SAN DIEGO — No, Steve Pate isn't superstitious. Yes, he considers it strictly coincidental that he has played his best golf of the year in the San Diego area.
Whatever the reason, Pate could become the second golfer to achieve the San Diego Double on the PGA Tour. In the 19 years that two PGA events have been played here, only Tom Watson has won both in the same year, in 1980. Pate, 25, a 1984 graduate of UCLA and a resident of Simi Valley, will match Watson's feat today if he overcomes a one-stroke deficit in the final round of the Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open at Torrey Pines.
Five weeks ago, Pate led wire-to-wire in the MONY Tournament of Champions at La Costa. He hasn't placed higher than 12th in three events in the interim, but he is hot again.
Saturday, Pate added a 67 on the South Course, where the last two rounds are played, to the 66 and 68 he had shot on the North and South courses. He topped off his third round with an eagle 3, and only the fact that Brad Faxon did likewise kept him from at least sharing the lead. Pate's 54-hole total of 201 is 15 under par. Faxon is at 200.
Afterward, Pate said, "It does help me psychologically to know I won here just last month. It gives me positives to draw from. But it's not a matter of having any superstition about it. I just happen to have played well both weeks in San Diego.
"Actually, it doesn't make any difference where I play, except that I like playing in warm weather. That's more of a factor than playing in any specific place."
Pate noted that his victory in the Tournament of Champions, his second in three-plus years as a pro, was especially significant because it was the season opener. He led through three rounds, then was declared the winner when the final round was canceled after three rain delays.
"More than anything, it was nice to get off the ground well," he said. "I hit the ball much better that week than I have here. I felt like I could make anything from the fairway in that tournament. I've had to make a few more putts in this one to stay competitive.
"Naturally, it's too bad we can't come back here. There's awfully nice weather in San Diego, with the exception of that one well-timed ugly day at La Costa."
Though Pate hasn't had a victory between visits to San Diego, he has earned $7,312 for a 25th-place tie in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, $2,275 for a 42nd-place tie in the Phoenix Open and $13,300 for a 12th-place tie in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. His La Costa victory was worth $90,000, and he will pocket $117,000 if he wins today.
"I've been playing well ever since late last season," Pate said. "I made most of my money then (a career-high $335,728) in the last couple of months. I was nowhere in this tournament (tied for 36th)."
The only event Pate has missed this season was last week's Hawaiian Open.
"With a place as beautiful as this, who needs Honolulu?" he said. "I don't really like Honolulu. Besides, I drive the whole West Coast portion of the tour, so I preferred to take the week off."
Of Saturday's round, Pate said, "I got off to a rather shaky start. I duck-hooked drives on 4 and 5, and I took a bogey on 4. I rallied for a birdie on 5, and got three more birdies on 6, 9 and 10. Then I shot seven straight pars until I wound up with my eagle.
"I had 16 eagles last year, which put me second on the tour (to Phil Blackmar's 19), but this was my first this year. I hit my drive 205 yards down the middle of the fairway, then put a 3-iron about five feet from the hole."
With 13 golfers within three strokes at the top, Pate was asked what it might take today to complete a San Diego Double.
"Probably 20 under," he said, meaning that he would need another 67. "Practically everybody is tearing up the course.
"When I used to come here in college, I knew the North Course was one of the easiest around. I never thought the South Course was that easy, but apparently I was wrong."