BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- As far as Jim Colbert is concerned, the biggest liability of his PGA Tour career is now his biggest asset, and he has some impressive Senior PGA Tour credentials to prove it.
Colbert, who earned more money in his first two senior tour years than he did in a 20-year career on the regular tour, comes into this week's U.S. Senior Open as one of the early favorites. He has the most 1996 wins, three, and is third on the money list.
Although that last category is not always the best place to look for favorites, it does apply this week, as the first five are the top candidates for victory.
Colbert is joined by five who have won twice this season -- Hale Irwin, Isao Aoki, Bob Murphy, John Bland and Jack Nicklaus, the perennial choice whose two wins have come in only four senior tour starts this season.
Unlike the long and demanding Congressional Country Club test of a year ago, Canterbury Golf Club, 200 yards shorter at 6,765, puts a premium on accurate driving and putting.
It allows more people into the hunt, too, as it takes the driver out of the hands of the big hitters on as many as eight or nine of the driving holes.
The greens are large, but with subtle undulations that will create major headaches. The players would like to be able to keep the ball below the holes, but that's easier said than done. "You're going to have to pick your spots to go for the pins," said Colbert.
Where Colbert's health is such that he is pain-free, it wasn't always so.
"The biggest problem I had on the regular tour was my body -- it just wouldn't go," Colbert, 55, said before a practice round yesterday. "Every time I played really well, my back would explode, and I just couldn't play. I got off to the best start I'd ever had in 1976, and in that March my back went out.
"I came back in the middle of 1979, was on relaxants and other junk, and you don't play well like that, but there were some exercises that alleviated it.
"I was playing my best golf in my 40s until the back blew up again in 1987. From there, it was three years of working golf events for television, until turning 50 in March 1991."
There was pain (he was up to 13 Advil a day) and occasional spasms for two years before he was forced to the sidelines again. This time, however, there turned out to be a remedy, as a doctor recommended magnets. With one on each hip and one in the small of his back, his circulation has improved, and, "I haven't missed a day [because of pain] in three years."
A supervised physical fitness program also has helped him feel better, and he's hitting the ball longer than ever.
"I've given myself the best opportunity to play as well as I can -- no excuses." he said, and has the money -- more than $2.5 million in the last 2 1/2 years -- to show for it.
NOTES: The Middle Atlantic contingent of Larry Ringer, Mike McGinnis and Bruce Lehnhard was increased by one with the addition of alternate David Oakley, formerly of Vienna, Va., to replace Orville Moody. . . ..Among the other six withdrawals were Lee Trevino, Harold Henning, and J.C. Snead. . . . Included in the amateur entries is Richard Evenson, an insurance salesman from Noblesville, Ind., whose son, Mark, is an assistant professional at Rolling Road GC. . . . . Those with Chesapeake Cup experience are Joel Hirsch, Vinnie Giles, Bob Housen and Gordon Brewer.
U.S. Senior Open
Where: Canterbury Golf Club, Beachwood, Ohio
When: Today through Sunday
Course: 6,765 yards; par 36-36--72
Purse: $1.2 million (First, $212,500; second, $125,000; third, $79,801)
Field: 156 players. After 36 holes, cut to low 60 scorers and ties and any player within 10 strokes of the leader.
TV: ESPN (Today, 12-4 p.m.; tomorrow, 1-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m.). NBC (Saturday and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
Pub Date: 7/04/96