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In the wind that turned Sawgrass into the usual garden of horrors last week, most of the touring golf pros sentenced to the Tournament Players Championship wished they had filed the same flight plans as the mallards who frequently refused to leave the fairways. Most of the pros—but not Lanny Wadkins. Wadkins seized the occasion to post a number that will stand long after Sawgrass has blown away.
At times, nothing seems to make much sense on the PGA Tour this year, not on the surface, at least. And Wadkins' astonishing 72-hole score of 283, five under par, on the wind-lashed, reptile-guarded, over-marshed, bumpy premises of Sawgrass was one more unlikely outcome to dazzle the mind of anyone familiar with the place.
The course was as confining and tortuous as it had been in the two previous TPCs held on this particular brink of the Atlantic Ocean near Jacksonville, Fla. And the wind was every bit as severe and unpredictable as it had been in the past, when no one, not even Jack Nicklaus last year, could shoot lower than one-over-par 289.
But here came Wadkins in one of those moods of his, the Wadkins who can hit his irons into the flags like nobody else, who is unafraid of challenges when he's keeping the drives in play, the Wadkins who loves a gamble, and even gets a little cocky when he's going good. It is interesting how Wadkins often picks the toughest courses to do a number on. He now becomes the first double winner of 1979, having captured the Los Angeles Open at Riviera. Sawgrass and Riviera. Not bad. But as you study his career, you find him doing it in other difficult places: Firestone in the World Series of Golf, Pebble Beach for the PGA Championship, Waverley Country Club in the U.S. Amateur—monsters all.
Wadkins' rounds at Sawgrass were a 67 on Thursday, the calm day, then a 68 on Friday when it began to swirl and gust, a 76 on Saturday when the average score of the field was 77, and his closing 72 on Sunday when the course was even tougher. Of his Friday 68 and his Sunday 72, Lanny said, "They were two of the best rounds of golf I've ever played in my life."
There have been 72-hole totals that have startled both golfers and golf observers, some because they were so incredibly low, others because they were low under the conditions. Wadkins' 283 at Sawgrass will fall into the latter category, to be remembered with Ben Hogan's 276 on "old" Riviera in the 1948 U.S. Open, and with Tommy Bolt's 283 in the 1958 Open at Southern Hills.
"I've been playing a lot of golf and playing well," Wadkins said. "When you've got the driver under control, when your tempo is good, and when you get the putter going with confidence, you can shoot good scores. There wasn't anything I didn't think I could do, even when the wind blew."
Mainly what Wadkins did was avoid the double and triple bogeys that were crippling nearly everyone else. Even his bogeys were rare as he holed a seemingly endless string of three- and four-foot putts for pars, and then would drill a three-iron into the pin for the birdie that knocked down his pursuers and staggered Sawgrass itself.
The record is clear. Wadkins is not only the first to win two titles in 1979, he is one of a precious few who have yet to miss a cut. His winnings now total $134,948 for the year, and he's going to keep on playing almost every week. Lanny Wadkins believes you have to truck while the wheels are rolling.
The tournament began with everyone waiting for the real Sawgrass to stand up. Thursday was a lovely calm day, and the small, oddly shaped greens had been watered. The wind was still out to sea. The players pounced on the course and got all they could from it while the getting was good. Kermit Zarley led with a record-tying 66. Behind him were Nicklaus, Wadkins and Andy North with 67s, and they were followed by 49 others with rounds below par.