Stadler Last Man Standing at 96 Nissan

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Since the greater Los Angeles area first began hosting a tournament for professional golfers in 1926, the roster of winners and runners-up have been dotted with both the greats and the who-dats.
 
Harry Cooper won it that first year in 26. Ben Hogan won for the first time as a no-name in 1942, then repeated in 46 and 47 when the course at Riviera became known as Hogans Alley (a nickname that, incidentally, Colonial Country Club in Hogans hometown of Fort Worth carries. Sportswriters must have been nickname-challenged in those days.)
 
Lloyd Mangrum won this tournament four times, Arnold Palmer was the victor here three times, Tom Watson twice, Fred Couples twice, Corey Pavin twice. On the other hand, winners have included Desmore Shute, Fred Wampler, Bob Lunn, Pat Fitzsimmons, David Edwards, T.C. Chen and Ted Schulz ' names that dont immediately evoke scenes of trophy cases filled with winners hardware.
 
The winner also has a history of finishing runner-up the next year ' Jug McSpadden won in 44 and was second in 45, Bob Goalby won in 61 and was second in 62, Palmer won in 67 and was second in 68, Billy Casper won in 70 and was second in 71, Couples won in 92 and was second in 93, Craig Stadler won in 96 and was second in 97.
 
The win by Stadler in 96 featured runner-up finishes by Couples, Stadlers old college roommate Scott Simpson, Mark Brooks and Mark Wiebe. Stadler himself hasnt won again since that day, but in this week in February, he was the last man standing in a tag-team that featured the field vs. Riviera.
 
The course had been softened by rains earlier in the week, usually a precursor to low scores. But Rivieras greens were a virtual mess as agronomists tried to figure out why they were then so compacted. Ergo, every putt was an adventure as the ball weaved and twisted its way in the general direction of the hole. That is a precursor of high scores, and in the case of the 96 Nissan at Riviera, the greens were softened and trampled by players to the extent that putts were flying all over the place.
 
It became a matter of survival. And in such battles, their arent many better than Stadler.
 
Stadler finished at 6-under, and two hours from the final blow there were seven players on that number ' himself, Simpson, Brooks, Neil Lancaster, Don Pooley, Lanny Wadkins and Kelly Gibson. One after another, however, they all made bogeys and stumbled down the ladder.
 
Even Stadler made a couple ' at 15 and 16. He parred the par-5 17th from the middle of the fairway with a wedge in his hand, then could only par the 18th when he had an eight-foot birdie putt. But he had enough coal in the fire to finish one ahead of several others who had bogey problems trying to get home.
 
Brooks bogeyed the final hole. Simpson appeared to have it won when a striped a 1-iron finished just three feet away at No. 15, but dumped a 5-iron on No. 16 and bogeyed the hole.
 
Lehman reached the 578-yard 17th in two, but then three-putted and then bogeyed the 18th also. Couples never got his putter going until late and needed to hole out on 18 to tie ' which, unbelievably, he almost did. Mark Wiebe moved to within one stroke of the lead with birdies at Nos. 15 and 17, but put the ball 60 feet short of the hole on 18 and didnt get the birdie.
 
Stadler, therefore, was all alone in the winners circle at the end.
 
You hate back-dooring youre way in there, but I did, he said. But I come out here to win. I dont come out here to finish second, fourth or fifth.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage of the Nissan Open
  • Craig Stadler Bio