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Floyd Rolling Along Even if the Ball Isn’t

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Now here’s a tournament you can be proud of. After three rounds of the U.S. Senior Open at Riviera Country Club, the star of the show is a bunch of grass.

Yes, the same stuff you mow and cows eat is the leader in the clubhouse, if you don’t count Raymond Floyd, who flogged his way through the kikuyu grass Saturday afternoon, shot his worst round so far and still increased his lead from two shots to three.

Floyd bogeyed the last hole to finish with a 73, but he was too relieved to be upset.

“I am thrilled,” he said. “I have endured.”

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Well, yes, you have, Raymond, which is probably the best anybody can hope for playing that kikuyu-laced minefield at Riviera, where trying to hit golf balls out of the stuff can break your wrist or your spirit and absolutely fracture your score.

They have kikuyu back in South Africa, where Hugh Baiocchi comes from, but the thick, green, spongy kind at Riviera is like nothing he’s ever seen.

“Back home, we’d probably smoke that stuff,” he said.

Terrific. When the smoke cleared Saturday, Floyd emerged carrying a three-shot advantage over Hale Irwin, Dave Stockton and Isao Aoki. Floyd and everybody else knows that leading a tournament with one round to go is a great position, a whole lot better than hitting a golf ball into that darned kikuyu.

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Arnold Palmer, who shot a 75, said the deepest, meanest, thickest patch was on the right side of the 17th fairway. Hitting a ball out of that place is tough, he said.

“Like jello,” said Palmer, who put the kikuyu into his personal record book.

“That is as hard as I’ve played in any Open,” he said. This is noteworthy because Palmer began playing Opens in 1955, which is probably also the last time they cut the stuff at Riviera.

As for Floyd, he has his work cut out for him. Stockton said Floyd can’t take the day off.

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“You can’t say he has a commanding lead,” Stockton said.

Maybe not, but Floyd seems to do fairly well when he’s out in front. In fact, he has won seven of the 10 times he has either led or been tied for the lead with one round to go in Senior PGA Tour events.

The distance between Floyd and the rest would have been greater, but he had trouble judging the speed of his putts. As a result, he left more than his share short of the hole, including a three-putt from 40 feet at the 18th when his first putt came up six feet short.

“I’d like to think that had I putted a little bit better, I’d come in here with a pretty decent sized lead,” Floyd said.

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Meanwhile, Irwin’s deficit would have been much smaller if he could have thrown out his opening 77, because he has gone 68-71 since. He said he will try to play well today, apply some pressure while playing with Floyd and avoid the kikuyu the same way he did reporters after his first round.

“I have a chance,” said Irwin, who chipped in from 35 feet to birdie the 18th hole. “And that is all I have ever asked. I do have the leaders in sight and that is a more warm and fuzzy feeling than it was Thursday afternoon.”

Stockton was in a pleasant mood at the conclusion of his 73, mostly because he had just finished watching a twisting, curling 16-foot putt drop at No. 18 to rescue his par. That he did it with a putter he just fished out of the garage, the same one he used to win the 1974 Los Angeles Open, was a pleasant coincidence.

His prowess on the greens is well known. But there are places at Riviera that Stockton knows as uninviting. Yes, the kikuyu.

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“We will not discuss the rough,” he said.

Why not?

“You just can’t hit in it. If you do hit in it, funny things happen.”

Larry Ziegler wasn’t feeling so jolly after he was in the greenside rough at No. 18, wound up with a nine, but signed his card for a 12 so he could get out of town. He had a nifty 88. As a parting shot, Ziegler said he had just made his last appearance in an Open.

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There are plenty who are hoping their current Open appearances pay off. As the fourth round begins, there are nine players within five shots of Floyd, whose 54-hole total of 213 is even par.

Baiocchi, Tom Jenkins and Roy Vucinich are tied at four-over 217, and Gil Morgan, Vicente Fernandez and Ed Dougherty are at 218.

Vucinich, the club pro from Sewickley, Pa., shot 75 and was nervous being paired with Floyd.

“At one point, I felt, ‘What am I doing out here?’ ” he said.

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It probably was a shared emotion. Only three players broke par Saturday--Frank Conner with a 68, Dougherty with a 70 and David Oakley with a 70.

As usual, there were horror stories. Tony Jacklin had three triple bogeys on his way to an 87. Dave Eichelberger had an 81. Jack Nicklaus shot a 79, his worst round on the Senior PGA Tour, and wasn’t happy about it.

“I never like to play this way,” he said.

He made a seven at No. 3 when it took him two shots to get out of the kikuyu. He didn’t like that, either, but nobody who has been in there with him this week feels any differently.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE LEADERS

Floyd: 70-70-73--213 E

Stockton: 73-70-73--216 +3

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Aoki: 72-71-73--216 +3

Irwin: 77-68-71--216 +3

Vucinich: 71-71-75--217 +4

Baiocchi: 71-73-73--217 +4

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Jenkins: 73-73-71--217 +4

Fernandez: 73-71-74--218 +5

Morgan: 73-72-73--218 +5

Dougherty: 72-76-70--218 +5

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FAMILY TOURS: The Stockton clan has a rooting interest in PGA, Senior PGA and Nike tour events. C12

NOTES: C12

DAILY REPORT: C12


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