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Crenshaw Leads Assault on Riviera : His 9-Birdie 64 Gives Him a Share of Lead With Haas

February 27, 1988|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

So many golfers play at Riviera Country Club during the year that some of the club's old-timers derisively call it Rancho West, after the nation's busiest municipal course a few miles to the east.

Last year, 70,000 rounds were played at Riviera. The normal amount for a prosperous country club is 40,000.

With spotty fairways, little rough and bumpy, uneven greens, it has the look of a public course. And this week, it has been playing like one.

"It's still the same old golf course," defended Ben Crenshaw, the golf historian of the tour. But is it?

It has been blistered in the first two rounds of the Los Angeles Open like never before in its 62-year history. It took two rounds of par golf to make the cut at 142 for today's third round. That is two strokes lower than the former record set in 1985.

Because the fairways, once thick with lush Kikuyu grass, are bare in spots, the ball is rolling 15 to 20 yards farther that normal. This gives the pros a chance to use shorter irons for approach shots and, with greens softer than usual, they are firing right at the pin--and holding. This accounts for the high number of short birdie putts being made this week.

Crenshaw himself birdied half the holes he played Friday while shooting a seven-under-par 64, the low round of the tournament. With his opening-round 69, it gave him a share of the 36-hole lead at 133 with first-round co-leader Jay Haas, who had a 68 to go with his 65.

"We're not treating Riviera with any respect, are we?" Crenshaw said after making nine birdies and two bogeys. "I never thought I could do that here."

One shot back at 134 are Chip Beck, 65-69; Ed Fiori, 66-68; Donnie Hammond, 66-68, and two surprises, Rick Pearson, 67-67, and Steve Lowery, 66-68.

Pearson, who has lost his playing card three times, got in the L.A. Open as the third alternate. He didn't know until early Thursday that he would take the place of Mark O'Meara, who was a late withdrawal.

In parts of four years on the tour, Pearson's highest finish was a tie for eighth in the 1982 Magnolia tournament, and his total PGA earnings are $8,164.

Lowery, a first-year pro from Alabama, had missed the cut in all four tournaments he entered before this week.

Fiori, who learned his golf on local public courses such as Rio Hondo, showed the gallery a real public links player's trick when he putted out of a trap to save par on the sixth hole. That is the one with the trap in the middle of the green and that's where Fiori's ball was.

"It's something I practice all the time," Fiori said matter-of-factly. "The ball was on a downslope and the hole was cut on the low side of the green so I decided to putt it. I was lucky to roll it out and have it stop, but it was a better prospect than I faced if I'd tried to blast it out. No way I could have kept it on the green."

Fiori sank his 15-foot par saver, which was the only close call he had.

Crenshaw, who lost the L.A. Open last year in a playoff with T.C. Chen, sank putts ranging from a two-footer on No. 11 to a 30-footer on No. 16.

"It was an exceptional round for me," Crenshaw said. "I changed putters for the first time in a long time, and for the first time this year I've seen some putts go in. It's a great feeling."

Haas, the year's leading money winner and runner-up to Steve Pate last week at San Diego, was not as spectacular as Crenshaw, but had a steady round of four birdies and one bogey.

"I like being in front, or close to the lead," Haas said. "I like my position, especially the way I'm playing."

If the tournament comes down to the 18th hole Sunday, however, the former Wake Forest star may be in trouble. He made his only bogey on No. 18 when his second shot came up short of the green and he missed a 12-foot putt for his par.

"If I had to play eighteen every day, I'd find a new business," Haas said. "I don't think I've ever made a 3 at that hole and you can count the 4s on one hand . . . and I've been playing here at least 10 years."

Despite the low scores, Haas said he did not believe Riviera was getting any easier.

"I know the trees aren't getting any shorter," he said with a laugh.

Mike Reid had the most spectacular start, making a rare double-eagle 2 on the first hole, the 506-yard par-5 with out of bounds on the left. He hit his tee shot 302 yards and followed it with a 204-yard 4-wood that wound up in the cup. Reid finished with a 69.

The low cut did not help all the favorites. Seve Ballesteros, the swarthy Spaniard who attracted the largest gallery the past two days, came in at 144, as did Nick Faldo, the British Open champion. Craig Stadler, despite making an eagle on his first hole when he drove the green on the 310-yard No. 10, dropped out with a 143. Also sent packing were Masters champion Larry Mize, 145, and Pate, the only two-time winner on the tour this year, who had 146.

THE LEADERS

Jay Haas 65-68--133

Ben Crenshaw 69-64--133

Chip Beck 65-69--134

Steve Lowery 66-68--134

Rick Pearson 67-67--134

Donnie Hammond 66-68--134

Ed Fiori 66-68--134

THE NAMES

Corey Pavin 66-70--136

Mac O'Grady 69-68--137

Lanny Wadkins 70-67--137

Hal Sutton 70-68--138

Tom Kite 67-71--138

Scott Simpson 70-69--139

Tom Watson 70-70--140

Johnny Miller 70-70--140

Jumbo Ozaki 65-75--140

Hale Irwin 71-72--143

Craig Stadler 72-71--143

Seve Ballesteros 73-71--144

Complete Results: Page 17.

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