barber hit what Hill called his only poor shot all day. The ball came to rest under the lip of a sand trap. Barber barely blasted out into high grass. He chipped short. After marking and picking up the ball, the irate Barber slammed the ball down on the green. He also missed the putt. Although he missed a 10-foot birdie try on the hole, Hill was only two shots back. Three putts later, Hill was back in the lead.

Hill and Geiberger are both rookies on the PGA Seniors Tour and are happy to be out of what they call a rat race.

"On the regular tour, if you fell in a pool, those bastards would throw you a brick," Hill said. "On this one, most guys would throw you a rope. We have to pull together to make it work."

Geiberger didn't become eligible until Sept. 1, but he won three tournaments in October and earned $264,798, much more than in any year on the regular tour.

"I have no regrets leaving the other tour," he said. "The Seniors gave me something to shoot for. It's the only sport in which you can make a new start at 50.

"Is there a difference in the tours? Just look at the scores. We have Dave at five-under. They have (Steve) Pate at 14, and a lot of them better than Dave."

Rain is forecast for today. Hill said he wouldn't mind a gully washer. He'll take any victory.

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