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Duel Identity

From Snead's victory at Hogan's Alley to Woods' loss at Valencia, this event has seen a lot

February 20, 2003|Michael Arkush | Special to The Times

No matter the venue -- Riviera Country Club, Rancho Park Golf Club or Valencia Country Club -- the Los Angeles Open has staged some of the game's most dramatic tournaments. Following is a brief look at 10 memorable post-World War II duels:

* 1950: Sam Snead beats Ben Hogan in 18-hole playoff. Equally triumphant was Hogan, making his first tournament appearance since his near-fatal 1949 car accident. Followed by a huge crowd at Riviera, Hogan, a three-time champion (1942, '47, '48) in Los Angeles, opened with a two-over-par 73 and then shot three successive 69s to put himself in position to win. But Snead, the winner in 1945, made a 14-foot birdie putt at 17 and a 15-footer at 18 to force the playoff, in which he prevailed, 72-76. Because of poor weather, and, subsequently, the scheduled start of the Bing Crosby tournament on the Monterey Peninsula, the playoff was postponed until the next week.

Epilogue: Snead, who also won the Crosby, won 11 tournaments in 1950 and finished with a then-tour-record 69.23 stroke average. Nonetheless, it was Hogan who was selected as player of the year. Hogan won two tournaments that season, but one was a big one, the U.S. Open, the only major Snead never won.

* 1959: Ken Venturi overcomes eight-stroke deficit. The victory came three years after, as an amateur, he had squandered a four-shot advantage heading into the final round in the Masters. Venturi rallied with an eight-under 63 to win by two over Art Wall Jr. Venturi applied the pressure by posting a 30 on the front nine at Rancho Park before Wall teed off, then finished the round with five threes on a cold, foggy day.

Epilogue: Venturi, who also won the 1959 Gleneagles Open, finished 10th on the money list with $25,887. He went on to win the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional. Wall recorded 14 victories on the PGA Tour, including the 1975 Greater Milwaukee Open when he was 51 years old. Only Snead, at 52, was older when he won a tour event.

* 1963: Arnold Palmer in another classic charge. Trailing Wall by three shots heading into the final round, Palmer, who had never finished better than 10th in seven previous L.A. Open appearances, went out in 33 at Rancho Park. After a double bogey at 11, he birdied 12, 16, and then 17, when he made a 50-foot putt from at least 10 feet off the green.

"This was one of my big goals," Palmer said. "I'd always done so poorly here. I came earlier than ever before. I started with my old set of clubs.

"Usually, I start off the new year with a new set and sort of fool around."

Epilogue: Palmer won the tournament again in 1966 and 1967 and finished second to Billy Casper in 1968. Palmer also experienced his share of frustration at Rancho. In 1961, he hit four balls out of bounds on the par-five ninth hole (now the 18th), finishing with a 12. A plaque at the course marks the occasion.

* 1969: Charlie Sifford prevails over Harold Henning in playoff. Opening with an eight-under 63 at Rancho Park, Sifford, the first African American to become a full-fledged member of the PGA Tour, in the early 1960s, went wire-to-wire for his second official tour victory. The first had come at Hartford in 1967. Sifford, a Los Angeles resident, tied Henning with a 20-foot birdie putt on 16, and won the playoff with a birdie at 15.

"I didn't know I had so many fans in L.A.," said Sifford, a former caddie. "But I had as many as Arnold Palmer."

Epilogue: Sifford, 80, who lives in Ohio, didn't win again on the regular tour but finished in the top 25 in each of his first six seasons (1981-1986) on the senior circuit. Henning, from South Africa, won three senior events.

* 1970: Billy Casper knocks off Hale Irwin in one-hole playoff. One more par is all Irwin, 24, needed to win his first tournament. But in horrible conditions, he bogeyed Rancho Park's 18th hole when his seven-iron approach hit a tree, or, as he put it, "the one lousy little limb hanging out there between me and the hole." In the playoff, on the par-four 15th, Irwin missed a 12-foot putt and Casper, a superb putter, converted from five feet.

"I let everything I've worked so hard for as a pro slip away today," Irwin said, "but now I know I can win -- any time, anywhere."

Epilogue: Throughout his career, Irwin proved his point, breaking through a year later at Hilton Head to record the first of his 20 tour victories, which included three U.S. Opens (1974, '79, '90). Casper won the 1970 Masters, his third major in a career overshadowed by the Big Three of Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Casper won 51 times, trailing only Snead (82), Nicklaus (73), Hogan (64), Palmer (62), and Byron Nelson (52).

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