Because this Tucson Open was the mm first professional golf tournament ever staged in which all the players were supposedly equals—under new PGA Tour rules everyone in it was exempt from having to qualify for all of 1983—it seemed appropriate that it was mathematically possible late Sunday afternoon that as many as eight players could wind up in a tie, and that the sudden-death playoff might last until Easter. In a way, this would have made sense because there were so many people out there who a year ago were rabbits.
Alas, the first Tour event of the year wound up in only a three-way tie, and Gil Morgan, the quiet, vitamin-taking optometrist, who had been winless for 3� years, ran home a 22-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to outlast Lanny Wadkins, who won three tournaments last year, and Curtis Strange, who never seems to win but makes a lot of money anyway.
It was a tournament to which Morgan first laid a claim with his opening-round five-under 65, which briefly led the field. After that, it belonged momentarily to all sorts of fellows: to Scott Hoch, who on Friday shot a 63, tying the course record, and was the pacesetter after 36 holes, then to Calvin Peete, who led after 54, and finally to anyone capable of making a late birdie on Sunday. Along the way Johnny Miller, Andy Bean and Fuzzy Zoeller also had their chances.
Sunday began with Peete, who was going for his seventh victory in his last 14 tournaments (including two recent wins in Japan), one stroke ahead of Miller and Hoch, two ahead of Wadkins, three ahead of Morgan and Zoeller and five ahead of Strange and Bean, among others.
The way the playoff came about was that on Sunday afternoon Strange made a true arsonist's move when he birdied the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th holes at the Randolph Park North Course, which featured bright sunshine and bumpy greens, for a closing-round 65 and a nine-under total of 271. Thus he was in the clubhouse with the lead while the rest of the drama unfolded. Morgan got to three under on his round, parring the last six holes for a 67 and his 271. Peete blew his two-stroke lead in the middle of the round, bogeying the 14th and 15th holes and missing the playoff by a shot. Meanwhile, Wadkins was firing a two-under 68 for a 271 total but failing to get a tiebreaking birdie on the entire back nine. Playoff time.
"I thought all day that Calvin would win," said Morgan later. "Then I thought Curtis would win when he started to run the table. In the playoff on the first hole, I was pretty certain Lanny would win."
On the first extra hole, Morgan drove badly and had to scramble for par with a difficult putt to stay even with Wadkins and Strange. Then, very quickly, it ended. Give a man new life, and he'll hole a long one on you. Which is what Morgan did at the second extra hole with his 22-footer. Wadkins and Strange then missed, though Wadkins at least hit the cup and spun out.
Morgan hadn't won a tournament since the 1979 Memphis Classic, so his name was starting to sound almost as unfamiliar as those of some of the former rabbits who will be part of the permanent Tour population from now on. Their presence out there may well change the look of the Tour in due time.
The Tucson Open was the first event on the new all-exempt PGA Tour. Gone is the Monday qualifying round for so-called rabbits.
Monday qualifying was that painful weekly ordeal in which the 80 or so lesser-known golfers on the edges of the Tour had to compete in an 18-hole round to see which 30 or 40 of them, on the average, would be allowed to play in the tournament proper that usually would begin on Thursday.