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Star-Bulletin Sports

Monday, January 22, 2001

H A W A I I _ G O L F

Larry puts
‘full Nelson’ on rest
of senior field

The MasterCard victory is the
fifth win in last nine starts
for 2000 Player of Year


By Paul Arnett

Kaupulehu-Kona, Hawaii -- A night's stay at the Four Seasons Resort. Don't ask. Don't tell.

Green fees at the Hualalai Golf Club. Titleist not included.

Dinner for two at a seaside bar and grill. Exceeds your daily limit.

A chance to see Larry Nelson beat Jim Thorpe at yesterday's MasterCard Championship. Priceless.

Cut! Hey, somebody find Jack Nicklaus, today's his birthday. And if he's not available, how about Tom Watson or Hale Irwin? Maybe see if Tom Kite has a minute or two.

But Larry Nelson. Who's he?

If you haven't been paying attention to the Senior PGA Tour, it might seem as if Nelson is some guy from Alabama who decided to take up golf late in life and never really caught on in the land of the rich and famous.

Where did he go to school? Try Kennesaw Junior College, class of 1970. This self-taught millionaire knew he could go places after he broke 100 the first time he took up the game.

No fancy lessons at the club. No childhood weekends at the range. Just an instructional book -- not video -- by Ben Hogan called, "The Five Fundamentals of Golf." Only three months after rotating back to the world from Vietnam, this 21-year-old was already shooting 70.

It took several years for Nelson to earn his PGA Tour card.

Five-foot-nine like Drew Brees is 6-foot, Nelson's biggest payday came yesterday. A tidy sum of $240,000, but still modest by comparison to the $720,000 Brad Faxon took home at yesterday's Sony Open.

If you didn't know any better, it might come as a shock that this 53-year-old just cleared the $10 million mark in combined earnings. Not only has the 2000 Senior PGA Tour Player of the Year won five of his last nine starts, Nelson is also the holder of three major championships.

He captured the U.S. Open in 1983, and the PGA Championship twice in 1981 and 1987, with his final Tour victory coming one year later at the Georgia-Pacific Atlanta Classic.

Unlike some of his more famous counterparts -- this week's Senior Skins will tee up without him -- he is not the man everyone comes to see. But he should be, because right now, no one on the senior circuit is playing any better.

Just ask Thorpe. He knows what it's like to be Ernie Els. He finished second to Nelson not only yesterday with an 18-under-par 198, he also was second to golf's unassuming man at the FleetBoston Classic, tied for third at the 2000 Foremost Insurance Championship, tied for second at the Bank One Senior Championship and tied for fourth at the 2000 SBC Senior Classic, a tournament Nelson lost by one stroke to Joe Inman.

"And I really should have won that tournament," Nelson recalled yesterday with the MasterCard Championship trophy at his side. "Jim and I played well today. It was like match play. He came in with a lot of confidence."

Thorpe left, shaking his head in admiration. As he put it, "I can't shoot any better than 18-under. That's supposed to win. But here he comes and does me one better (at 19-under 197). Seems like that almost every week. There's nobody playing better than Larry."

Certainly not 1999 player of the year Bruce Fleisher, who was the third wheel in the final group. He needed a pair of birdies late to finish tied for third with hard-closing Ed Dougherty at 202.

Nelson's drives are not breath-takingly long and his iron play isn't razor-sharp, but he does putt well, particularly under pressure.

Nelson wanted to get back home to Marietta, Ga. in the worst way, because his wife is expecting.

"It's kind of strange because I'm here alone," he said. "But I'll bring a slew of people here next year."


Nelson's bogey: unacceptable

KAUPULEHU-KONA, Hawaii -- You might think the reason Larry Nelson was upset with his five on the par-4 15th yesterday was it snapped a string of 41 consecutive holes without a bogey, or it allowed rival Jim Thorpe to move within a single shot of the lead with three to play.

But you would be wrong.

Nelson is playing so well, he had a chance to turn in a scorecard with nothing but twos, threes and fours on it, comparable to hitting for the cycle in baseball.

The bogey ticked him off so badly, he came back to birdie the 16th hole to all but eliminate Thorpe from the chase and assure Nelson of his biggest payday at $240,000. But it was the bogey five on what turned out to be one of the more difficult holes that kept him from contentment.

