One might say the fifth and final round of the $200,000 Bob Hope Desert Classic today was something of a joke. A running gag, at best, in terms of excitement. The only punch line at the finish was whether Rik Massengale would better the tournament record set 18 years ago, in first event, by Arnold Palmer.
Massegale did that, ramming home a long put on the last hole to go five under at 67 for the day and 23 under par, at 337, for the tournamnet, eclipsing the mark set by five-time winner Palmer by one stroke. Massengale out-stayed Bruce Lietzke by six shots this year.
Bruce Lietzke tried his best - plenty good enough this winter - to close in on the winner. Lietzke fired birdie - eagle - birdie midway on the front nine to move briefly within four shots of Massengale, who started six in front.
The leader was on Lietzke's heels in the final threesome, and he quickly rebuilt his advantage to seven strokes leaving the 11th as Lietzke's putting failed to sustain his charge.
Massengale an Lietzke again played exceptionally. For Lietzke, the 25-year-old showstopper on the tour this winter, today's five-under-par 67 marked the 26th consecutive round without being ver par. He is 72 under par during that stretch incredible.
He could not gain a stroke on Massengale, 30-year-old fellow Texan who was as dramatically long off the tees and even sharper with his fairway woods.
Both men punished the four par- five holes which are over and done with at La Quinta by the 13th, Lietze was four-under; Massengale three-under despite one three-putt.
The victory was the first for Massengale since last summer's Hartford Open. He finished second to Johnny Miller here last winter, three strokes back. He also won the 1975 Tallahasee Open.
"I'm glad I didn't go into the dairy business, leaving golf, like I almost did," Massengale said shortly after receiving the Eisenhower Trophy and a check for $40,000. "Around May of 1974 my brother-in-law, at home in Charlotte, Texas, told me how well he was doing, making about $9,000 a month . . . and I was floundering on the tour (in 127th place.)
"I thought I'd play the year out and go in the dairy business." Instead, during the Kemper Open that year, Massengale and his wife went to a Bible Study Group. He started to play better. He is still active with the tour's bible group.
Until today, Massengale had earned only $6,778 in 1977 in four starts. A 19th at Phoenix was his best effort.
"I'm tickled to death to have played so well as to have finished second in the Rik Massengale Desert Classic," Lietzke quipped. "I kinda think I won the Bob Hope Desert Classic.
Massengale said he hadn't wanted to "squeeze in" or "back in" today.
"Beating Palmer's record was really my goal" he declared, "but when I made a 30-foot puttfor a birdle on the first, and didn't gain, and when I made the turn three-under - and he was four under - I told my caddie I wish he'd let up."
Washington's Lee Elder had 73, for 362.