Once in the lead, Floyd is tough to beat, as latest PGA win proves

Raymond Floyd's most difficult task en route to the Professional Golfers' Association championship was keeping a dry towel handy.

Floyd withstood 100-degree heat and steam bath humidity to win his second PGA Sunday over the great Southern Hills course, shooting a last-round 72 to finish with an eight-under-par 272 that nearly broke the tournament record.

''People kept saying that us heavier fellows would wilt in this weather,'' said Floyd, who weighs in at over 200 pounds. ''It loosens you up. I didn't mind it that much - you never do when you're leading.''

Floyd led throughout the four days of play, firing a course and tournament record 63 in the first round, then following with less than spectacular scores of 69, 68, and 72.

Known as an exceptional front-runner, he surprised none of his fellow pros by holding up after his scintillating first day showing. His rivals knew he'd be hard to catch after moving into an early lead.

In 1976, Floyd bolted out in front at the Masters and went on to win with a 271 total that tied Jack Nicklaus's tournament record, which also happened to be the PGA record. Raymond cannot remember ever leading a tournament by three or four strokes at the last round and losing.

He led by five starting Sunday's final round and came to the 72nd hole needing only a par to set the PGA record. He drove well, but hit a poor three iron and wound up making a double bogey six.

He still won by three shots over former PGA champ Lanny Wadkins and by four over long-hitting Fred Couples and straight shooter Calvin Peete. Five shots back were Australian Greg Norman and Wake Forest products Jim Simons and Jay Haas.

Tom Watson, looking for a third staight major championship, wound up at even par for the tournament, tied for ninth.

''I lost the tournament in the first round,'' Watson said. ''I took 35 putts and turned a 66 into a 72. That isn't like me. I spotted Raymond too much ground.''

The Southern Hills course, ranked in the top 10 on Golf Digest's list of America's greatest courses, played more easily than expected due to the weather. The greens had to be watered considerably, even during play, to keep them alive.

The golfers could aim their approach shots at the flagstick with confidence that the ball would hold.Also, the fairways were in exceptionally good shape.

Floyd's relatively low winning score was a testimony to his great strength and to the superb condition of the course.

Floyd usually plays better on a strong course. He won his previous PGA in 1969 at the National Cash Register course in Dayton, which features tree-lined, dogleg holes like those at Southern Hills.

The All-American 12th hole here was pivotal for Floyd Sunday. He struggled through the early holes and bogeyed at 9 and 10, reducing his lead from six strokes to three. The 12th is a 444-yard par four that hooks to the left, with water and sand protecting an undulating green.

''On the way to the tee I gave myself a stern little talk,'' Floyd said. ''I felt that if I kept playing the way I was, I would lose the tournament. I was blocking my tee shots out to the right, which is what I do when I play defensively. I had to get aggressive again.''

The personal pep talk worked. Floyd's three-wood tee shot on 12 was fine, and his six-iron second shot dug a divot only six feet from the hole. He sank the birdie putt and the crisis was over. It was his third birdie of the week on 12.

''I didn't hit another bad shot until the last hole,'' he said. ''I birdied the 15th from eight feet and the 16th from 15 feet, and I was home free.''

The victory in the year's last major championship was the 18th of Floyd's tour career, which began in 1963. He has won previously this year at the Memorial Tournament and Danny Thomas Memphis Classic in back-to-back starts.

The $65,000 he won here puts him second on the 1982 money list, behind Craig Stadler and ahead of Watson with $305,000. He is sixth on the all-time earnings chart with more than $2 million.

''I took two weeks off after the British Open and came here rested,'' Floyd said. ''The layoff was just what I needed. I played with our three kids at home in Florida and practiced. I didn't expect to open with a 63, but I know I have the ability to shoot low scores and I always have confidence in myself.

''The trick when you get an early lead in a tournament is to avoid playing safe. Somebody else turns hot, you try to shift gears - and the gears are stuck.

''I think I'm a good player from in front because I don't just try to make pars and protect my lead. If I'm hot, I keep trying to make birdies. If I had putted well at all, I would have put the tournament away Saturday. I only made one long putt all week.''

At least he kept the tournament a little bit interesting that way.

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