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To Morgan (66), This Is Gilshire

Golf: On a course where he has never lost, he shares lead with Inman and Dougherty.

October 31, 1998|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Things you can count on in golf: round balls . . . sand and not cake mix in the bunkers . . . green greens . . . Gil Morgan wrecking Wilshire Country Club.

Actually, the way things are going, there's probably a better chance of seeing square golf balls than Morgan messing up at Wilshire, where he has played two tournaments and won both.

Morgan started his quest for a trifecta with a five-under-par 66 Friday in the first round of the $1.1-million Pacific Bell Senior Classic.

Morgan is tied with Ed Dougherty and Joe Inman, but they are already at a distinct disadvantage even if they don't know it, basically because Morgan plays Wilshire as if he owns it.

As a matter of fact, if Morgan keeps on winning this thing, he probably could buy the place, then rename it Gilville or something. He has played seven rounds at Wilshire, and his worst score is a 68. Shame on him.

Morgan said he's getting attached to the place. He was asked what he would do if they ever moved the tournament from Wilshire.

"You mean after I stopped crying?" he said.

On a cool, slightly breezy opening day, 18 players broke par on the cozy 6,575-yard layout, where Lee Trevino turned in a 67, his second-best round since March. Buzz Thomas, Brian Barnes and Raymond Floyd were right behind at three-under 68, and Larry Nelson and three others were at 69.

Trevino compiled five birdies and one bogey and gave credit to a new grip he's working on. He joked that he had no clue why anyone was interested in his round.

"What do you want to talk to me about?" he said. "I par a hole, I birdie a hole, I par a hole. Talk about the basketball players. They're starving to death."

Meanwhile, Morgan is getting fat eating up Wilshire. He birdied the first two holes and then No. 6 when he knocked a six-iron to within 10 feet. Morgan gave a shot back when he three-putted the par-three seventh but got hot after he made the turn on his personal playground and birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 14.

"I seem to do OK here," Morgan said.

You would have to agree. Morgan has won six times in 1998, which ties him with Hale Irwin for the most this year, and that makes Trevino believe it might be the player and not the course that's causing this Morgan success thing.

"Gil has been playing well on all the courses, not just this one," he said.

Like almost everyone else, Inman found Wilshire's greens about as fast as he has seen all year.

In fact, he couldn't believe how fast they were.

"Holy mackerel!" Inman said.

Indeed. However, not everyone scored as well as Inman, who birdied three of the last five holes to catch Morgan and Dougherty. Arnold Palmer finished at 10-over 81 in his first round of competitive golf since returning from seven weeks of radiation treatment for prostate cancer.

Others, like Dougherty, fared much better. Dougherty turned pro in 1975 and got his only PGA Tour victory in 1995 at age 49, which made him the oldest first-time winner in 33 years.

Nicknamed "Doc," Dougherty (pronounced DOCK-er-tee) quickly found what's up on the Senior PGA Tour, which he began playing in May.

The Vietnam veteran with the body of a deployed parachute has to rely on sponsors' exemptions or Monday qualifying to get into tournaments, and he has been good at both--in 18 tournaments he has $403,500 in prize money.

Dougherty is No. 41 on the money list, which would give him limited exemptions into 1999 tournaments, but now he has a chance to move up into the top 31 and earn a full exemption. Dougherty is about $100,000 behind No. 31 Bob Dickson and could make it up in a hurry by bagging the $165,000 winner's check.

"If I move up, great," he said.

And if he doesn't, well, Dougherty is ready to go to qualifying school. Actually, Dougherty was ready to go, well, anywhere the last three weeks, but he couldn't get in any of the tournaments.

He didn't have a bogey Friday and enjoyed both the greens and working with his caddie, Cecilio Olmedo, who always gets with Dougherty for tournaments in Los Angeles. Dougherty had Olmedo at his side in July when he finished seventh at the U.S. Senior Open at Riviera . . . and now there's this 66 to consider at Wilshire.

Dougherty said he likes the geography around here.

"If I [win] Sunday, I want to hear that Randy Newman song," he said. "I love L.A. too."

As for Thomas, he has his own nickname story. His real name is Robert Tilman Thomas, but he was tagged with Buzz while growing up working in a lumber camp in the backwoods of Montana.

Thomas, who also enjoyed a career in the wholesale seafood business, has been swimming upstream in his first year on the senior tour. This is his 34th tournament, but he's only No. 59 on the money list and has had his only two top 10s in the last two weeks.

"I don't exactly know why that is," he said.

Neither did he know exactly where his golf ball was on No. 18 after he pulled his drive into the left rough. He couldn't find it, teed up another ball and wound up with a double bogey.

Thomas, though, rose above it. He said he has been listening to self-improvement tapes and they have helped him control his emotions.

"But I was practicing my breathing very hard riding back to the tee in the cart," he said.

Morgan's oxygen intake pattern is fine. As long as he's playing Wilshire, he's breathing easy.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

At Wilshire CC--Par 71

Ed Dougherty 33-33--66 -5

Gil Morgan 33-33--66 -5

Joe Inman 33-33--66 -5

Lee Trevino 33-34--67 -4

Buzz Thomas 33-35--68 -3

Brian Barnes 34-34--68 -3

Ray Floyd 33-35--68 -3

Allen Doyle 34-35--69 -2

Walter Hall 35-34--69 -2

Larry Nelson 34-35--69 -2

Ray Arinno 35-34--69 -2

Billy King 35-35--70 -1

Lee Elder 34-36--70 -1

George Archer 36-34--70 -1

Bob Dickson 36-34--70 -1

D. Eichelberger 33-37--70 -1

Dana Quigley 35-35--70 -1

Bobby Stroble 35-35--70 -1

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