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Graham Up to Challenge at 17th Hole

Golf: Performance leaves him dancing before he grabs share of the lead.

March 15, 1997|STEVE KRESAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — David Graham's opening round at the Toshiba Senior Classic couldn't have started much better. He stormed over the front nine in four-under-par 31 and was among the leaders. He finally got a share of it with a birdie on the 18th and finished with a six-under 65 at the Newport Beach Country Club.

But one hole before that, Graham had to play the 17th, a 185-yard downhill par-three over water that is the course's signature hole. It can be found on posters and the cover of the program.

Graham didn't know at the time because the nearest scoreboard was broken at the time, but he was one shot off the lead.

He had a frustrating wait of close to 10 minutes on the tee while the group in front finished the hole.

During that time, Graham and his caddie considered what club to hit to the pin, which was only seven feet from the front edge. Graham, who won the 1979 PGA, '81 U.S. Open and six other titles during his years on the PGA Tour, was between clubs, in this case a five- and six-iron. The wind was swirling and causing his mind to do the same.

Finally, Graham, picked the five-iron, mostly because of the lake in front of the green. A few groups in front of him, Hubert Green had knocked one in the water and made double bogey.

Graham said as he took the club back he began to doubt his plan.

"I thought 'What if I nail this, I'm going to hit the ball in the grandstands [behind the green.]' "

Instead, Graham tried to hit a three-quarter shot, hung it out to the right, and it landed in the sand trap between the green and the lake. From there, Graham blasted about seven feet past the cup.

Graham stood over his right-to-left breaking putt for a long time trying to find the proper line. He finally pushed the putt out to the left and watched it break toward the hole. The ball hit the hole, took a full lap around the edge of the cup and fell in.

Graham did a little hip wiggle, then quickly covered the hole with his hand to make sure the ball stayed there.

"That's not something you're going to see again any time soon," Graham said about his impromptu dance. "You feel sometimes that the ball is out of your control and you're just so elated when it goes in the hole. . . . I felt like my quota of long putts was already made in the first nine holes."

On the second hole, his wedge shot from 108 yards took a couple of short hops and then went in the hole for an eagle.

He three-putted two holes late for a bogey but made a 20-footer for birdie at No. 5, a 455-yard par four. He made a birdie from 10 feet on the next hole, a 418-yard par four. He got to four under when he rolled in a 20-foot putt on the 203-yard eighth.

He used an eight-iron to get within five feet and made the birdie putt at the 397-yard par-four 14th. He hit driver-driver to get to the back of the 18th green, then two-putted for birdie.

Graham said the main reason he started the tournament well was all the practice he has done the last two weeks, including trips to Cypress Point and Augusta National.

"I don't do well when I'm away from the game for extended periods of time," Graham said.

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