Considering the troubles that have beset Trevino since July, pneumonia would be just part of the act. Immediately following his British Open triumph the usually gregarious fellow suffered a natural mental and physical letdown, but he kept on playing. He tied for 32nd in one tournament, then missed the 36-hole cutoff in the next two. This bad stretch was followed by an appendectomy that put him off the tour for five weeks. His return, prior to Sahara, was marked by two more missed cuts and the only hint of the real Trevino came at the Kaiser in California two weeks ago, where he tied for 15th. In the meantime his mother died after a long illness.
While these sad affairs were taking place Trevino was also losing ground in the stakes race. In the three months between the end of the British Open and the start of Sahara, Palmer had earned $80,449 in prize money, Nicklaus $45,868 and Tevino only $3,600.
But now, with a dark-green wool cap pulled down over the tops of his ears and his red rain suit snapping and crackling in the wind, Trevino was ready to make up for lost dollars. With a frost-nipped gallery of about 100 watching, he began his round at the 10th tee and after three routine pars he produced his first comeback thrust. On the par 5 fourth hole, faced with a five-wood second shot into a quartering wind, he hit the ball to the right edge of the green and sank a 25-foot putt for an eagle 3. He birdied the eighth hole with a chip and a 10-foot putt. He then made a classic birdie on the ninth, a long par 4 directly into a 30-mph wind, over a narrow, roller coaster fairway to a small green flanked on the right by a pond. From a hollow in the middle of the fairway, Trevino lashed a two-iron shot that bored like a tracer bullet toward the distant green. He raced up the sloping fairway after the shot, then did his own version of the Mexican hat dance when he saw that the ball had stopped only 15 feet short of the flagstick. When he sank the putt, Trevino had played nine holes in a magnificent four-under-par 32 despite conditions that would have done credit to Pebble Beach at its most ornery.
He slipped somewhat on the second nine, almost balancing two three-putt greens with another birdie, but during this cold, blustery day Trevino had hit all 18 greens in the regulation number of shots, needed 34 putts and scored a 69, one of the day's 10 subpar rounds. He trailed tournament leader Bob Dickson, who had one-putted 10 greens, by a single shot and, more importantly, led Palmer by five strokes.
This finely wrought opening round was the key to Trevino's success in Las Vegas, for it kept him in contention right through the tournament. His par 72 on Friday, another miserable day, gave him the halfway lead by a shot over Dickson and a seven-shot lead over Palmer, who posted another 74 and was back in an 11-way tie for 27th. On Saturday the weather turned sunny and benign. Palmer holed some putts, shot a 69, and moved into a 10-way tie for ninth with a one-over-par 217 for 54 holes.
"The weather was more like it, but the course didn't seem to play any easier," Palmer said. "I guess I'd really be back in business if I could have just gotten down to even par."
Trevino was right on target to 16 greens, but off target again with his putter and shot a poor 73, slipping into fourth place, four shots back of the leader, Dickson, who had another 68.
"I've forgotten about that 73 already," said Trevino later as he sipped a beer. "No one's going to take it off the board just because I groan and moan. Tomorrow I'm coming back, shoot a 66 and either win or finish second."
Which is precisely what he did, bagging his 66 and winning. "Now who's the leading money winner," he said to the gallery as he left the 18th green. "If they have to, those other two guys will go right down to that last tournament in the Bahamas to try and beat me, but I'll tell you something—I'll be right there beside them."