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GOLF SENIOR TOUR : Snake, Aches Don't Keep Them From 66


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Par took a beating Thursday in the first round of the $850,000 Tradition at Desert Mountain Country Club, but a rattlesnake in the gallery didn't.

Lee Trevino and Dave Stockton overcame physical problems to shoot six-under-par 66s and share the lead--but they didn't share the same reaction to the rattler sunning himself near the 13th tee.

Trevino believes that rattlesnakes should be left alone because they're afraid of people anyway. Stockton thinks the only good rattlesnake is a dead one.

In any event, they weren't unduly bothered by either the snake or their ailments. Trevino wears a brace to protect his tender left thumb, and Stockton wears a back brace after he plays. They finished the first round one shot ahead of five players: Gibby Gilbert, Charles Coody, Jack Kiefer, Jim Albus and Gary Player, who had an eagle on the 531-yard 18th hole.

Tournament favorite Jack Nicklaus, who won this event the first two times he was eligible and finished second to Trevino last year, was one of the few players who didn't find the 6,869-yard Cochise course he designed easy to beat. Nicklaus, in his first senior tournament this season, struggled all day, finally settling for a 72. The other pre-tournament choice, Raymond Floyd, had putting problems but finished with a 69.

Six others--Tom Weiskopf, George Archer, Jim Colbert, Bob Charles, Ben Smith and Bobby Nichols--were at 68. In addition to Floyd, Mike Hill, Isao Aoki, Dale Douglass and Larry Laoretti were at 69.

The Tradition, designated one of the major events for the 50-and-older group, is a 72-hole tournament. So Nicklaus, although he trails 32 golfers after the first round, can't be counted out. Two years ago, he overcame a 12-shot deficit after one round to win.

Trevino said his thumb, which underwent surgery in December, doesn't hurt, but swells up after every round. An ice pack brings the swelling down.

"I guess I'm just happy to be playing again," said Trevino, who won a tournament in Japan last week, his second event this year. "I am in a zone. I've never been more relaxed. I'm just having fun. I have no pressure. I've accomplished everything I wanted to on this tour, and now I'm just enjoying playing. Maybe that's the secret."

There was no early indication that Trevino was a threat. He had eight pars before sinking a 15-foot putt for a birdie on No. 9. That was the start of six birdies in 10 holes.

Stockton, one of golf's finest putters, injured his back last week while lifting rocks for a rock garden at his home in Mentone, Calif.

"I really should know better," he said. "I owe the fitness center for being able to play at all. They fitted me with a brace that I put on after the round. It keeps getting better every day.

"Where I come from, we get rid of rattlers. I was going to take a two-iron to the one at 13, but this woman wouldn't let me. At home, they kill dogs and cats, and we kill them."

Player, who also thinks rattlesnakes should not be killed, had the best chance to break out of the pack.

Beginning with the fifth hole, Player had a solid shot at birdies on six consecutive holes. Not one of the putts was longer than 12 feet, but he missed them all. But he hit a three-wood 240 yards to within seven feet of the cup on No. 18 and made his eagle.

Weiskopf, another of the walking wounded, lives in nearby Paradise Valley. He skipped last week's tournament because his surgically repaired knee was sore.

"It's not bothering me," he said, "but I was a little nervous at the start, probably because I wanted to do well before the home fans. But I sank a 50-foot putt on the seventh hole and it gave me a big lift. I'm very happy with my round."

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