Tournament of Champions : Douglass Shoots 67 in Seniors for a 3-Stroke Lead

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Times Staff Writer

Southern California brings out the best in Dale Douglass’ golf game.

His first 2 victories after becoming eligible for the PGA Seniors Tour in March 1986 were the Vintage at Indian Wells and the GTE at MountainGate.

He began the new year right Thursday at La Costa, shooting a 5-under-par 67 for the lead in the opening round of the MONY Tournament of Champions.

Douglass leads the senior division by 3 shots over Bruce Crampton, the Australian who felt fortunate to shoot a 70, and Walt Zembriski. The 50-and-over group plays the course about 200 yards shorter than those on the regular PGA Tour.


Nevertheless, it was a remarkable round. It very well could have been a 65 or better. On 4 holes, the 52-year-old Phoenix resident had birdie putts that just failed to drop.

As it was, he finished with 6 birdies, 4 of them on the front side, where he also had his only bogey when he hit a 4-iron fat on No. 4 and missed a 10-foot par putt.

Douglass took advantage of being in the first twosome to tee off in the first tournament of the new season. His partner, defending champion Dave Hill, did not and struggled to a 73.

“I really am surprised I played so well,” Douglass said. “I didn’t play all that well yesterday. But we had perfect weather and perfect conditions. Sometimes, especially when it is blustery and cold, an early start is not an advantage. This course, because of recent rains, is soft. Those who came later didn’t have perfect conditions.

“One reason I play better in Southern California is that I enjoy playing here. Today I hit nearly every fairway and green. When I didn’t birdie, I 2-putted for the par.

“I had a chance for a couple of more birdies. On the 14th, a 10-foot putt lipped out. I sank some 15- to 20-footers, though, so I can’t really complain. When a 35-footer just misses, I don’t call that a missed birdie opportunity. I call that a I-hope-I-don’t-3-putt.”


Among the more interesting pairings was the twosome of Arnold Palmer, the people’s choice, and Zembriski, the working man’s choice. Zembriski, who spent 11 years as a riveter on high-rise buildings, won his first tour tournament at the rain-shortened 36-hole Newport Cup in July. Three months later, he proved it was not a fluke when he won the $135,000 first prize in the Vantage, the richest senior tournament, by 3 shots.

While Zembriski birdied 3 of the last 5 holes and moved into contention, Palmer, to the dismay of his Army, which showed up in goodly numbers despite a 9 a.m. start, had trouble opening the year.

His first 4 shots were awful, in fact. He hooked his drive on No. 1 out of bounds. His next drive was into a trap and so was his third shot, in front of the green. Out of the trap, he was 15 feet below the cup. He sank the putt to save a double bogey. Palmer finished with a 75, leaving him 8 shots behind Douglass.