NISSAN OPEN At RIVIERA : Stadler Loses Putter, but Not Touch

NISSAN OPEN At RIVIERA : Stadler Loses Putter, but Not Touch

Minutes before his tee time Thursday, Craig Stadler reached into his bag and discovered to his dismay that something important was missing.

It was his putter. Oh, yeah. It was the putter he remembered leaning against a table outside the locker room at Riviera Country Club Wednesday night.

It was the putter Stadler didn’t have anymore. Now, because putters come in pretty handy on the golf course, Stadler was desperate.

He ran back to his locker and fished out the one that somebody had given him to try out, the one he really had forgotten about until now.

So it was that on the first day of the Nissan Open, Stadler used a giveaway putter that looked like a garden rake on a diet, rolled in a 40-footer for birdie on No. 14, a 15-footer for birdie on No. 18 and dug himself into a share of the first-round lead.

Stadler threw a 67 at the soft fairways and surprisingly firm greens of Riviera, where Steve Elkington and Robert Wrenn matched him, although they both used their own putters.

Scott Simpson, Chip Beck and David Toms shot 68 on a cool and blustery day when 23 broke par, but not one person was lost by sinking in the rain-soaked rough.

Sure, Riviera played tougher because of the conditions, but Stadler had his own problems. It’s not the first time he has misplaced a putter. He also lost one before the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 1992 and again before the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in 1993.

Stadler decided the best way to get his putter back was to beg.

“Maybe you can put a little box on the front page--’Bring It Back!’ Well, it’s not quite Ben Crenshaw’s putter.”

No, maybe not, but Stadler did use the thing for almost three years. In any event, Stadler hopes the person who has his putter is treating it well.

“Somebody’s got it,” he said. “I hope they use it better than I did.”

Stadler’s round began with an eagle on No. 1 when he chipped in from the right fringe from about 15 feet, but that new putter bit him on No. 2 when he three-putted from 40 feet.

But those two birdies in the last five holes changed Stadler’s attitude about the putter. He’s going to use it again today.

“It deserves another chance,” he said.

As for Elkington, his latest chance to tour Riviera was nearly as good as when he shot 64 on the final day and won the PGA Championship last August.

Elkington said one of the reasons he played well was because he remembered what Beck did at Riviera in 1988.

“He faded every shot,” Elkington said. “I learned a lot that day. Riviera is a fader’s course. Ben Hogan loved it because he hit fades. I’ve got a lot of nice fits for me out there. It does suit a fader.”

Elkington was the only one of the leaders to play in the afternoon when the wind was whistling through the eucalyptus trees. For that reason, Elkington was relieved and grateful for his 67.

“It was just a happy day for me,” Elkington said.

Also feeling pretty good were Fred Couples, Lanny Wadkins, Steve Stricker and Kirk Triplett, who are two shots off the lead at two-under-par 69. Further behind are Corey Pavin at 71, John Daly at 73, Ben Crenshaw at 74 and Phil Mickelson at 75.

Simpson’s 68 would have been better if he had avoided bogeys at Nos. 16 and 18 when he said he “played like a dog.”

At least Simpson had Stadler, his old college roommate at USC, along for good company. After all, they shared a house for three years in school, which Stadler furnished with trips to the flea market.

Simpson said it was a house that a golfer would love as much as a tap-in birdie.

“We had a driving range in one room,” he said. “We’d hit golf balls at night with nine-irons. We broke a lot of windows. We played a lot of pinball and skipped a few classes.”

In short, it was close to your perfect education. Things rarely got out of hand in the house because it was basically kids’ stuff. Simpson said one of the featured activities was putting cockroaches in the microwave.

“There was no shortage of them,” he said. “That was kind of fun.”

Simpson said his old roommate always was fun, even if he was kind of forgetful and not exactly the practicing kind.

“If anybody can lose a putter, it’s not surprising it’s Craig,” Simpson said. “He might as well use that new putter [today]. Then he doesn’t have to practice with a new one.”

Hey, Stadler probably would say practice is overrated anyway.



Player: Score

Craig Stadler: 33-34--67

Robert Wrenn: 34-33--67

Steve Elkington: 33-34--67

Scott Simpson: 32-36--68

Chip Beck: 35-33--68

David Toms: 35-33--68

* Complete scores: C4



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