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Nicklaus Puts Field Away in a Hurry : Golf: He warms up for U.S. Open with an easy 6-stroke victory in Senior Tournament Players Championship.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Mazda Senior Tournament Players Championship is one of only four 72-hole tournaments scheduled on the PGA tour for the older golfers.

For all intents and purposes, the event over the Dearborn Country Club course was only slightly longer than the normal 54-hole senior tournaments. This one lasted about 57 holes.

It was on the third hole of the final round Sunday that Jack Nicklaus essentially wrapped up his second victory in three tries with the 50-and-over group. Nicklaus had a three-shot lead after 54 holes and when he eagled No. 3 to go 21 under, it seemed obvious he was going to win.

The only question was how many senior records he would break. His second consecutive eight-under 64 gave him a 261 total, 27 under par. The old record was 25 under by Orville Moody in the 1988 Vintage at Indian Wells.

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It wasn’t that Lee Trevino didn’t play well. He saved a birdie on No. 3 with a six-footer after Nicklaus’ eight-footer gave him a four-shot lead. Trevino shot a 32 on the front nine and lost ground. Trevino was never any closer. He finished with a five-under 67 and was 21 under for the tournament. Nevertheless, he was a loser by six shots.

Going into the final round, it was apparent that it was a two-man show. It didn’t keep an estimated 25,000 fans, on a windy, overcast day, from flocking to the course.

“When Jack and Lee show up,” Chi Chi Rodriguez said, “the rest of us are playing for third place.”

There was no winner in the battle for third. Jim Dent and Charles Coody finished in a tie at 272, 16 under par. Dent shot a 66, Coody a 68.

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Next week at Syracuse, they won’t have to contend with Nicklaus or Trevino. Trevino is taking the week off, but Nicklaus, buoyed by another senior victory, is playing in the U.S. Open at Chicago. After a similar performance in the Traditions, Nicklaus was in contention in the Masters until the last nine holes.

Is golf’s living legend ready to challenge the youngsters?

Trevino, who didn’t think he could win the Masters, thinks he can win the Open. And Nicklaus likes his chances, too.

“I think I will be hitting the same five- and six-irons into the greens I hit here,” he said. “The greens figure to be similar, maybe a little faster in Chicago.

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“The Traditions got me ready for the Masters and I think the same will be true for the Open. I don’t think I ever putted for four days any better than I did here.

“I don’t hole 20-footers, but I sure holed them here. I think I’m ready for Medinah.”

The hole that set the tempo for the Nicklaus blitz was the 455-yard, par-5 third. It played even shorter, because the pin was in front and a brisk wind was helping the golfers.

Nicklaus hit his drive 305 yards. He then hit a nine-iron just eight feet from the flag. He sank the putt and with it any hopes the rest of the field had that he might falter.

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“I have high expectations for Jack in the Open,” Trevino said. “He’s ready. The last time I finished 21 under was at New Orleans in 1973 and I won by eight shots.

“I shot a 32 on the front side and lost a stroke. I’m still putting well, but I’ve never seen Jack putt any better.

“When Jack sank the eagle putt on No. 3, even though I made my birdie, I was pretty sure there would be no chance to beat him.”

The winner’s share of $150,000, his biggest payoff ever gave Nicklaus $295,000 in just three events. Only three times in his fabulous career on the regular PGA did he exceed that amount in a whole year.

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Trevino, who has won five tournaments, leads the seniors’ money list with $480,633 in 12 tournaments. Nicklaus in three has moved into second place.

Nicklaus is scheduled to play in only one other senior event, the Open in New Jersey June 28-July 1.

“That doesn’t mean I won’t play in others,” he said.

“But I won’t play the senior tour full time until I’m convinced I can’t compete with the juniors. But I don’t see why I can’t reach my goal of winning a tournament on each tour.”

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“Playing like this with my old friends gives me the confidence I need to go after the goal.

“For now, the Open, the PGA and the British Open are the only tournaments on my schedule. There will be others.”

Defending champion Orville Moody finished 15 shots behind Nicklaus. Arnold Palmer did even worse, beating par by only one stroke.

Despite Palmer’s play, the phenomenon of Arnie’s Army continues. He started the day 18 shots behind, but had a huge gallery that cheered his every shot. When he birdied the final hole it sounded as if he’d won the tournament.

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