Too often, the PGA seems to be the major golf championship that lacks a theme or a dramatic focus. That shouldn't be the case this week when the PGA comes to the Riviera Country Club and the glitter coast of Hollywood.
Tom Watson already has made news here, walking off the course on the second hole of a practice round today, suffering from a stiff neck. "No big problem," Watson said this evening after several hours of medical treatment (ultrasound, manipulation). "I held a telephone in the crook of my neck for 10 minutes. That may have caused it. The doctor told me, 'Well, don't hold the phone like that . . . '
"I've had this a couple of times before. It's called cervical reticulitis. No, not ridiculitis. Just call it a pain in the neck," said Watson, fresh from his fifth victory in the British Open two weeks ago. "Usually, I need to take one day off . . . It hurts through the impact area, and that's not good . . . I'll certainly play, even if it hurts as much as it did today. And it's much better now."
Asked if the condition gave him a headache, Watson said, "No, just from all the questions asked about it."
For once, golf's afterthought major has a chance to fight its way to the top of the '83 marquee along with the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.
At least four players--Hal Sutton, Lanny Wadkins, Seve Ballesteros and Watson--arrived here with the notion that a victory at "Hogan's Alley" will put them in the driver's seat for player of the year honors.
Five more players--Calvin Peete, Ben Crenshaw, Fuzzy Zoeller, Gil Morgan and Tom Kite--each see the narrow 6,946 yards of Riviera and the PGA's new $100,000 first prize as a possible gold mine in their attempt to be the season's leading money winner. Sutton's $297,684 in winnings leads the current money list, barely ahead of Wadkins' $295,957; but, put 100 G in the pot of any of those five other gentlemen, who've all won between $229,000 and $263,000, and their chances to be the money leader would soar.
Also mightily concerned with the doings here are Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Larry Nelson and Ray Floyd.
Nicklaus, winless this season, sees this PGA as his last chance to redeem 1983. Last week at the Canadian Open, Nicklaus revived his game in the last three rounds and missed being part of a playoff between John Cook and Miller by just one shot. When asked for favorites here, "Nicklaus," was the first name out of Watson's mouth.
"After finally having a good tournament, I'm encouraged," said Nicklaus today. "For four months, after I hurt my back at Augusta . . . I just didn't do anything this year . . . "
Of all America's universally acknowledged great courses, Riviera--the home course of Hollywood stars from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, through Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Rita Hayworth down to current members like Dean Martin, Glen Campbell and Peter Falk--may have troubled Nicklaus most. From Sam Spade to Columbo, Riviera's charisma quotient may have dropped, but this par-71 track always has had Nicklaus' number. The Los Angeles Open has been played here 10 of the last 11 years and Nicklaus never has won; Watson has won here twice and calls Riviera "one of the greatest courses in the world, completely fair and with tremendous variety of shots. You must curve a lot of shots . . . The course tells you what you have to do . . . and then you better do it."
Floyd, also winless in '83, is the PGA's defending champion, having won at Southern Hills in Tulsa. He's 11th on the money list and, if he won here, everyone would say, "Why, of course, we should have expected it. Streaky Raymond was about due." If Floyd wants to defend well, then Miller wants to salvage one week of glory from a year he thought might mark a great comeback; all four majors this year were on courses Miller had played spectacularly on in his '70s heydays; he's won $182,128, but his year lacks luster.
If any player has a personal cause, it's U.S. Open champ Nelson, who'd like to show the golfing world that his splendid final 36-hole performance at Oakmont was not a fluke. With a dramatic flair, the PGA has put Nelson in a trio with Watson and Ballesteros, the two giants in their prime who seemed to have the Oakmont Open as their wishbone until Nelson arrived.
Rarely has a PGA in recent years been surrounded with so much enthusiasm. The beauties of Riviera, tucked in Santa Monica Canyon beneath a huge burnt-orange Spanish clubhouse, are part of the reason. Greens are small and the notorious clinging Kikuyu grass gives both roughs and fringes plenty of punch.
"I've always liked the course," said Nicklaus, though it hasn't particularly liked him. "It's fairly simple and straightforward . . . I think the PGA does a better job of setting up the great golf courses than the USGA (for the U.S. Open). The USGA gets carried away with foot-deep rough at the edge of the greens. They're determined to preserve (scores on) the old courses, beyond the means that those courses have to carry themselves.
"I would rank the PGA right after the U.S. Open and British Open, but ahead of the Masters," said Nicklaus. "This tournament has the strongest field of any in the world."
This year, at least a dozen of the most famous names in that illustrious field have even more incentive than usual to leave their footprints on this playground of the stars.