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1997 NISSAN OPEN / RIVIERA COUNTRY CLUB

A Scott Is Chasing a Brit

Golf: Faldo leads at Riviera, but McCarron has consecutive eagles in round of 64 to join Stadler one shot back.

March 02, 1997|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a simple game, that golf, especially the way Nick Faldo plays it. For instance, there is his description of his pre-shot routine just before he putts.

"I follow the nice, get-on-with-it routine," Faldo said. "Just get up and hit it."

Truly these are words to live by, especially when the next thing that happens is a ball rolling in a hole.

After three days at the Nissan Open, no one has put his golf ball into the golf hole in fewer strokes than Faldo, whose third-round 68 on a sunny Saturday provided him with a one-shot lead when the final round begins today at Riviera Country Club.

Faldo's 54-hole total of nine-under-par 204 is a single shot better than defending champion Craig Stadler, who is trying to win again with a give-away putter, and Scott McCarron, who is trying to win with a putter that's almost as long as the line for buses after Tiger Woods finished playing.

Stadler massaged a 68 out of Riviera despite the fact he hit exactly one of the last 10 fairways.

McCarron's round of 64, the best of the tournament, featured successive eagles, which hasn't happened on tour in three years.

Thus McCarron jumped into today's last group, where Stadler and Faldo are naturally going to be the main attractions.

McCarron said he doesn't intend to be intimidated, especially by Faldo, whose stony stare could probably freeze air.

"I just won't look at him," McCarron said.

Faldo is the guy everyone else is looking at from behind, which is not exactly an unusual sight for a player with six major championships to his credit.

If it's unusual sights you're after, go with the golf ball Faldo hit that rolled underneath a portable toilet in Friday's round. Of course, this means that with a victory today, Faldo can go from the outhouse to the penthouse.

Though 54 holes, Faldo has been a model of efficiency with only three bogeys and one double bogey.

He birdied the first three holes Saturday to take the lead from Don Pooley, who finished with a 75. When Faldo birdied the seventh by wiggling in a four-footer, his lead was three shots.

Even though Faldo played the last 11 holes with 10 pars and one bogey, it didn't matter, at least not to him. He said he was still playing aggressively, but the putts didn't go in.

"I couldn't quite keep adding to it," he said. "The shots were there. But it was a good day, all in all."

Not everyone could say that. Despite holing out for eagle on No. 10, Scott Hoch could manage no better than par and is three shots back, tied with Tom Purtzer at six-under 207. Another shot back are Mark O'Meara, Fred Couples and Robin Freeman.

Searching for his third consecutive victory, O'Meara found a 72 instead. Ted Tryba had a 74, Tom Watson a 76.

Woods is tied for 29th at one-under 212 after he finished with a 72 and prompted a full-scale exodus of many in the crowd of 39,129.

McCarron, one of 13 first-time winners last year, followed something of an unusual path to the PGA Tour: He quit golf.

After finishing at UCLA in 1988 with a degree in history, McCarron went into the golf apparel business with his father in Sacramento for four years.

Then he went to a senior tournament and felt like playing again. No, he didn't come back as a senior, but he did come back using a putter nearly as long as a flagstick.

McCarron cut the head off a three-wood and jammed the shaft onto the shaft of a putter after adding some sand for weight and sticking some gum in there so it wouldn't rattle.

"It felt good as soon as I started using it," McCarron said.

After that, things just sort of fell into place. He got his tour card for 1995 at qualifying school, won the Freeport McDermott Classic in 1996, finished 10th at the Masters and wound up No. 49 on the money list with $404,329.

And all the while, McCarron was busy using a long putter. The 49-inch model he's using now comes in handy.

"It's also good for killing snakes and I can use it for a rake in the off-season," he said.

Apparently, the best thing that happened to McCarron is that he didn't forget to stick an eight-iron in his bag.

On No. 10, he chipped in from 45 feet with his eight-iron for eagle, then ran the ball through the fringe into the hole from 25 feet on No. 11 for another eagle. He missed a third back-nine eagle when his putt on par-five No. 17 stopped an inch short.

So McCarron needed five shots on two holes to move from three under to seven under.

Besides that, he developed a deeper appreciation for a certain golf club.

"I'm gonna be sleeping with that eight-iron tonight," McCarron said.

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