Yesterday afternoon, Charles added $97,500 to his bank account, by outlasting final-group playing partners Lee Trevino and Dave Stockton to win the ninth annual Bell Atlantic Classic at Malvern's Chester Valley Golf Club. He succeeded despite making only one lengthy putt of consequence - a 12-footer for birdie at No. 4 - en route to a closing even-par 70, and a 54-hole total of 6-under 204. That was one shot ahead of Stockton, and two better than Trevino, leading money winner Mike Hill, Jim Colbert and Bob Murphy.
When it was over, Charles didn't understand how he'd been able to pull off the victory.
"I'm quite surprised, that I only shot even-par and still won," said Charles, who in 1963 became the only lefthanded professional to ever win a major when he beat Phil Rodgers in a 36-hole playoff in the British Open. "I guess that's a win for consistency and steadiness, and not brilliance. I was fortunate that my long game stood up. I hit greens, and made pars. That was a deciding factor."
Charles started the day tied for the lead with defending champion Trevino, at 6-under, one ahead of Stockton. He bogeyed the third hole, at 338 yards the shortest par-4 on the course, when he flew the green with his 8-iron approach. But he made a bird at the slightly longer No. 4. He bogeyed the par-3, 216- yard 10th, after pulling a 4-iron into the right rough off the tee. At that point he was two behind Trevino, and one in back of Stockton, who had birdied three of the first five holes to reach 8-under before giving all of it back with three straight bogeys.
But Charles birdied 12, at 435 yards the longest par-4 on the grounds, after knocking a 7-iron to within 3 1/2 feet. He would par in from there, with the only anxious moment coming at 17, when he chipped back to within 18 inches of the cup after overshooting the putting surface. Meanwhile, Trevino and Stockton were both suffering three-putt bogeys at the par-4 13th, with Trevino missing his second attempt from 2 feet away. And when Trevino also bogeyed 14, Charles assumed sole possession of the lead for keeps. Trevino would bogey 17 as well, by missing another putt from short range.
Stockton, who is known as a pretty fair putter himself, managed to keep the heat applied by scrambling for five consecutive one-putt pars heading in. But it wasn't enough to prevent Charles - who hasn't finished out of the top 11 in 10 starts this year - from capturing his second victory of the season, and 19th overall senior title. Charles becomes the first senior to go over the $4 million plateau in earnings, with $4,039,195 (after pocketing $539,118 on the regular tour). With $396,650 this year, he now trails Hill by $56,570.
"Nothing exciting happened to me at all," said Charles, "other than winning the tournament. I wasn't coming up with anything. For a while there, (Trevino and Stockton) were making all kinds of long putts. Then, it seemed like nobody could do anything.
"I find now that my putting tends to be erratic. That's golf. I don't know why sometimes it drops, and other times it doesn't. I had 23 putts Friday, and shot 67. Today, I putted 31 times, and only shot three worse. When you're missing putts, you have to hit it closer to the hole. That's the answer, I suppose. I only made 10 birides this week. But I only made four bogeys. You do that, you're usually knocking on the door. On this course, there's not really a weak hole, so you can never let up. My short game used to be far more consistent, and I was fairly wild off the tee. Now, I'm more accurate. Putting's more of a mind game.
"Time was, I could destroy most of the opposition on the green. If I putted like I did Friday, I could have distanced myself from the field. Instead, it all came down to the wire."
Which, in this case, was a rather routine two-putt par from about 25 feet on 18, after Stockton - who moved past Gibby Gilbert into third spot on the money list, with $337,645 - had saved par by wedging up to within 2 feet.
"I'm real satisfied with what I did tee-to-green, but my putting's still shaky," said Trevino, who has not won since last year's Bell Atlantic, and was trying to become the first man to win this event twice. "For the first time (since injury his thumb last fall), I saw some light. And all I need is a little light."
"Every time I took a step forward, I got knocked back again," said Stockton, who became the Senior Tour's 40th career millionaire, in less than two years on tour. "This is a golf course that can frustrate you. But (Charles) just kept going his merry way."
Mike Hill and Bob Murphy tied for the lowest round of the day, with 4-under 66s . . . Jim Colbert, who started at 4-under, got to 6-under with a bird at 11, but he bogeyed the next two holes before parring in . . . First-round leader Rocky Thompson (72 yesterday) and George Archer (closing 71) tied for seventh, at even-par 210 . . . Jack Nicklaus, who should have a wing at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children named after him for all the additional revenue his presence undoubtedly generated, tied for 28th, at 218, after a final-round 75 . . . Arnold Palmer, who still commands a pretty loyal following himself, shot a 75, for a 225 . . . Locally, Dick Hendrickson (70 yesterday) finished at 217; Dick Smith (72) at 219; Bob Thatcher (71) at 220, and Bob Pfister (77) at 233.