Davis used Toshiba as a springboard

Rodger Davis proved in 2003 that he was stealth around the greens. Winning the eighth Toshiba Senior Classic for his first victory on United States' soil might have been the launching ground.

The Australian native fended-off a mild charge from Larry Nelson on Sunday to claim the 2003 Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club with a three-round 197 [16-under-par], making it the fifth continent he has won on.

By the end of 2003, Davis, 52, led the Champions Tour — formerly the Senior PGA Tour — in sand saves and putting average. He made par or better 45 times out of 75 bunkers, a 60% clip. He averaged 1.726 putts per hole.

The putter worked for him in Sunday's final round when he birdied 11, 13 and 16 to stave off any attempt at a competitor catching up.

"If you can't putt, you can't win," said Davis, who switched to a long putter seven years ago after double-hitting a putt at a tournament in Monte Carlo. "I spent the rest of the round putting Bernhard Langer-style. I tried cross-handed, but that is not the way to go. A long putter takes awhile to figure out, but I ended up being more consistent with it. Everyone talks about building the perfect pendulum with the right grip and setup. With the long putter, you can get to that. I was 32nd in putting [in 2002] and then topped it [in 2003]."

Davis, who entered the final round of last year's Toshiba with a two-stroke advantage, defeated Nelson by four strokes and came within one shot of tying the all-time tournament scoring record of 17-under-par 196, set in 2002 by Hale Irwin, the only two-time Toshiba champion.

"From day one I had a good game plan going in," said Davis, who prefers courses from yesteryear — such as NBCC — more than the modern tracks. "They say the modern courses are more challenging, but I'm not sure if they are. You need to do more homework [on a course like NBCC], especially if a pin is tucked.

"I prefer the older-style courses. On a lot of holes you can't stand back and blast driver, but have to position the shot. That is why [two-time Toshiba champion Hale Irwin] plays well around here. At the seventh [a par-4 with a tricky green], you can go with a four-iron or driver off the tee. If you have a driver, you can take a three-quarter lob wedge [into the green]."

Davis will make this third appearance at this year's Toshiba March 15-21.

Jim Ahern took a one-stroke lead over Davis and Lanny Wadkins after the opening round last year, when 38 players shot under 70, the second most in tournament history. But Davis came storming back with a 7-under-par 64 in round two to gain a two-stroke lead over Ahern. Jim Thorpe closed to within a stroke once, but he fell back quickly on Sunday.

Davis was struggling with his short game upon coming to last year's tournament, but a quick lesson by Marc Albert, a teaching pro who happened to be walking by when Davis was practicing a day before the first round, apparently squared things up.

"I was struggling, I can tell you," Davis said after the tournament. "Ask my caddie (Paul Banks) … all of a sudden (Albert) got me contacting the ball properly. Hey, if you think you can chip in this game, it takes the pressure off you and you've got a crack at a couple of flags."

That is not all Davis had to struggle with in the early stages of 2003.

Two weeks before Toshiba, Davis, another golfer and two caddies were in a Mexico City restaurant and were held up at gunpoint by two men who stole their watches.

Davis nearly withdrew from the Champions Tour event that week, but some coaxing by Fuzzy Zoeller talked him out of it.

"That woke me up a bit," Davis said about the last year's ordeal during a Toshiba media day event in January.

Davis will not compete in Mexico City this season, one of the only tournaments through the first seven months of the tour schedule he won't attend. He doesn't know how many he will play. It all depends on the mighty dollar.

"If I make $750,000 by July, then you might not see much of me until [October's Charles Schwab Cup]," Davis said. "Britain in July, August and September is a great place to be."

First place in the Toshiba gets $240,000.