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Close, Or No Cigar On the PGA Tour, players either burn it up at the start or fizzle at the finish

Your hero Bubba Stickowitz just shot 77 in the opening round of
the Nissan Open, but you're no quitter. You're skipping work
tomorrow to watch Bubba charge up the leader board. You know he
can still win.

Wrong. A look at the dark side of PGA Tour statistics shows that
Bubba has no chance. Zero. No one shooting more than 76 in the
first round has ever won a Tour event. In fact, early leaders
have a nearly insurmountable advantage every week. Since the
beginning of 1997, 62% of all tournament winners have ranked in
the top 10 after one round; 76% have come from the first round's
top 20. As the chart below shows, the stats apply to all Tour
events including the majors.

Such sobering numbers make exceptions like Steve Jones's charge
at the 1996 U.S. Open all the more impressive. Jones was already
an accomplished rebounder, having won the 1989 Bob Hope Classic
after stumbling in the first quarter with a 76. At the '96 Open
his first-round 74 put him in 84th place, seven strokes behind
leaders Payne Stewart and Woody Austin, but he followed with a
66 and two 69s to edge Tom Lehman and Davis Love III by a
stroke. Jones's return to glory after a 1991 motorcycle wreck
was the story of the week, but his rise from the depths of
Thursday's agate type was equally unlikely.

The top comeback of the past three years came at the '97 Tucson
Chrysler Classic. After opening with a 75 that left him in 104th
place, nine strokes off the lead, Jeff Sluman phoned his wife to
talk about flights home to Chicago. Unaware of the odds against
her man, Linda Sluman said, "Jeff, you can still win." Her
obedient husband's 68-65-67 finish made a prophet of Linda and a
$234,000 profit for the Slumans.

Curtis Strange nearly made history at the 1985 Masters.
Strange's 80 on Thursday consigned him to 75th place in a field
of 77. Perfectly positioned to miss the cut, he roared back with
a 65 on Friday and a 68 on Saturday to climb within a stroke of
the leaders. He actually held a two-shot edge after 12 holes on
Sunday. But, Curtis's strange week had a Bubba Stickowitz
finish. Bogeys at Augusta's 13th and 15th holes did him in,
allowing Bernhard Langer to don the green jacket.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO TOO FAR DOWN Strange's rally at the 1985 Masters sank at 13. [Curtis Strange golfing]

TOTAL 1ST- 11TH- 21ST- 31ST- 41ST- 51ST- 61ST- 71ST- AND
10TH 20TH 30TH 40TH 50TH 60TH 70TH 80TH UP

Regular Events (1997-98)
50 31 7 3 2 2 2 2 0 1

Majors (1988-97)
40 22 9 4 2 1 0 0 1 1


"I couldn't find a place to practice" isn't as good an excuse as
it used to be, not with the number of driving ranges in the U.S.
increasing by almost 25% in the past year, from 2,168 to 2,699.
These states have the most and fewest places to hit a bucket.


Michigan 199 +60%
Florida 196 +62%
Texas 192 +3%
California 188 +76%
Ohio 169 +33%
Wyoming 1 NC
Alaska 3 NC
South Dakota 3 NC
Vermont 3 -25%
Montana 4 +33%



Some players who made their names on the regular Tour win right
away as Seniors. Others, like Larry Nelson, winner of last
week's American Express Invitational, need more time. Here's how
many starts some high-profile Seniors made before winning.

Jack Nicklaus 1
Gil Morgan 2
Lee Trevino 2
Hale Irwin 5
Larry Nelson 9
Jim Colbert 10