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Price Makes Like a Birdie and Flies Solo : PGA Championship: He shoots 65 to take a five-stroke lead over Haas, Pavin and Crenshaw after 36 holes.

August 13, 1994|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TULSA, Okla. — Is there anybody out there who can beat Nick Price at anything? Hair? Smiling? Golf?

It's a Nick Price world right now. The moon has dimples and Earth is one big putting green.

Quicker than you can say birdie, the 76th PGA Championship became a one-man show Friday at Southern Hills Country Club, where Price took a five-shot lead into this weekend's last two rounds.

What happens next figures to be no surprise. Golfers who spend their lives reading greens also know how to recognize what you call big pressure.

"Well, you know, there's going to be a lot," Price said.

Why?

"Because a lot of people that I've spoken to already have assumed I'm going to win," he said.

He might have to play a lot worse not to. Price birdied four holes on the back nine--three on putts of 10 to 15 feet--to conclude a tidy round of 65 for a two-day total of 132, five shots ahead of three players.

And that's an interesting group, led by Jay Haas, who revived himself after a triple-bogey to carve out a 66.

There's nothing quite like a triple-bogey to get your attention, and Haas' was classic.

He drove the light rough on the par-four ninth hole, then hit an eight-iron over the crowd. He chipped through the green and the ball rolled down a hill. He chipped again, the ball hitting the green and rolling right back toward him until it stopped in a divot.

"I was getting a little shook by this time," he said.

Haas finally got the ball to stick on the green with his next chip shot, but then he was 25 feet short. He two-putted from there for a routine seven.

"That flustered me a little bit," he said. "I guess after 18 years, I've seen a lot of things come and go in my game."

The others with Haas at 137 are Corey Pavin and Ben Crenshaw, who each shot a 67.

Pavin was encouraged that golf tournaments normally end on Sunday, not Friday. But he admitted he had no clue what to do about Price.

"I don't know what's going to slow Nick down," Pavin said. "I think he's playing the best golf of anybody in the world right now. There's no question about it."

Not much argument about that. The golfer from Zimbabwe has won four times this year, including the British Open, and nobody else has won twice.

So is Price golf's next dominant player?

"I hope so," he said.

If Price wins here, he will be the first since Tom Watson in 1982 to win consecutive major tournaments.

It was another unpleasantly hot day but nobody seemed to mind because the greens had been watered and were a lot softer than in the first round. Not coincidentally, the scores took a nose-dive.

Blaine McCallister noticed the difference right away.

"When I left here last night, the greens were as hard as my head and that's pretty hard," he said.

McCallister shot a 64, which was 10 strokes better than his opening round. He said his key was to just keep putting and hoping.

"One of these days, the holes are going to get in the way and they did that today," he said.

Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal shot a 66 and is tied for fifth at 138 with McCallister and John Cook, six shots behind Price.

After a bogey on No. 2, Olazabal racked up four birdies, three of them on putts of 40, 30 and 15 feet.

That was the good news for the Spanish player. The bad news was that he shot a 66 and still lost a shot to Price.

McCallister launched his round with a 31 on the front nine, generally believed to be more difficult than the back. A left-hander except when he plays golf, McCallister said Price will be tough to catch with a five-shot lead.

"It's obviously going to be harder to make up when you've got Nick Price leading," he said. "He's playing a different level of golf. He's taking it up another notch; I don't know how he could do that."

Price hit every green on the back nine for the second day, but the key to his round might have been putts that saved pars on Nos. 8 and 9.

On the par-three eighth, he left his two-iron short of the green, chipped seven feet behind the hole and made the putt for par.

He hit a drive off the tee on No. 9 and just missed the fairway, then also missed the green with a pitching wedge. He chipped within a foot of the hole and made it.

"I didn't make any mistakes today," Price said.

Until he does, he is on track to become the first wire-to-wire PGA champion since Hal Sutton in 1983 at Riviera.

"You figure that you're going to have one not-so-good round," Price said. "If I can go out and turn that not-so-good round into a 69 or 70, then I think I'm going to have a chance.

"But we've all been in this game long enough (to know) it's not over until the last putt is holed."

The fat lady must be a golfer.

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