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GOLF / THOMAS BONK : PGA Championship Is Plot-Laden

The 76th PGA Championship begins Thursday in the summer heat at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, complete with better-than-usual plot lines.

They are, in no particular order, how will Paul Azinger play in his return, how will Arnold Palmer say farewell and how long will it take for the Oklahoma sun to melt a 7-iron?

Azinger, the defending champion, will be playing in his second tournament since being treated for the lymphoma in his shoulder diagnosed more than eight months ago.

Azinger made his comeback in the Buick Open, which ends today--a strategy that enabled him to get in some golf before defending his title and also remove some of the media attention from him this week.

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At the Buick Open, Azinger saved his energy by limiting his practice. He hit enough balls to warm up and then iced his shoulder afterward.

Palmer is playing in his last PGA. Although it may not be as fond a goodby as his experience at the Open, Palmer lists the PGA as one of his favorite events, even though he never won it.

In 36 years, Palmer’s best results in the PGA have been ties for second in 1964, ’68 and ’70.

Although the 76th PGA Championship hasn’t begun, preparations for the 77th are well under way.

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Next year’s tournament will be held Aug. 7-13 at Riviera, which last staged the event in 1983.

To get ready, Riviera has spent more than $1.2 million on rebuilding the greens, planting new bent grass, recontouring the greenside bunkers and rebuilding tees.

Ben Crenshaw supervised the major greens work that not only included the new grass, but basically returned the greens to their original size in 1926, when architect George C. Thomas’ work was completed.

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New old friend: Nick Faldo will bring a new putter to the PGA Championship. Better make that a new, old putter.

In the Buick Open, he re-debuted a putter he last used in 1990. It may be a good idea.

Faldo has two top-10 finishes in eight PGA Tour events this year, and his record in the majors is sort of minor--he finished 32nd at the Masters, missed the cut at the U.S. Open, tied for 8th at the British Open.

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Pick ‘em: For what it’s worth, Golf Digest has established Nick Price as the favorite to win the PGA Championship.

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Good team, man: Greg Norman and Nick Price will play as a team in the sixth Franklin Funds Shark Shootout Nov. 15-20 at Sherwood Country Club.

The $1.1-million event also includes Curtis Strange in a field of 20. It benefits children’s charities, including the National Childhood Cancer Foundation and Casa Pacifica.

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Details: (805) 379-2664.

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Alternate plan: Dicky Pride, who won the Federal Express St. Jude tournament last week, was an alternate who wouldn’t have gotten into the tournament field if not for Lee Janzen’s withdrawal.

Pride had missed the cut in 12 of his previous 17 tournaments, before his eighth place three weeks ago in the Deposit Guaranty.

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Senor Senior: Put this in your calculator and smoke it: Lee Trevino has won nearly $1.1 million in seven months on the Senior PGA Tour.

Since 1968, or more than 26 years, Trevino has won $3.47 million on the regular PGA Tour.

Obviously, it pays to get old, but only if you play golf.

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Helen wheels: Helen Alfredsson, who appeared to have the U.S. Women’s Open in her golf bag until the wheels fell off in the last round, was so distraught that she . . . won the LPGA Pinch-Welch’s Championship last week, which means she has finished in the top 11 in her last six tournaments.

Alfredsson, whose closing-round 77 cost her the U.S. Open, withstood a late charge by Pat Bradley to win the LPGA event at Canton, Mass.

Bradley came away impressed by the Swedish golfer. Said Bradley: “She did not crack.”

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Golf Notes

Defending champion Jill McGill, 22, of Denver is one of three former champions who will play in the U.S. Women’s Amateur beginning Monday at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. The other champions are 1973 winner Carol Semple Thompson of Sewickley, Pa., and 1958, ’61 and ’63 winner Anne Sander of Santa Barbara. . . . Defending champion John Harris of Edina, Minn., and 1991 champion Mitch Voges of Simi Valley are among 12 golfers exempt from qualifying for the U.S. Amateur Championship, which will be played Aug. 22-28 at the TPC at Sawgrass at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Gil Gerard is the celebrity host for the City of Hope Invitational Celebrity Golf-A-Thon, on Aug. 29 at Braemar Country Club. . . . Clint Eastwood, chairman of the board of the Monterey Peninsula Golf Foundation, announced that the 1994 AT&T; Pebble Beach Pro-Am raised $1.5 million for charity. . . . Inner-city children from the West will complete in the 14th Western States Golf Assn. junior golf championships Thursday and Friday at Jesse Owens Par 3 on South Western, Westchester golf course on Manchester and Chester Washington golf course on 120th street.

The Don Drysdale Hall of Fame golf tournament will be held Nov. 10-11 at Desert Falls and Rancho La Quinta. The event benefits the Boys and Girls Club of the Coachella Valley. Details: (619) 778-4300.

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