Rik Massengale, a front-runner all the way, built his round on an eagle-birdie burst, shot 70 and established a commanding six-stroke lead in the fourth round of the five-day, 90-hole, $200,000 Bob Hope Desert Golf Classic today.
Massengale played well out of the way of the happily shouting, shoving, milling mob of about 20,000 that followed former President Gerald Ford. Massengale compiled a 72-hole 270, 18 under par for one round over each of the four desert courses used for this, the longest tournament the touring pros play all season.
Frustrated Bruce Lietzke had a round of par 72 on the 6.911-yard La Quinta Country Club course and fell from four strokes back to six behind at 276.
Lietzke, with two victories to his credit this season and un unbroken string of 25 consecutive rounds at par or better, admitted he had "very little confidence going into the last round."
"Rik is playing awfully good golf," said the 25-year-old Lietzke, whose round required 36 putts from his crosshanded style. "All I can do is try to play my game, throw some birdies at him and hope he makes a mistake. But he hasn't made any and the way he's playing it looks a little doubtful that he will."
Lietzke and Massengale, along with Ford and his partners, pro Billy Casper, host Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason, played at La Juinta, site of Sunday's pros-only final round.
Massengale played on the opposite nine from the gallery that followed the presidential foursome through the bright, warm desert sun that sent temperatures near the 90 degree mark.
"It was a very enjoyable round of golf," said Casper, who had 74. "The president had four or five pars, helped his team on four or five holes."
Amateurs are required to pick up when they're out of a hole, so no individual scores are kept.
Australian rookie Bob Shearer came on with a five-under-par 67 at Indian Wells and tied Lietzke for second at 12 under par.
Veteran Gay Brewer had 72 at Tamarisk and was next at 277.
Hubert Green, with 72 at La Quinta, and Charles Coody, 67 at Bermuda Dunes, followed at 278.
Five-time winner Arnold Palmer shot 74 and was well back at 284. South African Gary Player, in his first appearance of the year in this country, was 70-279.
Johnny Miller, who won this event the last two years, rallied for 71-292 and, for the third time in his last three starts, failed to qualify for the final round.
The cutoff figure was 291.
Massengale, who has enjoyed a lead of a minimum were strokes since his opening 64, was even with par for the day when he went to the tee on the fifth hole, his 14th hole of the day.
He hit his tee shot off a tree and it caromed into the rough near another tree. He broke his four-wood on the tree with his follow through coming out, but rifled the shot to within 12-14 feet of the hole and dropped the putt for an eagle 3.
"It was 230 yards and I knew I could reach the green," said Massengale, who has won the tournament each of the last two seasons. "I just hope I can get the club fixed. It's one you need on this course.'
He reached the next one, also a par five, in two big shots and two-putted for a birdie, then lost a stoke with a three-putt on the 16the hole.