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Walton Goes Through Woods for First Title : Golf: Pepperdine sophomore shoots a final-round 69, wins by three strokes over touted Stanford freshman.

March 29, 1995|MICHAEL WEINREB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WESTLAKE VILLAGE — Mike Walton's face was creased with an innocent smile, as if he was unaware that he had just stolen the show.

Wasn't Tuesday's final round of the Southwestern Intercollegiate Invitational supposed to belong to Stanford freshman phenom Tiger Woods? Wasn't it simply Tiger's tune-up for the spring season and the Masters?

If it was, no one told Walton. The sophomore from Pepperdine, who had never won a college tournament, shot a final-round two-under-par 69 for a three-round total of 216, to outdistance Woods (75-72-72--219) and four others by three strokes at North Ranch Country Club.

Then again, the highly touted Woods, the 1994 U.S. Amateur champion and an Anaheim Western High graduate, wasn't exactly a disappointment. He helped the Cardinal (890) win the team title for the second consecutive year by one stroke over Oklahoma. New Mexico, with an 898 total, finished third in the 16-team field.

USC, playing on one of its home courses, finished sixth at 906, while UCLA tied for 11th at 922. Pepperdine finished 15th at 927, despite Walton's brilliance.

Walton, who started Tuesday on the back nine, birdied the 12th and 17th holes. On the 15th, a 492-yard par 5, he hit his second shot just short of the green and sank an uphill chip for an eagle.

"I was in the zone from the start," said Walton, who shot 73 and 74 in his first two rounds. "I wasn't even thinking about my swing. Everything was clicking."

Even bogeys on the final two holes didn't hurt Walton, who seemed genuinely overwhelmed to have won a tournament whose past champions include Corey Pavin and Dan Forsman, among others.

Besides Woods, Walton also outdistanced last year's defending champion, Todd Demsey of Arizona State, in addition to Arron Oberholser of San Jose State, Jon Bettencourt of Fresno State and Ted Snavely of Oregon. All of those players, in addition to Woods, tied for second at 219.

But it was Woods who indisputably drew the attention, although not quite the masses that tournament organizers predicted. The three-time U.S. Junior Amateur champ drew a small but reverent gallery of about 30 people (including his mother and father)--slightly fewer than the 2,000 that tournament organizers predicted.

And while his play was certainly not consistent enough to win the Masters (which he will compete in beginning April 6, thanks to his U.S. Amateur victory), there were flashes of brilliance.

On the 395-yard, par-4 dogleg left ninth hole, Woods pounded his drive over the trees to within 100 yards of the green, then hit his approach shot to within six inches of the cup. Woods chipped in on the 10th for birdie, and birdied the 524-yard, par-5 12th after chipping to within five feet of the cup.

Woods, still recovering from recent surgery on his left knee, struggled down the stretch but the fans who straggled along behind him seemed to enjoy watching him fight off bogeys as much as they enjoyed his surges for birdie.

On the 15th, for instance, Woods sliced his tee shot out of bounds, but after taking a drop, he hit an iron from an uphill lie in the rough, over a grove of trees and onto the green, saving par.

No problem.

"He played better each day, which is what you look for in a guy," Stanford Coach Wally Goodwin said before whisking Woods and the rest of his team off to the airport.

The Cardinal, defending NCAA champion, will play at Georgia Tech tomorrow. And once again, a gallery of thousands is expected.

The addition of Woods to a Stanford lineup that includes returnees Notah Begay, Steve Burdick, Casey Martin and William Yanagisawa should make the Cardinal an NCAA favorite again this year.

"He's a wonderful boy and a great kid to have on the team," Goodwin said.

But on Tuesday, while the attention was pointed toward a rail-thin prodigy, it was unassuming Mike Walton who stole the glory.

"Its something I've been expecting to do for a long time," Walton said. "I knew I had to pay my dues."

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