CARLSBAD — The best golfers in the Class of '85 showed up at La Costa this week to find out who was best of them all.
It was Calvin Peete in a cakewalk.
The 42-year-old player, who did not join the PGA Tour until he was 32, shattered the MONY Tournament of Champions record by six strokes as he finished with a 21-under-par 267 Saturday for four rounds over the 6,911-yard course.
Mark O'Meara, who lives nearby in Escondido, equaled the former La Costa record of 273 and finished second.
Peete looks on his win as a major step toward reaching his 1986 goals--to be the leading money winner and Player of the Year. Last year, he finished third in money with $384,489 and was a contender for Player of the Year until Lanny Wadkins pulled ahead to earn the award.
Peete's 68-67-64-68--267 was worth $90,000 and moved him in front in Vantage Cup points, which will pay a $500,000 bonus to the No. 1 player at the end of this year's tour.
"It was a big boost to my bank account, to attaining my goals and to my confidence to beat all the winners of 1985 in the first tournament of 1986," Peete said. "I find it very rewarding to know that I won when all the winners were here."
The 21-under-par bettered not only the La Costa record set in 1970 by Frank Beard and equaled in 1981 by Lee Trevino but also the Desert Inn T of C record of 268 set by Jerry Barber in 1960.
It was Peete's 10th victory in the last five seasons, which is more tournaments than any other player has won on the tour in that period. He won the Phoenix Open and the Tournament Players Championship last year to qualify for the T of C.
It was also Peete's best four-round competitive score. As theater, however, it was pretty boring. Peete had a three-stroke lead starting the final round and stretched it to five by the fifth hole.
"I was a little apprehensive when I started the round," he said. "I was a little shaky, but when Mark (O'Meara) didn't make a challenge, it took the pressure off me and I got it going on the back nine."
Peete birdied the 10th, 11th and 13th holes with putts in the 10-foot range to make a mockery of the hopes of the 30 other tournament champions.
Unsmiling, with only a brief tip of his white cap to acknowledge the cheers as he approached the green on each hole, Peete had a deliberate, methodical pace that took some of the fun from a remarkable achievement. In a way, he made it look too easy.
Peete's driving--he has been the most accurate driver on the tour for five consecutive years--and his unerring irons made the round appear mechanical.
Only twice did he have any need for scrambling talents, and when he did, he was superb at that, too.
On the 530-yard 12th hole, he was 120 yards from the green in two shots and hit his wedge "fat." The ball did not even reach the putting surface, but Peete calmly hit a 45-foot chip shot that struck the flagstick and stopped a couple of inches away for a par.
Later, on the 375-yard 15th, he missed the fairway with his drive and buried his second shot in a bunker, close to the lip of the trap. He blasted out and sank a 10-foot putt to save par.
From here, he takes his tightly wound game to the desert where the short and narrow courses of the Bob Hope Desert Classic are tailor-made for his game. The following week he will defend his Phoenix Open championship and then take a few weeks off.
Peete credited the weather, warm and almost windless, with his record performance.
"I've been coming here for five years and have never seen it as ideal for golf as it was this week," he said.
He also gave credit to his longtime caddy, Dolphus Hull--who answers to the name of Golf Ball--for a calming effect.
"I owe him a lot of credit because he keeps me on an even keel," Peete said. "He won't let me get down on myself, but he also won't let me get excited when things start going good. In this game, you can't get too down, and you can't get too high. Golf Ball keeps my mind where it needs to be."
Peete was virtually a wire-to-wire winner as he shared the opening-day lead with Mark McCumber and the halfway lead with O'Meara and Tom Kite before pulling away with his record-equaling 64 Friday.
It was quite a contrast to Peete's performance a year ago, when he was disqualified in the first round after knocking the ball around the fifth hole like a hockey player. The disqualification occured when neither Peete nor Curtis Strange, who witnessed the rare display of petulance by his playing partner, could say with any certainty just how many strokes Peete had taken.
"I always feel a twinge of nervousness when I play that fifth hole," Peete said. "I was pleased with get away with my par there today after I pulled my tee shot nearly in the water. I guess I'll never completely feel at ease there."
When Peete arrived here this week, he said he felt he owed La Costa fans "four good days of golf."
He certainly provided that.
O'Meara, who earned $57,000 for second place, outdrove Peete by as much as 60 yards on some holes, but it did no good Saturday.
"Mark has got to feel a little dejected to tie the tournament record and lose by six shots," Peete said.
Even though O'Meara could muster only a 71 in the final round after starting 70-65-67, he still finished four strokes ahead of Philip Blackmar, the 6-foot 8-inch Texan.
Amateur Scott Verplank, who shot a final round of 72, tied for fourth at 279 with Danny Edwards and Masters champion Bernhard Langer. Edwards and Langer collected $25,000, while Verplank collected nothing but memories and experience. He will enroll Monday for his final semester at Oklahoma State.
In the side attraction, Miller Barber was as dominant in the 50-and-over senior division as Peete was in his. The bald Texan shot a six-under-par 282 to finish five strokes ahead of Arnold Palmer.
Barber, 54, winner of four senior tournaments last year, collected $30,000 for beating six other senior professionals.