At Long, Long Last, Colbert Wins in California

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For much of Sunday's final round at the Toshiba Senior Classic, it appeared that Jim Colbert's first victory in California was going to be a runaway.

But Colbert, who led his closest competitor by seven strokes after nine holes, got a late challenge from Senior PGA Tour rookie Bob Eastwood, before holding on for a two-stroke victory at Newport Beach Country Club and the $150,000 first-place check.

Colbert made his first and only two bogeys of the tournament Sunday but otherwise played the solid golf necessary to maintain the lead.

Eastwood, however, was closing fast. Six down at the beginning of the round and eight back after nine, he made three birdies and an eagle to get to nine under and hit his tee shot on the 185-yard par-three 17th hole to within five feet.

Colbert, who had just finished bogeying the 16th hole to drop to 12-under, said he didn't realize his lead was shrinking until he walked onto the 17th tee.

"I was trying not to go flat," Colbert said. "I was really trying to focus. Then all of a sudden I was standing at 17, and I see nine under. Nine, where did that come from?"

Even so, Colbert said he was unaware of the meaning of Eastwood's putt.

"These California crowds are a little too laid back," Colbert said. "I would have thought they'd have knocked us off the 16th green with cheers if somebody nine under hit it that close.

"Hell, we never heard any hollering or screaming, so [Lee] Trevino and I convinced ourselves it was for par."

When Eastwood's putt hit the lip of the hole, any further drama was nipped in the bud. Eastwood's birdie on the par-five 18th and Colbert's easy par wrapped it up.

Eastwood shot seven-under 64 for the day, the low round of the tournament, and won $88,000 for second place. Hale Irwin shot 66, finishing eight under and taking home $72,000 for third. Trevino (69) and Jack Kiefer (68) tied for fourth at six under.

Eastwood, playing in his third senior event, said he is still struggling with his game and didn't start the day expecting to go after Colbert.

"He doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Eastwood said, "but you never know in this game, and the greens are a little spooky this week."

Colbert was one of the few players not spooked by the greens during the tournament. While many were complaining the greens were bumpy and tricky, Colbert was rolling them in.

Colbert, who birdied four of the first five holes Saturday, started well again Sunday, with birdies on three of those holes. However, he did make his first major mistake of the tournament when he flew the second green with a seven-iron. He chipped back on and two-putted for his first bogey.

Birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 more than made up for the error. Then he saved par with an eight-foot putt on No. 6, after playing partner George Archer made a 25-footer for a birdie that cut Colbert's lead to six.

"If there was a putt I felt like I needed to make, it was that one," Colbert said.

Colbert played aggressively the rest of the way to capture his elusive first victory in the state--on either tour. He figures he played more than 100 tournaments on the regular tour and about 30 since he joined the senior tour in 1991, and being shut out stuck in his craw.

"I had to get that monkey off my back," Colbert said, "even though no one knew about it until I started talking about it. Sometimes you have to put the pressure on yourself. That's my version of being Muhammad Ali."

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