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Davis Is Smooth Operator

Australian nicknamed 'The Dodger' averts collapse and shoots a 68 in final round to win Toshiba Senior Classic.

March 24, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

They call Rodger Davis "The Dodger," and lately he has been living up to the nickname, dodging plenty of trouble.

Sunday in the final round of the Toshiba Senior Classic at Newport Beach Country Club, he fended off early charges by several pursuers, shot a three-under-par 68 and cruised to a four-stroke victory over Larry Nelson with a three-day total of 16-under 197.

Defending champion Hale Irwin tied at 11-under with 2001 champion Jose Maria Canizares and tour veteran John Jacobs, who lost a playoff to Gary McCord here in 1999.

It is the first victory on American soil for Davis, an affable Australian who won 20 times on the Australian Tour, seven times on the European Tour and now has victories on five continents. He will return to Australia with $232,500.

Not bad for a guy who had a rough start to the season off the course. He was pistol-whipped during a robbery two weeks ago in Mexico, an incident that he blames for picking up smoking cigarettes again after a 15-week hiatus.

He also has been relegated to riding a golf cart during tournaments because strength-sapping allergies cropped up six weeks ago at a tournament in Florida. He just as soon erase the last two months from his memory, Sunday lived a moment he will never forget.

"It's unbelievable how great this is," he said. "You can't put in words what this means to me."

And it could mean a lot to the Champions Tour. Davis is a character. He wears knickers and bright-colored socks with his name embroidered in each one. He's quick with a one-liner and a master of the take-a-drag, flick-it-on-the-ground, hit-the-shot technique. Davis estimated he went through 12 cigarettes during his 4 1/2-hour round Sunday.

With his pot belly and thick mustache, he resembles a cross between Super Mario and NBC broadcaster Roger Maltbie.

Davis said he stopped smoking for nearly four months before he and five Champions Tour players were robbed at gunpoint while eating dinner in Mexico. All six lost expensive watches.

"I reckon I went through a pack that night," said Davis, who plans to quit again while the tour is on a three-week hiatus which began at the conclusion of Sunday's tournament. "When I get back from Aussie, I'm gonna be off them again."

He said he began wearing the knickers at the behest of a clothing company during the 1978 British Open at St. Andrews.

"I said don't be stupid, I don't want to wear those," Davis said.

But after taking them home and getting approval from his wife and the wife of a friend, he wore them.

"The two girls said, 'That actually looks pretty good.' So I wore them the next day at St. Andrews," Davis said. "It hit the back page of all the papers and the front page of three. So I thought, well I gotta keep wearing these."

His attire even influenced Payne Stewart, who made the outfit famous. Stewart visited Australia shortly before earning his PGA Tour card. Davis and fellow Australian Stewart Ginn introduced Stewart to the clothing company.

"If he didn't get his card in the States, he was gonna sign with us," Davis said. "I'm not saying that I started him off but you know, Stewart Ginn and myself put the thought in his mind."

Davis, who led by two entering the final round, had held 36-hole leads three times in two seasons on the Champions Tour, but had let them all slip away. He birdied Nos. 2 and 3 to pad his lead, though Nelson, Irwin, Jacobs and Jim Thorpe all closed to within two shots by the time Davis made the turn.

Birdies by Davis at Nos. 11 and 13 gave him a four-shot lead and he cruised after that. He is the fourth first-time winner in seven Champions Tour events this year.

"A few guys started off well and then all of a sudden it stopped," Davis said. "I made a couple of birdies and all of a sudden I had a big gap again."

Davis credited a chipping lesson he received Thursday before the tournament began. He said Marc Albert -- a name he could not remember Saturday -- gave him an impromptu chipping tip and he could not have won without it.

"I was struggling, I can tell you," Davis said. "If you think you can chip it, all of a sudden it takes the pressure off your shots into the flags. You can have a crack at a couple of flags knowing that if you miss, you can get it up and down and keep a score going."

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