Fifteen of last year's top 20 PGA money winners, three of the four major tournament champions, winners of the last 12 Los Angeles Opens, three amateurs and Seve Ballesteros are among the 144 players poised to tee off today at Riviera in the 62nd annual L.A. Open.
The two favorites--Jay Haas and Steve Pate--are none of the above.
If there was a prize for the champion of Southern California tournaments, Haas and Pate would be battling it out this week over Riviera's 6,946-yard, par-71 course in Pacific Palisades in the final event before the pros head for Florida.
In the three other Southern California PGA Tour events, Pate has won two, the rain-shortened Tournament of Champions at La Costa and last week's Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open at San Diego. Haas won the other one, the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Coachella Valley, and finished second to Pate at San Diego.
"I'm coming here with a good attitude," Pate said, "but that doesn't mean I'll repeat what I did last week. In fact, I think I'd be surprised if I did."
Pate birdied the final hole at Torrey Pines to break out of a tie with Haas to take the $117,000 first prize.
Not surprisingly, Haas and Pate are this year's leading money winners. Haas, in his 12th year on the tour, has already won $261,331, which is only $1,000 shy of his record season last year. Pate, a former UCLA All-American who lives in Simi Valley, has $229,888.
This week's tournament, seventh on the $40-million PGA Tour, is worth $750,000, with $135,000 going to the winner.
Although Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger, 1987's two leading money winners, didn't come to Los Angeles, today's starters include Ben Crenshaw, Scott Simpson, Tom Watson, Larry Mize, Tom Kite, Chip Beck and Mark Calcavecchia, all of whom finished in the top 10.
Calcavecchia, a long hitter from Florida, showed a liking to Riviera in Wednesday's celebrity pro-am when he shot a seven-under-par 64. His round also helped his pro-am team of Kevin McCoskey, Garrett Smith, Stan Thomas and Robert Stern to a winning 54, 17 under par.
Simpson, the United States Open champion from San Diego, will be playing on home territory. When he was a two-time national collegiate champion at USC, he played at Riviera often. In Tuesday's Shoot-Out, the machine-like Simpson had four birdies in nine holes.
Larry Mize, who chipped in to stun Greg Norman last year at the Masters, and Nick Faldo, the tall Englishman who won the British Open, are on hand. Of the major champions, only Larry Nelson, the PGA winner, is missing.
Ballesteros, even though he has not won in the United States since 1985 in New Orleans, and Crenshaw, who lost in a playoff last year to T.C. Chen of Taiwan, will probably attract the largest gallery. The colorful Spaniard, who has two Masters and two British Open wins, is making one of only eight tournament appearances in this country.
"I like to play Riviera and San Diego to get a start for the year," Ballesteros said. "I need to get the kinks out of my game. I'll go home and come back in time to be ready for the Masters."
Crenshaw, who builds his schedule around what he considers the better golf courses, never misses a chance to play Riviera.
"I've stated many times that this tournament is one of my favorites," Crenshaw said. "Certainly the course is not in as good a shape as it usually is, but superintendents are not miracle workers. It was too cold here a couple of months ago, and the frost hurt the fairways, but it's the same old golf course."
Crenshaw had the best record of any player in the four major championships last year, even though he did not win one to go with his 1984 Masters. He finished fourth in the Masters, U.S. and British Opens and was seventh at the PGA. In the Masters, he missed a playoff with Mize, Norman and Ballesteros by only one shot when he bogeyed the 17th hole on the final day.
"That one hurt, but I had to feel good because I had put myself in a position to win and that's what you have to do before you can win," he said. "It hurt when I lost here, too, because I want to win at Riviera because it's such a great golf course, and such great players have won here."
Among them have been Ben Hogan, who won two L.A. Opens and the U.S. Open during one 18-month stretch in 1947-48; Hal Sutton, who outfought Jack Nicklaus down the stretch to win the 1983 PGA; Hall of Fame members Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Lloyd Mangrum, and future Hall of Fame members Watson, Johnny Miller, Lanny Wadkins and Hale Irwin.
Crenshaw lost on the first playoff hole, No. 15, when he made a bogey 5 to Chen's par 4. Crenshaw drove wildly and failed to reach the green on the 449-yard hole with his second shot, and Chen hit a 3-iron to the green from the right rough.
"T.C. really won that tournament when he made that (16-foot) birdie putt on the last hole," Crenshaw said. "It's a real credit to him to have made that putt after I made mine. That was real gritty."
Three players--Crenshaw, Chen and Danny Edwards--were deadlocked going to the final hole. All reached the green in two shots. Crenshaw putted first and sank his. Edwards missed and then Chen made his, a side-hiller that looked to be the most difficult of the three.
"When Ben made his putt, I thought the tournament was over," Chen recalled. "All I could think about was not to be short. I would rather have three-putted than to be short."
Chen stroked it into the cup to send the tournament into its first playoff in six years. It should have been easy to tab Chen as the winner then. After all, Crenshaw's playoff record was 0 for 6.
After it became 0 for 7, even Crenshaw acknowledged that "my playoff record is pretty pitiful."