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Test of Wills Looms at Wilshire

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Today’s important golf question is whether a perpetually peppy, power-walking former golf club salesman who has never won a Senior PGA Tour event can get past one of the game’s preeminent players who has a personality drier than a summer sidewalk back home in Oklahoma and who already has won 14 times in two years?

“Who knows?” said Joe Inman.

“You never know,” said Gil Morgan.

Apparently, nobody knows anything at Wilshire Country Club, including how to handle greens where golf balls roll nearly as fast as Inman walks. When the last round of the $1.1-million Pacific Bell Senior Classic begins this morning, Inman and Morgan are tied for the lead at eight-under 134, seven others are within four shots and virtually anything seems possible.

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It’s not exactly a two-man race, but Inman and Morgan are two shots ahead of bionic man George Archer, three ahead of Hubert Green and Ed Dougherty and four shots up on four others, including Lee Trevino.

Archer, runner-up to Morgan last year, put up a five-under 66 and put himself in contention for his first victory in three years, since undergoing hip replacement surgery, one of his seven major operations.

“I’ve been cut on more times than a piece of meat,” Archer said.

Inman’s chances looked a lot better after 11 holes when he had a four-shot lead over Morgan, but it didn’t last very long. Morgan eventually caught up at No. 18 when Inman misclubbed himself off the tee and wound up with a bogey while Morgan rolled in a 10-footer for birdie.

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Inman hit a three-wood off the tee at No. 18 instead of his driver and was looking at a 201-yard second shot.

His reaction? “Lor-dee!” Inman exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Morgan crushed his three-wood 269 yards and had only 175 yards to the pin. His seven-iron left him a 10-foot putt for birdie and Morgan rolled it in, then watched Inman miss to fall back into a tie.

And you know, there’s only one thing you can say about that.

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“Oh, man, isn’t this game frustrating?” Inman said.

Well, yes, it is, which is probably what Trevino was thinking after he missed a one-foot par putt at No. 18 . . . or what Arnold Palmer is thinking today when he starts at 13 over . . . or Dougherty after managing no better than par.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any positive vibes around. Inman wasn’t about to start beating himself up for his three-under 68, not after putting himself in position to win his first senior event. He had a chance at Boston in August when he led Hale Irwin going into the last round, but closed with a 71 and tied for third.

After 11 years of selling golf clubs, Inman knows a nice, new career when he sees one.

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“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “Just to be tied with Gil Morgan . . . gol-darned . . . isn’t that great? I’m tickled to death.”

Terrific. Morgan would be similarly tickled if he could win at Wilshire for the third straight year, bag his seventh title this year, take the $165,000 prize money and quit worrying about whether he really might be affected by taking the last three weeks off.

“I’ll be surprised if I can find my golf ball tomorrow,” he said.

Morgan spent most of the day trying to rediscover his game, which he called “haywire.” Of course, it wasn’t all that bad. Morgan’s 68 was his eighth consecutive round in the 60s at Wilshire, although he conceded he never really felt comfortable.

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He had four birdies, a three-putt bogey and rescued par at No. 6 after he bounced his drive off some trees and found his golf ball on the 8th fairway. Inman had a similar arboreal experience at No. 14, where his golf ball landed behind a tree after his drive.

“Some idiot had planted a tree there?” Inman said, jokingly. “Can you imagine that?”

At Wilshire, you could imagine just about anything and feel safe.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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The Leaders

At Wilshire CC--Par 71

Gil Morgan 66-68--134 -8

Joe Inman 66-68--134 -8

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George Archer 70-66--136 -6

Hubert Green 72-65--137 -5

Ed Dougherty 66-71--137 -5

* COMPLETE SCORESPAGE 16

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