Winless on the senior tour, he trails leader Gil Morgan by 1 at the ACE Group Classic. And then there's the plane fare . . .
By BOB HARIG
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001
NAPLES, Fla. -- Mike McCullough has enjoyed life on the Senior PGA Tour for more than six seasons without a victory. But it is not for a lack of trying.
If there is a tournament for which he is eligible, McCullough will be there to put a tee in the ground, driver in hand. This weekend's ACE Group Classic is his 149th consecutive senior tour event, a record that began in 1996. And he has no plans of slowing soon.
McCullough's 2-under-par 70 on Saturday at Pelican Marsh Golf Club put him in position to win his first senior title. To do it, he'll have to overcome Gil Morgan, and there is nobody he'd rather defeat.
Morgan is McCullough's best friend on the tour and the one he credits with helping revamp his swing. The result was a career-best $928,420 last season to rank 18th on the money list.
"If I beat him and it happens to be first place, then I have to pay for the plane home," said McCullough, who has earned more than $2.9-million in his senior career. "All the years that we've flown, he's paid for the plane because he could afford it and I couldn't."
Morgan, 54, has been one of the tour's most successful performers, winning 18 times, including three victories last season as he earned more than $1.8-million to rank fourth on the money list. Morgan has won nearly $8-million in less than five seasons.
He shot 5-under 67 Saturday to emerge from the pack and take a one-shot advantage into today's final round over McCullough, Dana Quigley (70) and John Bland (69). Morgan was at 138, 6 under par. Jim Ahern (70) was at 140.
"I didn't expect to be in contention this early," said Morgan, who cited too much snow on the ground in his hometown, Edmond, Okla., for a shoddy off-season practice regimen. "Obviously, I always want to be in contention. That's always what you're fighting for. I just didn't feel like I had enough time to get my game in shape. I think that showed a little coming in. I wasn't too confident, made a few mistakes. I don't have as good control of the golf ball as I should.
"But it's good to be in contention. I'll be somewhat nervous. My goal in every tournament is to have a chance with nine holes to go. If I make a putt or two, I might have a chance."
Morgan will need to be on his game to win today. In addition to the three players a shot behind and Ahern, nine players were three shots out of the lead. Included in that group: Larry Nelson, the winner of the first two events of the year, who shot 69, and George Archer, 61, who tied a course record with 8-under 64. Not bad considering Archer opened the tournament with 77.
"My round was much better than my handicap," Archer joked. "I would have been happy shooting even par after being 5 over (Friday). The golf gods were smiling on me. I knew it was going to be a good day when I birdied the first three holes."
Quigley also figured a good day was in store when he birdied two of the first three holes to take the lead from first-round leader Jose Maria Canizares (68-73-141). But Quigley was unable to maintain the pace.
"I had a good chance to have a couple-of-shot lead," Quigley said. "I sort of let it slip away. I feel a little down about it. ... I was just trying too hard to shoot a good score."
McCullough has been trying for a long time without giving up hope. In a 23-year PGA Tour career, he never won. There's been no crystal for winning on the senior tour, either, but there's been plenty of satisfaction with growing success.
And he attributes much of it to Morgan.
"He's my best friend out here, there's no doubt about it," McCullough said. "We became very, very close on the senior tour. He and (instructor) Ernie Vossler changed my whole golf swing more than three years ago. And it's paid off. I have a better understanding of what I'm supposed to do. I don't always perform, but I'm aware of what I would like to do."