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THE LOS ANGELES OPEN : After 2 1/2 Rounds, It's a Four-Way Battle : Irwin, Couples, Lyle and Calcavecchia 8 Under When Play Is Halted

February 05, 1989|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

There is a certain order to a golf tournament--18, 36, 54 and, finally, 72 holes. But are you ready for 45- and 47-hole leaders?

That's the strange scenario in the rain-plagued Nissan Los Angeles Open at the Riviera Country Club.

After about 2 1/2 rounds, Mark Calcavecchia, Sandy Lyle, Hale Irwin and Fred Couples shared the lead at eight under par.

Since rain suspended part of the second round Friday, some pros had to complete that round Saturday morning when the weather was adverse: a cold wind along with a light rain.

The third round was scheduled to begin at noon Saturday, but it didn't get under way until 1:20 p.m. as officials waited out the weather.

Calcavecchia and Lyle, who were able to finish 36 holes Friday and had a three-stroke lead on the field, were in the last group to tee off Saturday at 3:10 p.m. They were joined by Irwin, who trailed the leaders by three strokes.

Couples had a full day of golf. He had to complete his second round in the morning and go on to the third round in the afternoon.

Couples managed to play 11 holes before darkness halted the third round. He birdied the 11th, a par five of 561 yards, to gain a share of the lead.

Calcavecchia, Lyle and Irwin completed only nine holes. Irwin shot a three-under-par 32 to move into a tie. Calcavecchia and Lyle were even par for the nine holes, but Lyle lost a chance for the outright lead when he bogeyed the par-four, 418-yard ninth hole.

Andrew Magee, Tommy Armour III and D.A. Weibring were the leaders in the clubhouse. They managed to complete 54 holes, each with a par 71 Saturday and a total of 213. Six other players also finished 54 holes.

Those players who need to complete the third round will tee off at 7:30 a.m. today, weather permitting, with the final round starting at 10:30.

There is a 50% chance of rain today. Mike Shea, the PGA Tour tournament director, is optimistic that the tournament will wind up as scheduled today, but he didn't rule out the possibility that it could carry over to Monday.

Irwin is the sentimental favorite of the gallery for painful reasons. He was struck on the forehead by a shot hit by former Ram center Rich Saul in Wednesday's pro-am.

He was hospitalized and had 16 stitches taken in his forehead, but he still was able to play Thursday--and play well. And now Irwin, the 1976 L.A. Open champion, is in contention for the title again.

"I think the most difficult part of the day was sitting around waiting to see what was going to happen," Irwin said. "There's a mind-set when you come to a golf tournament in terms of strategy and game plan.

"Then, five hours later, you finally tee off and you forget what you're there for. It's not anyone's fault. It's disruptive to your rhythm, a momentum breaker, particularly when you know you're not going to finish.

"You have to keep in mind that this isn't the end of the third round. You try to categorize everything and break it into segments, and we're only halfway through the third segment."

Irwin said he got to the course at about 10 a.m. So how did he kill time?

"I just sat around and stared at the guys that I've stared at for 20 years,"' he said. "I went from one group to the next and, when the topic of conversation involved golf, I moved on to the next group."

Irwin birdied the par-five first hole with two putts from 20 feet and got another birdie at the third hole with a 70-foot putt that he said came "from the next county."

He got two more birdies on the fifth and sixth holes with 30- and 12-foot putts, respectively, before bogeying the seventh by three-putting from 35 feet. Then he made par on the eighth and ninth holes.

"I've never seen the pin placements in the years that I've played here where they were for the third round," Irwin said. "Obviously, they're putting them in the high spots away from the water."

Irwin, 43, who hasn't won on the Tour since the 1985 Memorial Tournament, said that strategy is the key to playing Riviera.

"The more you play it, the more you realize it's not your normal golf course," he said.

Irwin said he's never been in a position in which he shared the lead after 2 1/2 rounds, adding: "But I've never been hit by a golf ball, either."

As for the supportive crowd, Irwin said: "People pull for the underdog, the old guy who has been kicked in the head. The concern people have shown is very nice."

It stopped raining in the afternoon, and the wind abated. Irwin said the course was in better condition than he thought it would be, but he added that the greens were still soggy in spots. Irwin had a prominent bandage on his forehead, but he said he felt fine and was, of course, happy to be in the position he's in.

So Irwin is obviously still in he hunt, even though he says the last nine holes of the tournament are the most decisive.

Other former L.A. Open winners weren't so fortunate. The cut was 145, three over par, and 79 players made it.

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