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LOS ANGELES OPEN : Pohl, Haas, Ozaki and Beck Shoot 65s, Share the First-Round Lead

February 26, 1988|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

In golf, it's still not how, but how many.

How else could you explain some of the goings-on Thursday at Riviera during the first round of the Los Angeles Open.

Jumbo Ozaki, the Japanese Jack Nicklaus, made eight birdies and an eagle and shot a 65.

Dan Pohl and Jay Haas, the year's leading money winner, each made six birdie putts without a bogey for 65s. None of Pohl's birdie putts was longer than eight feet.

Chip Beck, as did Ozaki, had eight birdies, but no eagles. He also had a 65, though.

Players universally agreed that the course is tough and not in the best of condition, yet 62 of them bettered par 71 and another 19 equaled par. That sounds more like short and flat Indian Wells instead of proud Riviera with its tiny greens, tall eucalyptus groves and the tradition of Ben Hogan.

Ozaki, Pohl, Beck and Haas are tied for the lead in the $750,000 tournament with their 65s, but none of their rounds was as amazing as that of Donnie Hammond, the 1986 Bob Hope winner.

Hammond hit his first ball out of bounds, made only one birdie in 18 holes, yet still shot 66. Impossible?

Like the adage says, it's not how but how many.

Hammond saved par on the 506-yard opening hole despite his out-of-bounds when he rifled a 3-iron to the green after his second drive and sank a 30-foot putt.

Then he made a hole-in-one on No. 4, a 238-yard carry over a Sahara-sized trap, for an eagle. He hit a 2-iron and the ball landed about a foot in front of the green and rolled into the cup.

"I couldn't see it from the tee, but as soon as I saw all the hands go up from the gallery, I knew it was in," Hammond said. Hammond's only other hole-in-one on the tour came at Cherry Hills in Denver, on the 234-yard eighth hole.

"Apparently, I've found my distance," said Hammond, a graduate in psychology from Jacksonville University.

On No. 11, a 559-yard par 5, Hammond made a second eagle. He hit a driver off the tee, and finding the ball sitting up nicely on the Kikuyu grass fairway, he hit the driver again. The ball rolled eight feet past the hole, from where Hammond delicately stroked it into the cup.

The only routine sub-par hole on his card came when he birdied No. 14 after he hit a 5-iron on the 140-yard hole and knocked in a 25-foot birdie putt.

"That was one of the most exciting rounds I've ever had," Hammond said. "In fact, the most excitement I've had in a week came on the first hole. It was the lowest round I've ever had at Riviera, which means a lot to me because this is one of the really great courses on the tour, in the world, in fact."

Despite his heroics, Hammond is one of five players one shot off the lead. The others are Ed Fiori, Corey Pavin, Steve Lowery and Scott Verplank, the amateur sensation of 1985 who is trying to become a contender again after two disappointing years as a professional.

Ozaki, playing in his first U.S. tournament this year, lived up to his nickname, booming out drives more than 300 yards as he attacked Riviera. The 41-year-old Ozaki, second-leading money winner on the Japanese tour last year, was hitting his drives so far that he as able to chip short irons to the soft greens on most holes that left him with short birdie putts.

Only one birdie putt, a 15-footer on No. 1, was more than 10 feet, and he eagled No. 11 from four feet after hitting a 3-iron for his second shot. He had four bogeys, however. Twice he missed short putts of about two feet and twice he failed to make par from bunkers.

Although Ozaki, whose first name is Masashi, has not played tournament golf this year, he recently led a group of 15 Japanese professionals on a golfing tour of California that included rounds at Olympic Club, Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, PGA West, Mission Hills, Bear Creek and Indian Wells Resort.

"The two weeks of practice on U.S. courses helped me today," Ozaki said through an interpreter. "It gave me a chance to get used to the difference between American courses and Japanese. The courses in Japan are much narrower and shorter. I arrived here with an excellent feeling."

In 18 years as a professional, Ozaki has won 52 tournaments. By comparison, Nicklaus has won 71 in 25 years and Arnold Palmer 61 in 32 years.

Pohl, who has been making so much money in side attractions this year that he hasn't been concentrating on tournament play, seemed surprised by his six-birdie, no-bogey round.

"It probably was the first good round I've played all year," the University of Arizona product said. "When you're making money off the course like I've been making, it's difficult to get down to business during a tournament."

Pohl has made only $14,412 in three tournaments this year but has picked up about $160,000 in such things as the non-tour Spalding tournament and a nine-hole shootout at La Costa last month where he made $86,250. He also won the pro-am portion of the Pebble Beach tournament with Dan Marino, a 16-handicapper, as his partner.

On Thursday, the way he was hitting close to the hole made his birdie putts almost ridiculous. His putts were one foot on No. 1, four feet on No. 3, one foot on Nov. 4, six inches on No. 11, eight feet on No. 12 and four feet on No. 17.

Beck and Haas, who won the Bob Hope tournament and finished second last week in San Diego, credited smooth putting strokes for their success.

"Basically, it was just a carry-over from the last round at San Diego where I was six under par." Haas said. "How you play the greens is the key out here, and I hit a lot of solid putts and kept them on line. That's great for your confidence."

Beck made more long putts, including two breaking 15-foot sidehillers, than the other leaders, but he also had two three-putt greens.

"That's the way it is at Riviera," he said. "I've been coming here for 10 years, and every time I learn something new about the subtly of these greens. Experience here, if you learn your history lessons, makes all the difference in the world."

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