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1995 / 77th PGA RIVIERA : Success Depends on Good Tree Shot : Golf: Secret on final hole at Riviera is to aim for the correct palm and hope for the best.

August 14, 1995|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Steve Elkington was robbed.

There was no way to savor the standing ovation in the amphitheater that is the 18th-green stage at Riviera Country Club. He couldn't bask in the applause that accompanied him down the 18th fairway Sunday, couldn't enjoy a golfer's greatest rush--a crowd rewarding him for winning a major championship.

"I couldn't celebrate," he said.

He could only putt and make sure he stayed 17 under par, because nothing was won. Four players could still stand on the tee and aim at the third palm tree down the left side of a fairway they couldn't see, trusting that was the shortest way home. They could hope they didn't hit toward No. 2. Jack Nicklaus had, his ball coming to rest a few yards in ankle-deep grass 10 yards ahead of a plaque that read:

"244 Yards

Dave Stockton's

Famous 3 Wood Shot

to win the 1974

Glen Campbell L.A. Open" (cq)

"I'll try it," Nicklaus said as he was handed a two-iron. A swing later, he was still off the green and on his way to a bogey.

And they could hope they didn't go right of Palm No. 3. Paul Azinger did, and his second shot from the right rough set him up for bogey.

Ernie Els and Jeff Maggert formed Sunday's final group, and only an eagle would keep them in the game. No. 18 is 451 yards long. Eagles rarely fly that far.

Before them, Mark O'Meara was out of it and Colin Montgomerie needed a birdie on a hole that had given up only seven all day.

Montgomerie aimed toward Palm No. 3, hit a tee shot that turned toward the fairway's preferred right side and enjoyed the fact that the eucalyptus trees nearby had been ordered cut back by the PGA, opening up the green to assault and closing the sand traps on the right as an annoyance.

He hit up, and the crowd was a bit less boisterous because he still hadn't made his 20-foot birdie putt. When he did, he was rewarded on the 18th-hole stage, but he couldn't celebrate either.

It had been a different 18th hole than seven hours earlier, when Curt Byrum and Barry Lane had walked on stage, a warm-up act for the Elkington-Montgomerie finale. "Nice shot, Curt," their gallery, a guy named Bill, said from the tee.

No one was on any of the verandas on the cliff along the left side of the 18th hole. Only a few people walked along the trees on the right.

Dee Earl didn't have to wait for Marty Madera to wave his green volunteer's hat from the top of the knoll to signal that the fairway was clear and ready for assault. No one was in front of Lane and Byrum. That's because everybody was in front of them.

Polite applause was offered from a single row of about two dozen fans around the green.

Their round was finished in 2 hours 45 minutes.

Byrum and Lane played a windless, damp, listless No. 18 Sunday morning, but as the dampness wore off and the wind picked up, pace and adrenaline collided. Play was slower, but shots were better.

The crowd built gradually as the day wore on. The amphitheater filled slowly, the ropes along the fairways not at all until Fred Couples and Greg Norman brought their cadre. Brad Faxon picked up a crowd as he picked up birdies, and he brought it to No. 18, where it stayed after watching him save a par and a 63 with a long putt.

Elkington brought the most of all and the fairway was ringed as he hit his tee shot toward Palm No. 2, as he did three times in four rounds.

He had better luck than Nicklaus. A seven-iron put him on the green. A putt, then another and a wait up the hill, more work to do on No. 18.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

18th Hole

Par 4

Distance: 451 yards

Handicap: 4

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