Arnie's Army Might Be Called Out Less Often in Year Ahead : Golf: Palmer, who says he still enjoys the game but not his performance, is contemplating playing in fewer events.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is the tour of duty nearly over for Arnie's Army, whose loyal members mustered Friday at PGA West to watch their white-haired hero knock golf balls all over the desert?

Arnold Palmer will turn 67 next year, which he knows will be his 42nd as a professional. What Palmer doesn't know is how much longer he is going to play.

"I might start cutting it back a lot," Palmer said. "I'll play the Hope, Bay Hill, the Masters. And I enjoy them. But I really do not enjoy some of the shots I hit."

Palmer certainly didn't enjoy what happened Friday at the Diners Club Matches, where he and partner Jack Nicklaus lost their opening match to Raymond Floyd and Dave Eichelberger, 3 and 2.

Actually, Palmer played pretty well. He had four birdies, three more than Nicklaus, on the bumpy, sparse greens at the Nicklaus Resort Course.

But he didn't play so well on the PGA Tour this year, as if anyone really expected him to.

Palmer played only five PGA Tour events and didn't make a cut. He also played 12 Senior PGA Tour events, but his best finish was a tie for 25th at the Tradition.

"My problem is that people are so nice and they really want me to come and play and if I schedule eight or 10 tournaments to play and then I get all the other obligations, then I play a lot more than I thought I would," he said.

"I know it's getting to the point, where do you stop?"

He already has stopped at the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. He also said goodbye to the British Open in July at St. Andrews.

It was there at the Old Course where Palmer stopped and waved his visor atop the small bridge on the way to the 18th green as fans cheered from the windows of the gray, stone buildings.

He said he will play the Masters "a few more years," but Palmer can't be more specific about anything else because he isn't sure.

"It's a nagging thing," he said. "I want to play and I'm not used to playing when I'm unable to play reasonably well. Now, the situation is, I haven't played very well at all for a while.

"The bottom line is I still enjoy what I do. I have to figure out how to play better."

Few played better than Palmer in his prime and nobody had a bigger impact on golf. He won the Masters four times, the British Open twice and the U.S. Open once.

Winnie Palmer no longer enjoys her husband's golf travels, and Palmer has many business interests that do not involve swinging a club in competition.

"So, all of that has got me thinking a little bit," Palmer said. "I've got a lot of things going on, a lot of commitments. How much more of this is going to involve playing?"

An army awaits an answer.

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It had to happen. Kirk Triplett had asked Duffy Waldorf to be his partner, but Waldorf had to back off because Triplett wasn't sure of his own entry.

Tom Lehman stepped in, asked Waldorf and he accepted. So who did Waldorf see in his match Friday? Triplett, of course, with partner Steve Stricker.

"I guess we did get to play together after all," Waldorf said.

The Lehman-Waldorf team posted a 1-up victory on Lehman's 20-foot, downhill, right-to-left breaking putt for a birdie on 18.

Lehman-Waldorf play Bob Tway-Scott Verplank today, and Kenny Perry-John Huston meet Jim Gallagher Jr.-Steve Lowery.

Nanci Bowen's birdie putt on the 19th hole put her and Annika Sorenstam into a match with Kelly Robbins-Tammie Green as the four top-seeded LPGA teams won.

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