Cap change gets Burns in contention


The name appeared on the leader boards at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club yesterday, familiar but nearly forgotten.

It had been a long time, more than decade, since George Burns was in contention in a tournament. Yesterday's 6-under-par 66 in the second round of the $1.35 million State Farm Senior Classic was not just a blast from the past. It was a tremendous boost for a three-time winner on the PGA Tour whose productive career was cut short by injuries.

"I played very well today; I don't know why," said Burns, who moved to 5-under 139 and three shots off the lead going into today's final round.

Burns, who turned 50 last July, disappeared from the golf radar screen shortly after winning the Andy Williams Open in 1987. He had rotator cuff surgery the year after and then ruptured a tendon in his left pinky three years later. Even in retirement, Burns' body kept breaking down.

Six weeks before qualifying school for the PGA Senior Tour last fall, Burns underwent knee surgery. He missed the cut. But on the basis of two wins in Europe before the start of his PGA Tour career in 1975, Burns went overseas this spring and was exempted into several European Senior Tour events.

Burns finished second behind Bruce Fleisher in the Irish Seniors and started thinking more of another career in the United States.

Burns joked that his luck changed yesterday after an opening-round 73 when his wife Irene suggested he switch from the Titleist hat that he normally wears to one that read "Maryland Terps" on the front. Burns graduated from there in 1972 and credits much of his success to his former coach, Frank Cronin.

"I had no business making the team," Burns said.

But he wound up having a successful career, both as an amateur who made the 1975 Walker Cup team and won several prestigious events such as the Canadian Amateur, the Porter Cup and North-South, as well as a pro. His first PGA Tour career win came at the 1980 Bing Crosby Pro-Am. He earned nearly $2 million during his career.

Some of the feelings from those good years came back yesterday, particularly during a tournament record 5-under 31 on the back nine. Burns hopes those feelings continue today, when he tries to become the second player in as many years to win this tournament after entering with a sponsor's exemption.

Christy O'Connor of Ireland, who goes into today tied for the lead with Dana Quigley and Leonard Thompson, did it last year.

Player of all ages

Gary Player found himself scoreboard watching yesterday. Not to see if he was still in the hunt, but to see how the other players who are 60 and over were doing in the 36-hole Super Seniors competition.

Player would wind up at 3-under 141 after a 3-under 69, finishing three shots behind Jim Albus, who passed Lee Trevino by chipping in for eagle on the par-5 18th hole.

"You thought I was going to miss that shot?" said Albus, who turned 60 last month and was playing in his first Super Seniors competition. "I lucked out."

Albus, who is at 6-under after a 68 yesterday, received a check for $34,000.

Player, 64, has pleasant memories of playing golf in this area. Make that Mount Pleasant memories. It was at a PGA Tour event at the Baltimore course that Player, then a rookie, cashed one of his first checks in the United States.

"I think it was for $1,000," he said. "That was a lot of money for me."

Player wound up making nearly $2 million during his career on the PGA Tour and has made more than $5 million in 15 years on the Senior Tour.

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