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Happy Playing Two Tours, Nelson Is No Easy Ryder

The newest addition to the Senior PGA Tour can’t quite say goodbye to the other tour, so Larry Nelson is going to play at least four PGA Tour events in 1998.

Even though he’s 50, which makes him eligible to start scooping up those senior tour

dollars with a bunker rake, Nelson said he isn’t ready to go over totally to the over-50 tour.

“As long as I feel I can compete and believe I can win, you always want to play the very best, and the very best are on the PGA Tour. I’m a happy guy. I can’t totally leave the other tour. As soon as I know otherwise in my heart, I’ll be totally committed over here. Then I’ll be very happy.”

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Nelson, who won the PGA Championship in 1981 and 1987 and the U.S. Open in 1983, turned 50 seven weeks ago. Since then, he has won $252,457 in five senior tournaments, which also makes him happy.

He’s much less thrilled about the Ryder Cup captain’s issue, since he wasn’t selected in either 1995 or 1997 and wasn’t even considered for 1999, which went to Ben Crenshaw, 45.

“It would have been an honor if it had happened before,” said Nelson, who has won $196,981 on the regular tour this year. “If they asked me, I would not do it now.”

Nelson said he heard when Tom Kite was selected that the rotation was going to be Kite, Crenshaw in 1999 and then Curtis Strange in 2001.

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Nelson received a letter in overnight mail informing him of Crenshaw’s selection. So did Strange, who said Crenshaw called him the night before the appointment was announced.

“It was a very, very nice thing to do,” said Strange, who insisted he was not upset about being bypassed.

Nelson said he thinks Strange, 42, is too young for the 1999 captaincy.

“But it used to be the criterion was the job went to former PGA champions,” he said. “That changed when Kite was named. I’m not sure what the criterion is any more.”

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BEN THERE

Crenshaw said he has been asked many times what his qualifications are as a leader.

“I’m a natural,” he said. “I was the captain of the Safety Patrol in the second grade.”

TIGER UPDATE

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The Tour Championship is Tiger Woods’ last official tournament of the year, but that doesn’t mean he is going to be back in Orlando, Fla., any time soon to go fishing . . . probably using dollar bills as bait.

Woods is off to Japan on Tuesday, then playing in a three-day Nike exhibition Thursday (a pro-am that includes Hideo Nomo and Mike Piazza), Friday (a Skins game that includes Mark O’Meara, Nick Price and Shigeki Maruyama) and Saturday (a junior event).

Woods gets a week off after that, then jets to Hawaii for the PGA Grand Slam with Justin Leonard, Ernie Els and Davis Love III. Normally held on Tuesday and Wednesday and having trouble drawing a TV audience, the event nevertheless has been moved to Monday (opposite “Monday Night Football”) and Tuesday.

After that, Woods takes another week off, then plays the Skins Game. You also may notice something new with Woods, beginning in Japan--he’s going be playing Titleist irons for the first time. The custom-forged blades have been a year in production.

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MORE TIGER

Hughes Norton, Woods’ agent at IMG, finds portrayals of Woods as being mired in a slump “totally fascinating.”

Said Norton: “That’s not seeing the forest for the trees.”

(There has to be some Woods pun in any forest reference.)

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“To have won four times, to win a major, to win the money title, to be player of the year and just miss the Vardon Trophy, it’s been a dream year,” he said.

Norton said Woods, whose fourth victory was in the Motorola Western Open in July, is a victim of his own early-year success, as it relates to expectations.

“They went wacko,” said Norton, who understood why.

“With the start that Tiger had . . . it is by comparison a slump, but compared to nobody but himself.”

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MONEY NEWS

With the $4-million Tour Championship having begun Thursday at Champions in Houston, there are only two players who have a chance to overtake Woods ($1.969 million) and win the money title.

If Leonard ($1.46 million) wins and claims the $720,000 first-place money, Woods will remain No. 1 only if he finishes no lower than a two-way tie for third.

If Love ($1.36 million) wins, Woods can finish no lower than 10th.

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BILLY BALL

So the top 30 money winners went to the Tour Championship, where last place pays $64,000. Here’s all you need to know:

No. 30--Andrew Magee $665,607.

No. 31--Billy Andrade $665,602.

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You don’t need to know much about math to realize that Andrade missed out making at least $64,000 by $5. That’s the $64,000 equation, all right.

Andrade might not have a fatter wallet, but he does have ESP--on Sunday in Las Vegas when he missed a 20-footer for birdie on No. 18 that hung on the lip, he said to his caddie: “I hope that’s not the one that will keep us out.”

It was and he was. Andrade said he’s not going to do anything drastic, such as burn his clubs or anything.

“The initial shock is over now. I was shocked from the minute I figured it out. It’s amazing you play all year and it comes down to $5.”

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USE IT AT AMEN CORNER

Chi Chi Rodriguez is using a putter with a 27-inch shaft, only one inch longer than the minimum length. Rodriguez said the short putter puts him very close to the ground, which comes in handy.

“You can pray and putt at the same time,” he said.

TRAVELS WITH TIME

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Last week was a rare off-week for Tom Lehman, who completed a five-week trip at the Disney Classic that featured five tournaments in three continents and 26 time zones: San Antonio to Spain to Germany to Japan to Orlando.

“I’ve got some good frequent-flier miles,” Lehman said.

SEVE UPDATE

So Seve Ballesteros wants to play golf. He doesn’t want to take time off for such duties as being captain of the next European Ryder Cup team.

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In his latest effort last week at Madrid in the $724,000 Oki Pro-Am, Ballesteros finished 30th, 15 shots behind Paul McGinley.

Maybe Ballesteros needs to start teeing the ball up in the rough.

BIRDIES, BOGEYS, PARS

Are you listening, Greg Norman? The World Tour, as championed by Norman, got torpedoed by PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, who announced Wednesday the creation of a four-event quasi-world tour that begins in 1999. One of the events is a match-play event in February at La Costa. Finchem said each of the events will have purses of more than $4 million.

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Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Matthew McConaughey, Chris O’Donnell, Samuel L. Jackson, Joe Pesci and Ken Griffey Jr. are among the celebrities in the $1-million Lexus Challenge, hosted by Raymond Floyd. The event, which benefits Childhelp USA, will be Dec. 17-20 at the Citrus Course in La Quinta. Floyd, Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Johnny Miller, Jim Colbert, Dave Stockton, Nelson and Rodriguez are among the Senior PGA Tour players in the field. Details: (800) 611-9222.

Rod Laver is the defending champion in the Drysdale Hall of Fame classic, Dec. 3-6, in Palm Springs. The event benefits Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership. Details: (760) 778-4300. . . . The Buick Cheryl Ladd Celebrity pro-am will be played Feb. 11-12 at Oakmont Country Club during the week of the Los Angeles Women’s Championship.

Christie Kerr, Jill Hinton, Kelli Kuehne, Patti Rizzo and Michelle Dobek were among the 23 players who earned LPGA Tour cards for 1998 in the final qualifying tournament at Daytona Beach. . . . The GTE Byron Nelson Classic is raising its purse $700,000 to $2.5 million and first prize from $324,000 to $450,000. . . . Jack Nicklaus on the Golf Channel: “It wasn’t any fun for me 30 years ago to finish 27th and it certainly isn’t any fun now.”


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