Hubert Green, the skinny linksman from Birmingham, leads Gil Morgan by two strokes, Hale Irwin and Tom Kite by four, and Tom Watson by five after 54 holes of the $300.000 World Series of Golf, but he is not making any boastful predictions or jumping to conclusions about today's final round.
"I'm not a pessimistic person that much, but I'm not one to get on a bandwagon about my golfing prowess," said the otherwise loquacious 31-year-old Alabamian. His three-under-par 70-67-71 - 208 over a rugged 7,130-yard Firestone Country Club South Course that he usually underpowers, has surprised everyone, including himself.
"Anytime I'm around the lead, I feel I have a chance to win. I just don't bet on myself or anybody else to win golf tournaments," continued Green, who insisted at the outset that he was not one of the favorites because Firestone is too long for his liking.
"I've got a crack at it now. I like my position. But we've still got one more round to play on a golf course that I think everybody would agree is harder than Chinese arithmetic turned upside down.
"I'm sure everyone watching on television thought my approach on No. 16 was a simple little old pitch shot," continued Green, referring to his wedge third shot over a pond to the massive green on Firstone's celebrated 615-yard, par-5 "Monster." His ball hit the granite-textured putting surface and scooted across, not stopping until it was three feet into the deep fringe behind the green.
"Everybody thought all I had to do was knock it up there 10 feet short of the hole, take one bounce, and it would back up. That's what I thought, too. You saw what happened."
Green chipped back to within two feet of the cup and made the putt - the seventh time in 16 holes he missed the green and chipped close enough to save par with one putt.
"I'm a pretty good chipper, and I was surprised at a few of them I made today," said the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Green, who went on to par routinely the last two holes of a splended scrambling round played in swirling, gusty winds.
The only one of the contenders who didn't buckle under the conditions and miss a bundle of fairways and greens was the 32-year-old Morgan. He shared yesterday's best score (67) with Japan's Isao Aoki, whose three-birdie, no-bogey round came too late, after a disastrous opening 18 holes Thursday. Aoki is 18th with 79-74-67 - 220.
The only other subpar rounds yesterday in the blustery breeze that further dried out the already firm and fast fairways and made some greens nearly impossible to hold belonged to Watson (74-70-69 - 213). Gary Player and Mark Hayes (both 76-72-69 - 217).
Lee Elder of Washington, D.C. playing for the first time in this elite, 26-man event for major tournament champions, U.S. Tour multiple-tournament winners, money and "performance" leaders, the British and U.S. Amateur champs and leaders of the Asian, British, Australian, South African and Japanese Orders of Merit, is tied for 15th place with 74-73-74 - 221.
Jack Nicklaus, winner of seven tournaments, including five World Series, and $501,096 at Firestone since 1962, shot a par 70 yesterday after making a 2,700-mile round trip by private jet to see his two eldest sons play in a high school football game in Florida Friday night. He was back in Okron shortly after midnight and got a good night's sleep, but is 10 strokes back at 72-76-70 - 218.
Morgan, 71-72 the first two rounds, was five under par through 15 holes yesterday, tied for the lead with Green, but took consecutive bogeys at "the Monster" and the 390-yard par-4 17th.
On 16, his 90-yard sand wedge over the water bounced on the green and ran through it, as so many had before. He left a very delicate chip eight feet short and missed the tricky downhill putt.
On 17, he drove just into the left rough and plugged his seven-iron second shot in the lip of the severe bunker that guards the left front of the green. From a cramped stance, he blasted eight feet past the hole and missed the putt coming back.
"I thought the wind would make it a pretty tough day to play, but I birdied No. 2 (a 500-yard par-5 that he reached with a driver and three-wood and got down with two putts from 60-feet) for the third straight day, and that got me off to a good start. I played a pretty flawless front nine, only having to make one' save," said the long-hitting Morgan, who was dressed for a flaming round in orange jersey and peach slacks.
He birdied No. 8 from four feet behind the hole and No. 9 from 2 1/4 feet to turn in 32, then made 10-foot putts at Nos. 10 and 4 to go five under for the day. Good chips at 11, 13 and 15, where he missed the greens, kept his score intact, until "the Monster."
If Green holds on this afternoon to win the $100,000 first prize (WDVM-TV-9, 3:30 p.m.), he will forever remember and thank an attractive young woman named Pam Stewart of suburban Pepper Pike, Ohio.
She was part of a large gallery behind the green on the 465-yard, par-4 fourth hole, long before the CBS-TV cameras picked up Green on the 10th, and her pocketbook, which was on the ground, stopped his second shot from running down a bank and into deep trouble.
Green, playing with Kite (71-69-72 - 212), knocked the ball through the green, but it came to rest under the handbag. As he waited for a PGA official to arrive and give a ruling, he joked with the spectators. "What's two strokes, anyway?" he grinned, demonstrating how he would putt lefthanded from under the purse.
The rules man arrived, and first the pocketbook and then a program propped under it were peeled away. Green, a couple of inches into the deep fringe, chipped ever so delicately, the ball hitting on the apron and trickling to within three inches of the cup. After holing out, he gave Stewart the ball.
Meanwhile, the man who had started the day in second place, 21-year-old Severiane Ballesteros, was skying to 69-70-76 - 215, making four bogeys and a double bogey on the back nine.