Stadler keeps nerve over a testing course

 

CRAIG STADLER grabbed five birdies on his outward run yesterday, then held on as Riviera's treacherous back nine swallowed up his challengers in the 1996 Los Angeles Open. Stadler himself bogeyed 15 and 16, and had to watch as Scott Simpson, Tom Lehman and Mark Wiebe attempted to overtake him or at least force a play-off in the closing holes.

"You always hate to make bogeys coming in," said Stadler, who closed with a 68 for 278. "But the course was playing so that anyone playing those holes was vulnerable." Stadler said the bogey at 16 was more demoralising, since he hit a good tee-shot that was caught by a gust of wind and fell short.

That dropped him to six-under, level with Simpson who had birdied 15. Simpson fell back to five-under with a bogey at 16, and was unable to get the shot, back. In the end, Simpson, Wiebe, Fred Couples and Mark Brooks, whose 64 was remarkable in the conditions, shared second place on 279. Another four players, rookie Hugh Royer, Kelly Gibson, Lanny Wadkins and Lehman, came in at four-under 280.

Stadler's total was the highest winning aggregate here since 1984. He said the deep, thick rough and gusting winds had given the bite back to Riviera, where Australian Steve Elkington won the PGAI Championship last August with a 17-under total. "It's the way this golf course was meant to play," Stadler said. "It is gratifying to win on a hard golf course."

Overnight leader Neal Lancaster ballooned to a 77 for a one-under 283.