Gary Player may have overdone it a little bit yesterday in his bid for a fourth straight tournament victory.
The South African shot a three-under par 69, for a 205 total that placed him in a five-way tie for the lead in the $200,000 New Orleans Open with Fuzzy Zoeller, Homero Blancas, Gibby Gilbert and Lon Hinkle.
"Our only hope," Zoeller equipped, "is that Gary is too close to the pace too soon."
Player won the Masters, Tournament of Champions and Houston Open the last three weekends by dramatically charging from behind in the final round.
"I think I'm in just as tough a spot here as I was at the Masters and in California," he noted. "It's going to be like a lottery. There are 15 fellas with a solid chance of winning. I would bet any of you reporters $50 on any one player you'd care to pick to win."
'reporter picked Player.
"Okay, you got it," Player replied. "If I don't win, you be sure to be around when the tournament's overs.
Hinkle played the best golf yesterday, polsting a 64 that tied the course record.
Player trailed leader D. A. Weibring by three strokes at the start of play but reordered four birdies-on the front nine for a 32 that earned him a tie for first place with Mike Shea, a hometown player at the turn.
The first birdie for Player came on the second hole when two drives placed him 30 yards off the green in two on the pat five lob. He pitched to within 10 feet and got down with one putt. The 5-8, 146-pound veteran didn't really get his game started, however, until the fifth hole at which point he began birdie-birdie on putts of 15 six and 20 feet.
"I putted beautifully," the 41-year-old resident of Johnannesburg declared.
Player moved out, briefly, to a two-shot lead early on the back nine as he played par 4-5-4-3 coming to the 14th.A double-bogey six quickly took him out of the lead.
"I hit a one-iron off the tee, it hooked a little, hit and kicked much farther left," Player reconstructed. "The ball was in the rough, not far from a wire fence. But the real trouble was that a twig-about the thickness of my thumb-was right behind the ball. I could not stroke it. I had to punch it out into the faireway.
"From there I hit an eight-iron to the front of the green, and I thret-putted (from 40 feet)."
The 6 cost Player the lead for about 10 minutes. He bounced back with a birdie on the par-5, 530-yard 15th hole to regain a share of the top spot at 11-under.
"I was extremely lucky on 15," Player said. "My chip, from the left of the green, was much too strong. It was going to go at least 15 feet past the pin-but the ball hit the flag and stopped a foot away."
Player missed 10-to 12-foot putts for birdies on 10, 11 and 18 but his play, overall, was excellent.
"It will be a real shootout here tomorrow," Blancas promised.
Player agreed. "The greens and the fairways are made for scoring," he said. "I'm just one of 15 with a chance."
"But you know all the other players are thinking about you," a reporter told Player.
"Not really," Peter replied. "They're professionals, world-class professionals. They'll be playing the course, not me."
"That's right," Blancas noted. "We'll all be concentrating on the birdies and bogeys this course has to offer tomorrow . . . but the last two or three holes, one or two of us may be looking over out shoulder to see if that little guy is comin' on."
If he wins today, Player will top the three-in-a-row mark of Johnny Miller (1974) and Hubert Green (1976). Jack Burke took four straight in 1952. Byron Nelson holds the record, 11, in 1945.