Blackmar, Simpson Cash In Early : Driving Contest, Shootout Launch L.A. Open Festivities

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Open, which has a 72-hole $750,000 golf tournament presented by Nissan starting Thursday and a Celebrity Pro-Am today at the Riviera Country Club, plus a team in the year-long Nabisco Grand Prix of Golf competition, added the Merrill Lynch Shoot-Out and the MCI Long Distance Driving contest Tuesday to its list of things to watch.

The old golfing adage, "Drive for show and putt for dough," proved unfounded for a day at least as Phil Blackmar collected $3,500 for taking two swings with his golf club while Scott Simpson collected only $3,000 for beating nine other top-of-the-line professionals in the nine-hole Shoot-Out, golf's version of musical chairs.

The 6-foot 7-inch Blackmar hit one of his two balls 305 yards to win the long distance driving contest to beat Dan Pohl, whose best was 300.

Simpson, the United States Open champion from San Diego, sank a 40-foot putt on the final hole for his fourth birdie to win the Shoot-Out from veteran Tom Kite after the two survived an afternoon of hole-by-hole eliminations.

Shortly before Simpson's winning stroke, Kite had rolled a 45-foot downhill putt about three feet past the cup.

"Is that good?" the 38-year-old Texan asked Simpson.

"Not bad."

The question became a moot point seconds later when Simpson, who played Riviera regularly when he was a collegian at USC, sent his ball across the green and into the cup, up against the pin.

That ended nine holes of good-natured bantering as the well-heeled players shot it out for a little tip money.

In the Shoot-Out, 10 players teed off on the tenth hole and one player was eliminated on each hole until Simpson and Kite stood alone on the 18th tee.

With all 10 players milling around green, lining up their shots and kibitzing their opponents, the scene resembled the practice green at Rancho Park on a Sunday.

Slender T. C. Chen, the defending L. A. Open champion from Taiwan, started off with three birdies in a row, but all that did was keep him in the game. Chen was dropped at No. 17 when Simpson and Kite both made birdies and Chen's par was not good enough on the par-5 hole.

Ben Crenshaw, who lost in a playoff to Chen last year, must rue the fact that he must play the 15th hole, a 449-yard par 4, four more times this week.

It was at No. 15 last year on the first playoff hole that Crenshaw's drive came to rest on a dirt road, far left of the fairway. He wound up taking a bogey 5 and Chen won the $108,000 first prize with a par.

Tuesday, Gentle Ben fared no better.

His second shot was so far left that his ball was almost on the 16th tee. He hit a weak chip shot and took three putts from the fringe for a double bogey 6, leaving Pohl in the contest along with Simpson, Kite and Chen. Pohl dropped out on No. 16 when he bunkered his tee shot on the 170-yard par-3 hole and made a bogey.

Ambidextrous Mac O'Grady, who normally hits from the right side and putts from the left, did a partial turnabout when he played left-handed all the way. O'Grady was dropped on No. 12 when he lost a chip-off to Bob Tway and Pohl.

When more than one player made the same high score on a hole, the players remaining chipped from the edge of the green and one farthest from the hole is eliminated. On No. 14, a par 3, all six players made par and all wound up chipping.

Curiously, on the hole where O'Grady was eliminated, out-of-character Payne Stewart stayed in the running with an emergency left-handed shot. Stewart, who was almost unrecognizable without his cap, his knickers or his loud argyle sox, put his drive up against a fence and had to chip back to the fairway by hitting a back-handed putter from the wrong side. He then lofted a wedge over a deep barranca and sank a 15-foot putt for a par to escape the chip-off.

It was the kind of a Shoot-Out where O'Grady tossed three balls between Stewart's legs as he lined up to drive, Kite drew an X in front of the cup to hex putts by rival players and Stewart squashed Pohl's ball into the soft turf during a chip-off.

The Nabisco crowd was rooting for Kite because he is the anchor man of the L. A. Open's four-man team in the 44-week Grand Prix competition. Other members include Tommy Nakajima, Bob Lohr and Harry Taylor. The winning team during the season will receive $500,000, which goes to the sponsoring tournament.

It becomes part of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce's charity program, which received $300,000 last year for such projects as the Los Angeles Games, the L. A. City Area Special Olympics, the Thanksgiving Homeless Food and Clothing Drive, the Foster Family Picnic and the Homeless Awareness Task Force.

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