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SENIOR PGA TOURNAMENT AT NEWPORT BEACH

Round Not Memorable for Fans Seeking Big Names

Senior golf: Thomas, McCullough and Lundstrom share lead with J.C. Snead at five-under 66.

March 14, 1998|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEWPORT BEACH — The Senior PGA Tour originally was set up as a place for golf's former greats to take their curtain calls, but it has evolved to something completely different.

That was apparent Friday at the Toshiba Senior Classic at Newport Beach Country Club. It certainly wasn't a day for fans to look at the leaderboard and recall many fond PGA Tour memories.

One familiar name, J.C. Snead, popped up--the eight-time winner on the regular tour finished with a five-under-par 66 to tie for the lead. But for the most part, the day belonged to guys you probably have never heard of: Mike McCullough, Buzz Thomas and David Lundstrom, who share the lead with Snead.

One stroke back are David Graham, Hubert Green, Dana Quigley and Jose Maria Canizares. Gil Morgan, winner of two events already in 1998, and Jay Sigel, runner-up here last year, each shot 68. Dave Eichelberger (69), Jim Albus (69), Lee Trevino (70), Bob Eastwood (70), Dave Stockton (70) and Hale Irwin (70) were among the 10 others to break par on the 6,573-yard course.

The rain predicted for Friday never materialized along the Newport coast, giving the seniors a round under partly sunny skies. McCullough and Thomas played in an early threesome with Canizares that set the pace.

Each of the three shot three-under 32 on the front nine and Canizares, a former European Tour pro and four-time Ryder Cup player from Spain, had chances to pull away. However, he three-putted from six feet for bogey on the par-three 17th hole to fall out of the lead and missed a three-foot birdie putt on the 18th.

McCullough, a former journeyman PGA Tour professional, and Thomas, a former club pro and seafood wholesaler, both finished well to put themselves into an unfamiliar situation.

Thomas' first bogey-free round on tour and second of better than 70 earned him his first visit to the interview tent. "This is the first real good round I've had, so I'm kind of excited," Thomas said. "I don't know exactly what all you guys want."

Thomas handled the mild media scrutiny just fine, recounting how he grew up around the family lumber mill in Olney, Mont., won the Montana state amateur championship in 1969 and settled in for a career in seafood sales. Later he spent a time selling rabbit meat.

"It's very healthy stuff," Thomas said. "I sold it to nursing homes. That's that red meat without any sodium or cholesterol.

"I never did eat it. I still eat a lot of fish though."

The $165,000 first prize could buy plenty of swordfish dinners and Thomas put himself in contention with a 40-foot chip-in for birdie on the ninth hole and birdies on two of the final four holes, both par fives.

But he might have saved his round with a two-putt for par after hitting his tee shot long on the par-three 17th. If he hit the 50-foot downhill putt too hard, only the sand trap or water would have stopped it. But he finessed it to within six inches.

"That could have been a disaster hole," Thomas said, "and it turned out to be very nice."

McCullough also had a nice finish, despite a bogey on the 16th hole. He got the shot back with a 20-foot birdie putt on 17 and had an easy par on 18.

McCullough played on the PGA Tour from 1973 to '96, but never made much of an impression, except for a second-place finish in the 1977 Tournament Players Championship. He has had a similarly nondescript senior career since 1995, never finishing higher than fourth.

And he said Friday's round wasn't too impressive either.

"I'm not kidding. You could put me in the same position in the fairway and on the green and I would have shot 71 most days," said McCullough, who needed only 24 putts. "It was just a very fortunate time for me with the putter. I'm not going to stand here and tell you I'm really playing great and am in a real hot position."

He had six birdies and the bogey on 16, making a 30-foot birdie putt on 11 and a birdie after a tricky bunker shot the par-five 15th.

Like Thomas and McCullough, Lundstrom is on the tour because of his play at the qualifying tournament; Lundstrom was the medalist.

Lundstrom has been a club pro in Houston for the last 10 years after struggling to make it on the PGA Tour since 1976. He broke through and was exempt on tour in 1985 and '86 but won less than $60,000 the two years.

"I kind of saw a lot of the reasons why they beat me in '85 and '86," Lundstrom said. "Hopefully, I can be a little more competitive this time around."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Leaders / TOSHIBA SENIOR CLASSIC

At Newport Beach CC--Par 71

Mike McCullough: 32-34--66 -5

Buzz Thomas: 32-34--66 -5

J.C. Snead: 33-33--66 -5

David Lundstrom: 32-34--66 -5

Jose Maria Canizares: 32-35--67 -4

David Graham: 32-35--67 -4

Dana Quigley: 34-33--67 -4

Hubert Green: 36-31--67 -4

COMPLETE SCORES C21

Tee Times

Second-round groupings and starting times for the Toshiba Senior Classic:

*--*

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