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JIM MURRAY

Fickle Riviera Finds New One for Her Embrace

February 24, 1986|JIM MURRAY

It will come as no surprise to readers of this space that the winner of the 60th Los Angeles Open Sunday was not Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, Johnny Miller or anybody you ever heard of.

What may come as a surprise is that it was not Brett Upper or Clarence Rose or Masahiro Kuramoto or James T. Gallagher Jr. or What's-His-Name from Wherezit, or somebody whose name is Mudd.

The winner is about what we've come to expect--not exactly a nobody, more of a where-did-he-come-from? If he'd been a horse, he would have gone off at boxcars at the opening of the tournament. He would still have been a pretty good price as of Saturday night. After all, Lanny Wadkins and Kite and Miller had been-there.

These things always used to be won by guys who had been-there--Hogan and Snead, Palmer and Casper, guys with nicknames, identities, recognizable silhouettes.

Riviera is a fickle old coquette. She seldom goes home with the guy who brung her. Just when a Lanny Wadkins thinks she can't live without him, her phone stops answering and she won't return his calls. She tells her old beaus she has to fix her hair and get to bed early and then they see her on the town with two other guys. She's like the high society girl who suddenly gets sick of the yacht club set and starts hanging around the truck stops.

She batted her eyes at Douglas Fred Tewell this year. I wouldn't advise him to buy any rings. The next time she sees him she'll probably pretend she never heard of him. She'll leave him in the lurch. Or at least in a sand trap.

It's been her history of late. Her grand passions cool quicker than a night in the Yukon.

Two years ago, it was David Edwards who was the object of her affections. She allowed him the liberty of a closing-round 64 to win the tournament and nose out, among others, Jack Nicklaus, no less.

When last seen this week, David Edwards was getting out of town with a 156 for two rounds. Riviera was to be the only solo tournament David had ever won and maybe ever will.

Nine years ago, it was Tom Purtzer she lifted from obscurity--like royalty marrying her chauffeur. Tom hasn't been in the top 10 in her tournament since and won only one other tournament of any kind.

It was Pat Fitzsimons she threw her arms around in 1975, to make him another first-time winner. That was the only tournament Pat was ever to win. You can't even find him in the far reaches of the tour guides anymore.

You would think then that the prudent player would rather win a round-trip ticket on the Titanic than Riviera. Bear in mind, Ben Hogan won here twice in 1948--and got hit by a bus on his way home to Texas.

You might expect to find a guy who believed in ghosts to be coming up to the final holes with a sizable lead--and begin aiming the balls out of bounds, into traps, under trees. Anywhere but the green. Two of Tom Watson's last wins anywhere were at Riviera. Think about that for a moment.

It's a good thing Doug Tewell isn't superstitious. Or maybe it isn't. He played in a round identified by the caddy number 13 the last day. He tempted fate all the way. He rolled a little 63 out across the star-crossed course Sunday. One of the bravest exhibitions since someone went down in King Tut's tomb. You half-imagined David Edwards standing there shaking his head and saying, "I wouldn't do that if I were you."

He won the tournament by seven strokes. Nobody else seemed to want to very much. Students of history no doubt. Guys who can read tea leaves. Believers in witches. Guys who won't walk under ladders.

The best pitch in baseball is a fastball for a strike. The best punch in boxing is the left jab to the eye. The best stroke in tennis is the forehand down the line.

And the best shot in golf is the straight one off the tee or fairway. Doug Tewell handles that shot as well as anyone in the game.

Lots of guys pride themselves on their ability to fade, hook, slice or punch the ball at will. Doug Tewell didn't need any of those shots around Riviera the last two rounds. He went around the course as if it were a streetcar line. Like honesty, it's the best policy. Someone once asked Sam Snead what was the best way to handle a sand trap. Answered Sam: "Don't get in 'em."

Doug Tewell didn't get in 'em the last two days at Riviera. He went right down Main Street every shot.

The next-best shot to the straight one is the birdie putt. Doug Tewell threw in 15 of those--six in a row--in the last two days. That's what got him $81,000 in prize money.

He may need all of it given the mummy's curse that may go along with it. Doug Tewell may yet wish he had hit a few trees on the last two days or got buried in a trap or two. He said he couldn't sleep too well the night before the final round. He was afraid he might lose.

If he knew what we know he should have tossed for fear he wouldn't lose it.

It was the first tournament he won in five years. He might have known there would be a string attached. In fact, a whole ball of it.

There was the largest crowd ever to see an L.A. Open round, 41,352, on the last day. They were there for the same reason people stop at train wrecks. They were like a crowd waiting to see a guy dive off a 100-foot tower when they knew there wasn't any water in the tank below.

If I were Doug Tewell, I'd be very careful about black cats, open manhole covers and any room numbers that added to 13.

Above all, I wouldn't go near any golf courses. And when it comes time to defend at Riviera next year, I think I'd just write and say "I pass. While I appreciate the honor, I think I'll just stay home and hit balls out of bounds where I am."

That way he can at least prevent the old bawd from enjoying the look of pain on his face close up. He'd probably be better off just selling his clubs now.

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