"It's what we call the game within the game,'' Nelson said. "It's tough enough to birdie or eagle all the par-5s and not to have a six somewhere along the way. But this was a chance to do something a professional golfer can appreciate.''

Nelson's 19-under 197 in relatively calm conditions left him two shots shy of tying the record of 195 set by Gil Morgan in 1998. He closed with a 64, the best finishing round by a winner in this prestigious event.

The eight-under effort is also the best single round. That was tied by Fred Gibson in the opening round on Friday and in the second round by Nelson. Gibson finished in a tie for 10th.

Happy birthday, Jack

The gallery sang happy birthday to Jack Nicklaus on the first hole and again on the 18th. He conducted the gallery like a true maestro as he headed to the tent with a closing round of 69. Had he shot his age, 61, he would have finished in a tie for 12th.

As it was, opening rounds of 76 and 73 kept Nicklaus from being a contender. He finished in a tie for 27th at 218 -- two-over par. He said before the tournament that he would play the PGA Tour at least twice -- at The Masters and The Memorial.

"But I'm pretty much going to stay on the senior tour,'' Nicklaus said. "That's where I belong.''

Inside the numbers

The par-4 ninth surrendered only three birdies the entire tournament, and all of those were made during the final round. CBS golf analyst Gary McCord had one, Ed Dougherty, who fired a final-round best 65, equaled only by Thorpe, had one and Jim Ahern had the other.

It was the second-most difficult hole with a scoring average of 4.271. There were 64 pars and 29 bogeys. The most difficult was the par-3 fifth. There were three birdies, 65 pars, 18 bogeys, eight double bogeys and two triple bogeys for an average of 3.385.

Thorpe felt blessed on this hole. His drive hit the wall in front of the green and instead of bouncing back into the water, it landed on the back of the green. He two-putted for par.

"I thought it might be my day after that shot,'' Thorpe said. "It could have easily been a double bogey. But it wasn't enough to beat Larry. Right now, he's on go.''

Paul Arnett, Star-Bulletin

At Hualalai Golf Club
Ka'upulehu-Kona, Hawaii
Purse: $1.4 million
Yardage: 7,053: Par 72
Final round results

Larry Nelson, $240,000 -- 67-64-66--197
Jim Thorpe, $143,000 -- 67-66-65--198
Ed Dougherty, $107,000 -- 68-69-65--202
Bruce Fleisher, $107,000 -- 66-66-70--202
Gary McCord, $71,000 -- 68-70-66--204
Leonard Thompson, $71,000 -- 66-68-70--204
Allen Doyle, $57,000 -- 69-70-66--205
Tom Watson, $48,000 -- 68-67-71--206
Doug Tewell, $48,000 -- 70-66-70--206
Fred Gibson, $39,500 -- 64-72-72--208
Dave Eichelberger, $39,500 -- 67-70-71--208
Dave Stockton, $31,625 -- 71-72-67--210
Hale Irwin, $31,625 -- 69-73-68--210
Gil Morgan, $31,625 -- 72-71-67--210
Tom Kite, $31,625 -- 68-72-70--210
Dana Quigley, $26,250 -- 72-71-68--211
Jim Ahern, $26,250 -- 71-70-70--211
Tom Jenkins, $23,250 -- 70-72-70--212
John Mahaffey, $23,250 -- 70-69-73--212
Graham Marsh, $21,000 -- 74-70-70--214
Hubert Green, $19,750 -- 73-71-71--215
David Graham, $17,750 -- 69-78-69--216
John Jacobs, $17,750 -- 74-74-68--216
Lee Trevino, $17,750 -- 70-73-73--216
Vicente Fernandez, $15,375 -- 72-74-71--217
Tom McGinnis, $15,375 -- 70-76-71--217
Jack Nicklaus, $13,750 -- 76-73-69--218
Joe Inman, $13,750 -- 71-72-75--218
Lanny Wadkins, $13,750 -- 74-69-75--218
George Archer, $12,750 -- 77-74-68--219
Bob Duval, $12,500 -- 71-76-73--220
Tom Wargo, $12,250 -- 74-73-76--223

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