This PGA championship is golf as an artillery war, everyone firing big guns at distant targets, and yet the halfway leader is the little round popgunner, Bob Murphy, whose 69 today put him at 135 while Tom Watson's mighty surface-to-water missiles put him on a plane home.
Two other powder-puff hitters, Larry Nelson and Bob Eastwood, are one shot behind Murphy. Nelson shot 66 today, Eastwood 67, and they share the 136 spot with Dan (Launch) Pohl, the tour's longest driver, an admitted driving "show-off" who restricted himself to four-woods off most tees and still created a 67.
At 137 is Andy North, a shot ahead of Vance Heafner, Tom Kite and Fuzzy Zoeller. Jack Nicklaus' 68 put him at 139, along with Jerry Pate and Gil Morgan. At 140, even par on the monstrously long Atlanta Athletic Club course, are Bruce Lietzke, Greg Norman, Greg Powers, Tom Purtzer and Rex Caldwell.
Dave Stockton is among the leaders, too, but a late-afternoon thunderstorm suspended play for the second straight day and left him one under par with three holes to play. The stranded 23 players will finish Saturday morning and then go into the third round.
At 147, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player may not qualify for more work. Ask this: Who looked to be a mighty hitter with the power needed to win on this 7,070-yard course? Watson came to work excited, but in-the-lake drives at 18 both days for double bogeys gave him the weekend off at 148.
And in the lead: Bob Murphy, 38, a 5-foot-10, 210 pound roundman who said he couldn't hit a drive 140 yards when he went on the Scarsdale diet not long ago. "Now I'm back on the Budweiser," Murphy said, "and I'm back in business."
Business for Murphy means a drive in the 240-yards class, mediocre by tour standards (114th). But he is putting well on the AAC's soggy-soft greens. He had eight more one-putt greens today for 17 total so far. All a fellow must do here then is hit nice tee shots. And distance is secondary to accuracy.
That's because everyone, no matter how strong, is hitting very long second shots. Six par-four holes here are 445 yards long. The greens are large. They are soft. Even a short bunker shot rips a chunk out of the water-logged greens on impact. So they will grab any kind of shot, accepting a three-wood screamer as readily as an eight-iron floater. The putting is undemanding, because the greens are slow and relatively flat.
"If I can hit more fairways than the other guys, I'm all right," said Murphy, who hasn't been a factor in a major championship since finishing second in the 1970 PGA. "I'm gonna hit my five-woods and two-irons in there as well as they'll hit their three-irons and five-irons. You can check the paper in the morning and see all the long hitters who missed the cut."
This is, then, the Tee-Ball Classic. As the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club two months ago identified the elegant shot-makers with its demands for precise placement of every shot from tee to cup, this PGA is identifying no one but the man with the best control of his tee shot. Forget distance. The rough here is so punitive that there is an unusual reward for keeping drives in the fairway.
Golf at last has found a place where you drive for dough, not for show.
So the prize is not to the exquisite craftsman, but to this week's most accurate driver. Else what is Bob Eastwood, never better than fifth in any tournament in 11 years of trying, doing near the lead? Larry Nelson hasn't played on an even mediocre level in two months, but the kept his tee ball in the fairway all day and without fear threw iron shots at the hole: a 66 kwith five birdies the result, only one on a putt longer then seven feet.
Pohl's 67 was built with a four-wood. No. 1 in distance with a 277-yard average ("It's more like 295," he insisted), he is only 133rd in driving accuracy. But because the rough here is absolute, he used a four-wood off 11 tees today. He hit one four-wood 260 yards. The paradoxical strategy of Pohl holstering his big gun on a 7,070-yard course has produced 12 birdies in the two days.
It has helped him recover, he said, from the embarrassment of being beaten badly in the National Long-Driving Contest here Wednesday. "The way I hit 'em that day, it looked like I got the club caught in my panty-hose," Pohl said.
Nicklaus missed only three fiarways today, hit 16 greens and made no bogeys. He burdied the 12th, a par-five, with an eight-foot putt, and hit an eight-iron within four feet at the 14th.
"Every time I hit a green, it seemed I was 25 feet from the hole," Nicklaus said. "They had the pins up on knobs because those were the only dry places. So it was defensive putting for the most part, kind of trying for a birdie but not getting too dangerous and three-putting."
The second round of a major is no time to be three-putting, especially on a course so easy that 15 players broke par and Jerry Pate was moved to announce, "I could've shot anything, 62, 63."