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SPORTS WEEKEND | Golf

Nelson Has Become Senior Cash Machine

October 27, 2000|THOMAS BONK

So just how automatic has Larry Nelson been this year?

When he pulled his car into the parking lot at Wilshire Country Club on Tuesday, six caddies asked him for work.

The caddies have given Nelson a nickname.

"ATM," Nelson said.

As a star-driven vehicle, the Senior PGA Tour is always looking for somebody new to drive.

It's the system. There is always supposed to be some new big-name guy taking the wheel, which is where players such as Tom Kite, Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins were supposed to slide in as soon as they signed up.

So how do you explain Nelson?

Anyone who saw him coming, raise your hand.

How did Nelson get in position to light the way? If Kite-Watson-Wadkins are neon, then Nelson is a 60-watt bulb.

But with two events left this season, it is the soft-spoken, plain-and-simple, semi-shy Nelson who has been the brightest star on tour.

Nelson's record this year is nothing short of sensational: six victories, six seconds, 21 top-10 finishes in 28 events and first place on the money list with $2,526,805.

Beginning today at the SBC Senior Classic at Wilshire, Nelson has a narrow lead in the money race over Bruce Fleisher, who isn't playing, and Hale Irwin, who is.

Not that it matters much to Nelson, of course.

"It would be satisfying," Nelson said. "If not, there's always next year, I guess."

Nelson is no senior Fleisher-come-lately. He won the 1981 PGA Championship and the 1983 U.S. Open in a PGA Tour career that began in 1974, but only since he played his first full year on the Senior Tour in 1998 has he really cashed in.

He has made $5.795 million and is just short of $10 million ($9.622 million) in his pro career.

Nelson is trying to fill in a missing line on his resume this week. He has never won a tournament in California.

"But I'm getting closer," he said. "I won in Nevada."

FULL NELSON

Nelson, who was passed over by the PGA of America for the Ryder Cup captaincy, said he is officially over the snub.

"I'm waiting for the senior tour to have a Ryder Cup team," he said. "Maybe I'll be named captain of that."

NO ORDINARY JOE

Joe Inman, the two-time defending champion at Wilshire, has not made a bogey in 91 holes.

Now that you know that, watch him bogey No. 1 today.

The Senior PGA Tour record is 97 consecutive holes, set by the late Jack Kiefer in 1994.

HAIL HALE

Irwin's victory last week in Hawaii was his 29th senior tour victory and that tied him with Lee Trevino for the lead.

This is the fourth consecutive year that Irwin has made more than $2 million, which is a senior record. It's also the fourth consecutive year that Irwin has won at least four times, also a record.

CONFORM THIS

Keeping up to date in the continuing equipment wars, Callaway's announcement--with help from Arnold Palmer--that it will market a driver in the U.S. that does not conform to the USGA's testing standards touched off the expected protests.

The PGA of America wasted no time jumping into bed with the USGA by issuing a statement that said, in part, of the $625 ERC II: "[The PGA of America] supports the high standards of the game as set forth by the United States Golf Assn."

Then the USGA issued its own statement, reaffirming its position as "an impartial entity with no commercial interest in the rule-making process" and saying a single set of rules should cover both the competitive players and the recreational players.

The USGA also said it was "puzzled" that Palmer had endorsed nonconforming equipment.

That's sort of a puzzling reaction in itself, since Palmer has long been a spokesman for the recreational player.

What's next? Stay tuned.

TIGER TALK

Tiger Woods has been busy issuing great quotes these days.

1. Woods reacted to Greg Norman's comment that any U.S. player who didn't travel to South Africa for the 2002 Presidents Cup would be shirking his duty to golf.

Said Woods: "I find it very ironic that Greg would be the one to say that when he's not going to go down and support match play in his own country."

Woods was referring to Norman's intention to sit out next year's Match Play Championship in Melbourne, Australia.

2. Woods on Palmer's decision to endorse the nonconforming Callaway driver: "He's 70 years old. He needs some distance."

OH THAT TIGER

What was Vijay Singh thinking when he let his caddie wear a cap asking "Tiger Who?" during the Singh-Woods match Sunday at the Presidents Cup?

Said Singh, "I saw it on the practice tee and said, 'Why not?' "

Woods? He said nothing. He just went out and won, 2 and 1.

TIGER UPDATE

For what it's worth, Woods can set PGA Tour records in six statistical categories. Woods is leading in scoring average, greens in regulation, birdies, eagles and all-around, and he has a chance in the putting category.

IS THIS LOVE?

News item: With one eye on the U.S. team celebrating the Presidents Cup and another on the 2002 matches in his homeland of South Africa, Ernie Els said, "We'll see how much they love this cup they just won."

Yes, the test of true love is a Presidents Cup in South Africa.

CALL MISS MANNERS

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