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PGA Championship offers last chance to win a major title in '85

By Joe ClericoSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / August 8, 1985



Denver

The PGA is the last of golf's four major championships on the calendar. This year it's also the last chance for the game's major players to save a season. Tom Watson, the superstar of his generation, has not won a major this year -- or anything else for that matter. Jack Nicklaus, who has won a record 19 majors and lives for a 20th, hasn't won one since 1980. Seve Ballesteros of Spain, considered by many the best in the world at this juncture, also has come up empty so far this year in the big ones.

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Bernhard Langer took the Masters, Andy North the US Open, and Sandy Lyle the British Open. A less likely threesome would be difficult to imagine.

Langer and North will be here, North returning to the scene of his previous US Open triumph at Cherry Hills Country Club, but Lyle is staying home in Great Britain to play a local tournament.

A favorite topic of conversation here in this scenic mile-high city is the first hole, a par four which has been restored to its earlier driveable distance. It is a mere 346 yards, and it plays less at this altitude.

In the 1960 US Open, Arnold Palmer drove the green in the closing round, made a birdie, and went on to win.

Then prior to the 1978 Open -- the one that North won -- Palmer and his architectural partner Ed Seay were hired to lengthen No. 1 and insure that no one matched Arnie's glorious feat. The reaction was long, loud, and negative.

Why tamper with a hole that was so famous? Why not let today's players take a crack at Palmer's accomplishment? Why not indeed.

The hole is back to its 1960 yardage and Palmer, for one, says he just may go for it. Ballesteros and Langer promised they will. Others say it will depend on the wind and their position in the standings.

The PGA, in an attempt to encourage the bold risk, won't let the rough in front of the green grow as high as it was 25 years ago, only about four inches instead of six, with an opening right in the front center through which a ball can run. Score one for nostalgia.

This is the 67th PGA Championship and the second at Cherry Hill. Vic Ghezzi beat Byron Nelson here at match play in the 1941 PGA.

There have also been three US Opens here -- the ones won by Palmer and North plus the 1938 championship captured by Ralph Guldahl.

Watson and Ballesteros, interestingly enough, are both shooting for their first PGA crowns. Seve is an obvious man to watch right now following his strong play over the final three rounds of the Western Open last week. But the surprise winner of that venerable tour event, college player Scott Verplank of Oklahoma State, isn't even eligible for this all-professional championship.

Back to defend his 1984 PGA title will be Lee Trevino, still a threat in his mid-40s. He also won the PGA in 1974.

Other past champions on hand are Hal Sutton (1983), Ray Floyd (1982), Larry Nelson (1981), Nicklaus (1980, 1975, 1973, 1971, and 1963), David Graham (1979), John Mahaffey (1978), Lanny Wadkins (1977), Dave Stockton (1976 and 1970), Gary Player (1972 and 1962 and close a year ago at Shoal Creek), Al Geiberger (1966), Bobby Nichols (1964), and Colorado's own Dow Finsterwald (1958).

With a victory, Nicklaus could pull out of a tie with Walter Hagen for the most wins in the championship, each having five. But for the first time in his career, the 45-year-old Nicklaus this summer missed the 36-hole cut in both the US and British Opens.

He and Watson further need a win here to make the US Ryder Cup squad that squares off against a team of Europeans Sept. 13-15 in England. Call it the last chance championship.