Once summer is over and the last of the designated tournaments has been played, it takes more than just a bundle of money or a Las Vegas chorus line to lure the stars of the PGA tour from their autumnal pursuits—elk hunts and football games interspersed with trips to Japan.
Last week at the $200,000 World Open the bait was Pinehurst's No. 2 course, the Donald Ross masterpiece in the sand hills region of North Carolina that has captivated golfers since it was built in 1903. Tom Weiskopf declared the course was fun. Johnny Miller said it motivated him. Jack Nicklaus, absorbed as he is these days with golf architecture, spoke of the greatness of the Ross design. And none of them seemed to mind in the least that for a while it looked as though some lesser mortal, Pat Fitzsimons or Ed Sneed, perhaps, might walk off with the $40,000 first-place money that was rightfully theirs.
But only for a while. Then the big boys moved in. On Saturday, Weiskopf, who had been calm and confident all week, finished fast with birdies on the 15th, 16th and 17th to shoot a 68 and move into the lead. Fitzsimons, who had held the 36-hole lead, had a 71 that was a mixture of birdies and bogeys, but it was good enough for second, one stroke back. "I know I can play the difficult course well," he said later. "Riviera, Medinah, this one. I played Augusta well, too, except for one round."
Nicklaus? He was fiddling around back there, five strokes behind Weiskopf. He had shot a 70 but said he had played poorly. "I haven't quite put it all together this week," he said, as if even he now considered it too late. Then in an afterthought he added, "But if I jump in with a 65 tomorrow, the game's on."
Sunday dawned clear and windy and Nicklaus knew the game was on. "As soon as I saw what kind of day it was, I knew I wouldn't have to shoot a 65. I knew the field would back up."
And how it backed up. Fitzsimons dropped three strokes in three holes as he made the turn and never got them back. Weiskopf bogeyed four holes on the front side and began to lose his composure. A child picking bark off a pine tree at the 9th green, a photographer shooting at too close range on the tee at 10 became agents of the devil that plagues all golfers in contention, especially Weiskopf. Actually, he recovered his composure sufficiently to birdie the par-5 16th, but then, on 18, when a par would have put him into a playoff, he missed a six-foot putt after a good 30-yard trap shot and bogeyed the hole.
Meanwhile Nicklaus was making a pair of birdies, avoiding windblown mistakes and watching everybody but Billy Casper come racing back to him. Casper, who started the day four strokes off the lead and one stroke ahead of Nicklaus, bogeyed a couple of holes on the front nine but got them back, and when he birdied the 15th from 25 feet he drew even with Nicklaus.
Casper kept the tie alive through the last three holes of regulation play, but like the others, he too was a goner when his tee shot dived into the rough on the first hole of the playoff. Nicklaus' routine par—two putts from 20 feet—won the tournament, his fifth of the year, and raised his earnings for 1975 to $291,849. He missed only one green all day, the par-3 15th, when his tee shot landed off the right edge. But, as was typical of his round, he nearly holed his 35-foot chip shot and tapped in for a par. It was a quiet, professional 69, the lowest score of the day.
When it was noted that 13 of his 16 pars were two-putts from distances of 20 feet or more, Nicklaus said, "When you get Pinehurst with wind and the pins are tucked away, it is very difficult to get close. That's the way No. 2 is supposed to play and what makes it a great course."
Jack added that he considers this his best golfing year yet. His record was slightly more impressive in 1972—more money and more wins to go with the two majors—but in terms of consistency, he thinks 1975 has been superior.