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He’s No Ordinary Joe at Wilshire

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Say what you will about Wilshire Country Club (Uh, it’s tiny and it’s easy?), but it is the finest piece of short-grass real estate in the golfing world.

Isn’t that right, Joe Inman?

“It is a special place,” he said.

Why, it’s only one Matterhorn short of being Inman’s personal Disneyland of golf courses. Wilshire is the Happiest Place on Earth for Inman, who is one round away from winning his third consecutive senior tour event at the quaint, friendly course here on the edge of Hancock Park.

Inman shot a three-under-par 68 Saturday and maintained his two-shot lead in the $1.4-million SBC Senior Classic at semi-soggy but still accommodating Wilshire.

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At nine-under 133, Inman is followed most closely by Mike McCullough, whose 68 put him in position for his first Senior PGA Tour victory. McCullough is a close friend of Inman, but that doesn’t mean McCullough thinks he can’t be beaten at Wilshire.

“We’ll see,” McCullough said.

Meanwhile, Larry Nelson got close enough to make his own assessment. Nelson’s seven-under 64 was the best round of the day and it moved him into a tie for third at 136 along with Jim Thorpe and Stewart Ginn.

Barry Jaeckel’s 69 left him alone in sixth at 137, and there is a five-way tie at 138 with Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Tom McGinnis and Hubert Green.

It was a sometimes sunny, sometimes gray day at Wilshire, where the rains have made the course a little more difficult than usual. Inman said there were many times his ball picked up mud, while McCullough said the softened greens held a number of spike marks.

No matter how well he has played, Inman said he is not counting on anything except a difficult time today.

“Nobody is unbeatable anywhere,” he said. “Every time I stand on the first tee, I say the same thing: ‘It’s not my life and it’s not my wife.’ But I feel confident. I feel good.”

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The good feelings expanded to Nelson. Eight shots better than his first round of 72, he was grateful.

“I needed that,” Nelson said.

He also needed a good start Saturday and got that. He chipped in from 18 feet to birdie No. 1 and chipped to a foot at No. 2 and made birdie there. And, like everyone else, Nelson had trouble reading Wilshire’s greens, although it’s hard to quibble about the difficulty of the greens when you’re torching the place at the same time.

Nelson said he is confused by the greens, but that’s not all bad because everyone is in the same situation.

“I don’t think anyone feels comfortable on these greens, which makes me feel comfortable,” he said.

What hurt Nelson more than anything was that he failed to birdie either of the par-five holes on the back, although he did get one at the dangerous 444-yard 17th, which was the normal closing hole until the par-three 10th became No. 18 at last year’s tournament.

Whatever sequence they play the holes, no one has played them all year as well as Nelson.

If Nelson triumphs this week and takes the $210,000 winner’s check, it will guarantee him the money title. What it won’t do is create any sort of intimidation factor, Nelson says.

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“If a person is intimidated by me, they don’t belong out here,” he said.

“Knowing that I’ve played well could be a factor. Knowing that I’ve won could be a factor. But I don’t think anyone is afraid of what I might do.”

Thorpe doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything, which is understandable the way he has been clobbering courses lately. This is Thorpe’s 36th tournament this year, but it appears as though he has saved the best for last.

He tied for second at the Bank One Senior Championship and two weeks later, he won at Transamerica. He won again the next week at the Gold Rush Classic, then tied for third last week at Hawaii.

All that recent success has given Thorpe a newfound confidence about how to play the golf course.

“I’ll just go out and jump all over it,” he said after doing just that Saturday with a 31 on the front that featured four birdies in a five-hole stretch.

He didn’t make a bogey in his round, but he failed to birdie the two par-fives on the back nine.

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Inman says it won’t be easy today.

“In case you missed it, Larry Nelson has won about $2.5 million this year and Jim Thorpe has won two of his last three tournaments,” Inman said. “So there are a lot of guys who can win this tournament. We got no Tiger out here.”

That’s true, which is probably in Inman’s favor. There’s one more thing to consider. Woods owns just about everything there is on the PGA Tour, but don’t forget, it’s Inman who owns Wilshire.

Senior Center

Leaders in the SBC Senior Classic at Wilshire Country Club (36-hole scores; par 71):

Joe Inman: 65-68--133 -9

Mike McCullough: 67-68--135 -7

Larry Nelson: 72-64--136 -6

Jim Thorpe: 70-66--136 -6

Stewart Ginn: 69-67--136 -6

Barry Jaeckel: 68-69--137 -5

Tom McGinnis: 71-67--138 -4

Lee Trevino: 70-68--138 -4

Hubert Green: 70-68--138 -4

Hale Irwin: 69-69--138 -4

Tom Kite: 68-70--138 -4

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TODAY’S PAIRINGS, D18

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