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GOLF SENIORS TPC : Nicklaus Has 64, Opens Three-Shot Lead

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Perhaps Jack Nicklaus, 50, no longer can beat those long-hitting youngsters that dominate the regular PGA tour. But there isn’t much doubt that he can handle the Senior PGA tour.

Shaking off the challenge of Lee Trevino with a barrage of late birdies, Nicklaus took a three-stroke lead after three rounds of the $1-million Mazda Senior Tournament Players Championship.

He tied the Dearborn Country Club record of eight-under-par 64 set earlier Saturday by Larry Ziegler for a total of 19-under-par 197. That score tied the senior record for 54 holes set by Don January in 1984 and gave Nicklaus a three-stroke lead over Trevino, who faltered after six birdies on the front nine.

Ziegler, playing despite a sore left wrist, and Frank Beard, who had a 67, are tied for third at 204, seven shots behind Nicklaus.

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Another shot back is Chi Chi Rodriguez, Dave Hill and Terry Dill, who shot a 71 after being only one shot behind going into the third round.

Nicklaus, seeking his second victory in three senior tournaments, said the course is not as easy as scores indicate.

“The only answer,” Nicklaus said, “is that the course is in too good a shape. The greens are in perfect condition and the guys are rolling in the putts. They know that even on downhill putts, they can go for the hole.

“Realistically, if I play at all well, only Lee has a chance to beat me. If we both play poorly, anything can happen. There will be birdies made. I’m really not that type. I don’t make that many birdies.

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“But today, even with two bogeys, I played very well. I had eight birdies and an eagle. That’s playing well.”

At the start of the third round it appeared that Trevino was ready to take control. Trailing by a shot, he birdied the first three holes to take the lead.

But on the fourth hole, a 358-yard par four with a dogleg left, Trevino hit a six-iron out of the rough and it rolled seven feet past the cup. Nicklaus left his approach 18 feet short of the hole, setting up a downhill putt. Nicklaus sank his and Trevino missed.

It was the start of a string of three holes Nicklaus played in four under par. Trevino never again appeared ready to take command.

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“I don’t feel bad about my round,” Trevino said, “but I couldn’t drop any birdie putts on the back nine.

“Jack is playing well, but I think if I can shoot a 65 tomorrow, I have a chance. I’m still putting well, so who knows.

“I shot a 30 on the front side and a six-under 66 and lost two shots. I’d say Jack’s playing well.”

Some players seem to be intimidated playing against Nicklaus. But Trevino loves it.

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“I would rather play with this man than any other golfer,” he said.

“He brings out the best in me. After all, you’re playing a living legend. I love it.”

Even in outstanding rounds, a golfer can find room for improvement. For instance, Nicklaus missed three short putts. He missed a four-footer at No. 3, a two-footer at No. 9 and another short one for the bogey at No. 13. But he sank putts of 23, 2 1/2 and six feet to birdie three of the last five holes to pull away from Trevino.

Ziegler will be grouped with Nicklaus and Trevino for today’s final round.

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“I’m just delighted I can play at all,” Ziegler said.

“I really injured my wrist when I fell during the second round of the senior PGA. I finished there, and played the next two weeks.

“It didn’t get better, so I took off for four weeks. I just got tired of sitting and watching on TV.

“It doesn’t hurt when I putt or chip. But driving is painful and I just can’t hit a long iron. The doctors will examine it again Monday. They think it must be a ligament.

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“This is really a strange game. You can go out there and play great and score poorly. Then there was today. I was dropping putts and that made the round. I have no idea what might happen tomorrow.”


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