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San Diego Open : When Faxon Takes Look, He Sees Surprising Name at the Top--His

February 21, 1988|CURT HOLBREICH | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Watching the scoreboards at Torrey Pines this weekend can be a dizzying experience, which is why it is just as good that Brad Faxon didn't pay much attention to their flipping electronic messages Saturday.

Faxon was among the third-round contenders all day at the Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open, but not until his eagle on the 18th hole did he glance up and realize he was leading.

Faxon rolled in a 30-foot putt for the eagle-3 that gave him a 66. It was the low round of the day and left him with a 54-hole total of 16-under-par 200.

"Honestly, I never saw a leader board until I finished the round," Faxon said. "I don't know if I was not in a position where I could see them or I was not looking. But I really did not look, and I didn't care to look."

If he did, he would have seen the most unpredictable and volatile PGA Tour event of the young season.

Steve Pate, who also eagled the 18th to finish his round at five-under-par 67, is alone in second, one shot behind at 201. After Pate, the race becomes complicated with 11 more players within three shots of Faxon.

Two shots behind are Tom Kite (who shot a 69); Hal Sutton (68), first-round leader Fred Couples (68) and fifth-year pro Willie Wood, who had five birdies in a row on the back nine on his way to a round of 68.

The leader board was changing with such frequency during the round that it became almost fruitless to keep track.

"That's one reason I don't like to look at the board," Faxon said. "You can't worry about everyone else."

Especially when it appeared as if a quarter of the field was within striking distance of the leaders. At the midpoint of the round, five players, including Faxon, were tied at 13-under-par, and seven more were within two shots.

The ever-changing scoreboard prompted Sutton to conclude that it really didn't matter who starts today's final round on top.

"There is really no leader," he said. "I don't care if someone comes in one shot ahead of everyone else. So many guys are up there, not everyone is going to get scared of that one-shot lead."

But not everyone agreed that the lead, even one as tenuous as Faxon's, was not an advantage.

"If Hal had the opportunity, he would trade with (Faxon) in a second," Kite said. "He's the leader. But it is so close that it is going to be an interesting day (today). Brad is in a commanding position."

Don't tell that to the leaders after the previous two rounds. This has been a tournament where if you make one mistake, it becomes difficult to come back. Witness Couples and Don Pooley.

Couples bogeyed the first hole of the second round and has yet to get back into the lead. He shot a 68 Saturday and is at 202, two shots behind Faxon.

Pooley, who began the third round with a one-stroke lead over Kite and Bob Tway, clipped a tree with his second shot on the first hole Saturday, caught a bunker with his third shot and made a double bogey that dropped him out of first.

Pooley shot a 71 and is tied with seven others at 203. Included in that group are two-time champion Tom Watson, who shot a 69, and Gil Morgan, who followed his tournament-record 62 on the North Course Friday with a 67 on the South Course Saturday.

Morgan has played himself back into the tournament after an opening 74 left him in danger missing the cut. Morgan, recovering from rotator-cuff surgery about 18 months ago, said it has been some time since he has been in such a close race to finish.

"I think the last time was maybe Santa Anita in '74," Morgan joked. "Actually, the conditions are just perfect. And the guys are playing well and putting well."

After the players alternated their first two rounds between the North and South courses, the move to the longer and more difficult South Course for the final two rounds was supposed to help moderate the scores. But that did not develop because the winds were calmer than earlier in the week.

Only 10 of the 71 players failed to shoot par or better Saturday.

But even with those low scores, not everyone was impressed. Roger Maltbie, who shot a 68 for a three-round total of 203, leaving him three shots behind Faxon, figured the scores would be even better.

"I thought 18-19 under is where the lead would get to," said Maltbie, who has only one bogey in three rounds. "You couldn't have had a better day for playing."

No one played the course better than Faxon. He made four birdies and an eagle. He did not bogey a hole and missed only one green, saving par with a 10-foot putt on the 14th.

This is the first time Faxon, a fifth-year pro who plays out of Barrington, R.I., has led after three rounds. His only victory was two years ago in the Provident tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn. But the tournament was played opposite the U.S. Open and did not count as an official tour victory.

Faxon's best official finish was a tie for third in the 1984 Walt Disney World tournament. He has never finished higher than 82nd on the money list and is off to a slow start this year. He missed the cut in two of his three previous tournaments and finished in a tie for 53rd in the Phoenix Open two weeks ago.

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