OJAI — Chi Chi Rodriguez tries to avoid using any foreign substances in his body.
He has rejected painkillers and dislikes using aspirin. But he was so sick from the flu early in the week, he had to take the dreaded aspirin.
When he rallied for birdies on three of the last five holes to win the rain-shortened $450,000 GTE West senior tournament Sunday, he still wasn't 100%, but he felt well enough to accept first prize of $67,500.
The popular Puerto Rican, who would have withdrawn if rain had not washed out Friday's first round at Ojai Valley Inn & Country Club, shot a pair of 66s for a 36-hole eight-under par 132.
The sizzling finish beat first round leader Bruce Crampton and Gary Player by one shot. Another two shots back at 135 were defending champion Walter Zembriski, non-winner Dick Hendrickson, Don Massengale, Terry Dill and Harold Henning.
The rainout not only helped Rodriguez, it made for a close finish. With five holes left there were 10 players within a shot of the lead.
Rodriguez started his run with a 14-foot putt on the 13th. That hole, a 442-yard par four, and 14, a 177-yard par three, ended the hopes of most of the contenders.
After 12 holes Rodriguez trailed Crampton by two shots and both of his playing partners, Player and Zembriski, by a stroke.
Zembriski and Player hit their approach shots to the 13th green closer than Rodriguez.
"I really have to have this," Rodriguez said to the gallery. "I don't really have to have it, but I want it."
Arnold Palmer was playing in the group ahead of him, going for a birdie. There was a big roar just as Rodriguez started to putt. He backed away and said, "Arnie must have made a par."
Then he laughed and sank his putt. He sank a seven-footer for birdie on 17 to take the lead and won it on 18 when a difficult chip shot left him with an eight-inch putt for birdie.
"Under the circumstances that might have been the best shot I ever hit," Rodriguez said. "The ball was in a little hole. I could have chili-dipped as easily as made a great shot.
"Yesterday I putted great and hit the ball poorly. Today it was the other way around. I had 66 both days. Today I had putts I should have made on one, six, eight and 11. But when I made the putt on 13 and Walter and Gary missed, I knew it was my tournament."
Crampton also said putting was his problem Sunday. After congratulating Rodriguez, he said, "Somedays it's not meant to be. I hit some great shots today. And, I had five putts I thought were in and they failed to drop. It was a difficult round but I hit the ball well."
In his two Southern California appearances, Crampton has a win at LaCosta and a tie for second.
Going to 13 he was playing a solid round and was still the leader. But he three-putted from 25 feet, hitting his first 4 1/2 feet past the hole and leaving the second short.
Then on 14, he hit into a trap and missed a save from 10 feet. He birdied the 18th, but still came up one shot short.
Zembriski, the former steelworker who has become a gallery favorite, was in good position to repeat until the 13th, but he missed a three-foot birdie putt, then hit into a trap and bogeyed the 14th. He lost all hope when he three-putted on 15.
"I was rooting for Walter," Rodriguez said. "He reminds me of my father. He was a laborer and I'm glad he's making money now. He's a good good golfer."
Player, who three-putted 16 to lose his share of the lead, hit a sand shot on 18 that stopped a few inches from the hole. If it had gone in, it would have forced a playoff.
Lee Trevino, the tournament favorite, shot a par 70 for 138, a tie for 20th, one of his few finishes out of the top 10.
Arnold Palmer had a solid tournament, finishing at four-under 136. Palmer had said that if he didn't play better, he would start cutting down on his tournaments. . . . Don January, whose six-under 64 was the best round Sunday, won the Vantage super senior event run as a part of the GTE West at Ojai Valley Inn & Country Club.
The event is for pros 60 and older. January, 61, finished with a 36-hole total of 137, three under par to win the $10,000 first prize. He beat Jerry Barber, who will be 75 in April. Barber, as he does most of the time, beat his age both days with 70s.