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NISSAN OPEN At RIVIERA

Nobody's Fattening Up on Riviera at This Event

Golf: With rough, wind and bumpy greens, Wrenn's total of six-under-par 136 is good for a one-shot lead at the halfway point.

February 24, 1996|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert Wrenn, who is sponsored on the PGA Tour by Eskimo Pie, and Craig Stadler, who looks as if he has eaten a few of them, rolled like a dessert cart straight into the weekend at the Nissan Open.

Wrenn hasn't won a tournament in nine years, but he finds himself halfway there today at Riviera Country Club after a second-round 69 put him at six-under-par 136.

Wrenn's lead is one shot over Stadler and Steve Elkington, whose views on dessert are unknown.

In the meantime, what became clear Friday at Riviera is that nobody's eating up the course.

Wrenn's score is better than anyone's, even though it's a full five shots more than the 11 under par Ernie Els had at Riviera after 36 holes of the PGA Championship six months ago.

"On this tour, six under par, that's not real low," Wrenn said.

The last 36 holes look like a limbo question. How low can you go?

Maybe not a lot lower, not if the greens keep spiking up and the winds start whirling around Santa Monica Canyon again.

"This course is getting back," said Elkington, who posted his 70 in the morning and then waited for everybody else to shred it.

That's not what happened, though. Scott Simpson is two shots back at 138, and there are six more at 139--Fred Couples, Lanny Wadkins, Chip Beck, Bob Tway, Kelly Gibson and Kirk Triplett.

Couples, a winner here in 1990 and 1992, would have been closer to the lead except for his double-bogey six on No. 8, which was his 17th hole.

Corey Pavin, trying for a third consecutive victory in this event, is at 142.

Wrenn had one bogey and not one birdie in the final eight holes, but that still was enough to get him in the locker room with the lead. He felt pretty fortunate, especially after missing a five-foot putt for par on No. 14.

"I was leaking a little oil there," Wrenn said.

He had a chance to pick up a shot on No. 17 when he stood over a 20-foot birdie opportunity. But the ball was resting in a heel print, and when Wrenn stroked the putt, the ball popped straight up in the air.

Stadler probably could sympathize. Putting on the greens in the afternoon was like rolling balls over speed bumps. Stadler said he missed five putts shorter than 10 feet.

"I don't remember one putt that didn't take a bounce somewhere," he said. "If it bounces straight, you've got a chance. It's kind of hit or miss."

Stadler was three under par for the day and tied with Wrenn when he bogeyed No. 3, his 12th hole, then dropped another on No. 5.

It was all in the putting, said Stadler, who used a borrowed putter for the second day but didn't blame it.

"I just couldn't get anything into the hole," he said. "I just stopped them right on the edge."

Speaking of the edge, that's Wrenn's spot.

This is the kind of weekend his travel agent will be very interested in. Wrenn needs to cash a big paycheck to maintain his place on the all-exempt priority rankings, which is the way players are allowed to enter tournaments.

In Wrenn's case, he finished 20th out of 40 who graduated from the tour's qualifying school. After the Nissan Open, the list is reshuffled according to money won in the first eight events of the year.

Wrenn is No. 188 on the money list with $2,425 in three tournaments. He finished tied for 72nd at Tucson, then missed the cut at the Buick Invitational and the Hawaiian Open.

"This is important," said Wrenn, whose only tour victory was the 1987 Buick Open in Michigan.

"That feels like ancient history," he said.

Elkington hopes history repeats itself, the kind he made six months ago when he won the PGA with a 17-under par total that tied the record for the lowest in a major tournament.

But the PGA didn't have rough as tall as it is this week, when the pros probably could park their courtesy cars in the stuff and be able to see only the roofs.

"It's pretty nasty stuff," Elkington said. "It's a hard course right now."

This is exactly what everyone at Riviera wants to hear, especially after the way the place got torched at the PGA by low scores, not to mention the criticism of the greens that were all but dead.

Meanwhile, Wrenn's comeback picked up speed. He is off the Nike Tour, back in the hunt for a title and out of the television booth, where he worked for a while.

He actually liked the TV work and learned a few things he could use in the process.

"You can't ever give up out here," Wrenn said. "You just have to keep plugging away."

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