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Tough Finish Looms for Stockton at Wilshire

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chances are the Pacific Bell Senior Classic will be won today at Wilshire Country Club’s 18th hole, a par-three disaster waiting to happen, a mini-nightmare 162 yards long with yawning bunkers guarding the front of a green shaped like an amoeba turning a corner.

“It’s going to be very entertaining,” said defending champion Joe Inman, who birdied the 18th Saturday.

Anything else?

“It’s an interesting hole,” he said. “It’s not a give-up hole. It’s a hole where two shots can be lost. It’s a hole where somebody can make a two and it’s a hole where somebody can make a four. It’s a hole.”

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It’s also a hole where Dave Stockton rolled in a 30-foot bomb, which he did right after he had chipped in from 35 yards on the previous hole to help him finish off a seven-under 64 worth a two-shot lead when today’s final round begins.

John Mahaffey is two shots back at nine-under 133, even though he parred every hole on the back nine to finish with a 68 that he needed only one word to describe.

“Boring,” he said.

Inman, Bob Murphy and Gary Player, who turns 64 on Monday, are only three shots back of Stockton at eight-under 134. Lee Trevino, Bruce Fleisher, Jim Thorpe and Bruce Summerhays are tied at seven-under 135.

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Right now, they are all chasing Stockton, who is strangely out of practice at being in this position.

The 58-year-old Stockton has won 14 times on the Senior PGA Tour, but not since 1997. This year, Stockton has only one top-10 finish and he is No. 40 on the money list with $332,234--his lowest total since he started playing the senior tour full time in 1992.

After an eight-birdie, one-bogey round that featured three birdies on the last four holes, you would have to figure Stockton’s confidence level is overflowing. Not really. The way he has played this year, he can’t get it off his mind.

“This year has been a total disaster,” said Stockton, who is going to make up for not playing in the Senior Tour Championship by going duck hunting instead.

Murphy said it was fun to see his pal Stockton go birdie hunting Saturday. In fact, any tournament that features the names Stockton and Murphy near the top of the leaderboard is fine with him.

“We’re both not having a very good year,” Murphy said. “I think the rest of the field can just play bad tomorrow. They can let us have fun and they can go out there and shoot 75 or something.”

The way things are going at Wilshire, it doesn’t appear that there are too many 75s out there. There are 33 players in the field of 78 who begin today with scores of even par or better. The reasons for such low scores may be because of a combination of ingredients: No wind, springy fairways, soft greens and a course only 6,575 yards long.

“It looks like it’s going to take a good score to win,” Murphy said.

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How good?

“I don’t know,” he said.

About the only thing anybody is sure of is that the par-three finishing hole may be a lot of fun. Or not. Stockton and Murphy said the normal No. 18--which is being played as No. 17 this week since the usual No. 10 is now the closing hole--is a lot more challenging than the par three because it’s a difficult driving hole and there is danger in the front and the left of the green.

“Terrifying,” Stockton said of the hole.

And as for the new No. 18?

“Tournament wise, I don’t like it at all,” Murphy said.

Nevertheless, Summerhays said that No. 18 will take its toll.

“Under the pressure, under heat, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’ll be delightful.”

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There is a chance not everyone will feel the same way. Maybe the best attitude is to just forget about it and not take it so seriously. Inman was probably right after all. It’s a hole. We’ll see if it turns out to be a scary one.


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