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He has a sly, subtle grin that suggests life is all an inside joke, and his favorite mannerism is to point a forefinger up into the vicinity of his eyebrow and then aim it forward for a millionth of a second, as if to say, "Oh, hi, gang, it was just another routine 62." These are hardly overwhelming theatrics, but with his colorful clothes on a slender frame that looks as if it was manufactured to model slacks and, shirts, and with his blond, surfer's hair, and especially with what he has been doing lately, Johnny Miller adds up to instant glamour. He has always been big in the clothing ads, but now he is big in the golfing mind, too. Very big. Even magical. For his next trick, Miller will win a tournament by mail.
Last week out in a glorious part of the Old West, on a painted lady of a golf course called Tucson National, Miller strolled along looking his usual low-key, half-sleepy self, which is pure deception, and completed a historic triple. In the annals of the PGA tour, going back to the days when Walter Hagen used to pass the hat and coming right up through Jack Nicklaus' diet program, nobody had ever before won the first three tournaments of the year. Until Miller.
What Miller did out there on a course that was dolled up for TV with a bright green rubberbase latex paint, was add the Tucson Open to the Phoenix Open and the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. One, two, three. Johnny Miller is the real comet of 1974.
The fact is, it was Miller's fourth win in a row, for he had captured the World Cup in Marbella, Spain in his last appearance of 1973. That was in late November. To make his heroics all the more impressive, there, are the following statistics: all 11 of his rounds this year (the fourth round of the Crosby was canceled) have been sub-par, and his stroke average per 18 holes is a nifty 68.3. And his bank account for 1974 shows $90,000, a record for the planet Earth, January division.
Winning at Tucson was not that easy. The troublesome thing about a golf tournament is that people simply will not drop dead and let you win it just because you have become the new superceleb of the circuit. Even after a remarkable opening 62, Miller led by only four strokes. There were lurkers about, such as Jerry Heard and Allen Miller.
On both Friday and Saturday it seemed Miller would get rid of these nuisances and glide easily home, that he would not be forced to finish with birdies on the last two holes to nudge, say, Lanny Wadkins, as he had at Phoenix. But each time he stretched his lead to as much as seven shots, he went into a snooze, as if he somehow believed the clubs themselves would do the work. On Friday he bogeyed three of the last four holes to cut his lead to four shots. On Saturday he bogeyed three of the last seven and had his lead reduced to two. And by now he had a very serious guy chasing him, rookie Ben Crenshaw, who is something of a comet himself. Crenshaw had gradually been moving into contention with a 70, then a 69, then a 67.
The whole tournament was in the last threesome Sunday when Miller went out with Crenshaw and his good friend, Jerry Heard, a couple of sharks Johnny described as "very hungry."
"I'm worn out," Miller said Sunday morning. "I'm no superman."
He started out as if he intended to get it over with quickly. He birdied the first three holes. But even that did not lock it up because Crenshaw birdied two of the first five. The two exchanged more birdies and bogeys, and when they both turned in two-under, Miller still had only a two-stroke lead on Crenshaw, who by now was the only player capable of overtaking him.
Before the last 18 Miller had said, "I'm impressed with Ben's personality, but this will be my first round with him. I hope he's not as good as they say."