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RODRIGUEZ BACK ON RIGHT TRACK

The PGA Senior Tour is getting to be a rough neighborhood these days. Just ask Chi Chi Rodriguez.

Since Lee Trevino joined the over-50 crowd in December and Jack Nicklaus joined the fold in March, victories are tougher to come by. Trevino won five of his first 10 Senior starts, Nicklaus two of his first three.

It's getting so tough, the 54-year-old Rodriguez was giving thought to going into semi-retirement early this year.

"I was not playing well at all," Chi Chi said Monday while playing in the Children's Hospital Charity Pro-Am at Brierwood Country Club. "I was considering cutting back my schedule to just 10 tournaments a year."

Recent success, however, has changed Rodriguez's mind. He rebounded the past two months with a victory at Las Vegas in April, two second-place finishes and one third-place finish.

"Now I feel like I can beat Trevino and Nicklaus," he said. "Before, I was beginning to wonder whether I could."

"I can't take mediocrity," Rodriguez said. "If I can't have a chance at winning a tournament, I'd just as soon not be there."

It's no secret the Senior Tour has been the best thing that ever happened to Chi Chi's career. In his first three years on the Senior Tour, he won 12 tournaments and $1.3 million. That surpassed the $1 million he earned in 25 years on the PGA Tour.

"For 40 years, my banker called me Chi Chi. Now he calls me Mr. Rodriguez," Chi Chi said.

Last year, however, Rodriguez fell to 17th on the Senior money list with one victory.

When he got to the Tradition tournament in March he was frustrated.

When things are going bad, most players head for their teaching pro. Rodriguez took a different approach.

"We were in Phoenix and I told my wife 'I'm playing so bad I'm going to take a week off and go to Naples,' " he said, referring to their Florida home. "But when I got to the airport I told my pilot, we're not going to Naples, we're going to go to the MacGregor factory in Albany, Ga.

"So we flew there and I had them make a new set of golf clubs for me. I switched from investment cast to carbon steel. They're softer. The very first week I finished second and two weeks later I won at Las Vegas."

Rodriguez stands seventh on the Senior money list this season with $272,815. He thinks he can play a few more years.

"I'm striking the ball pretty good. When I don't think I have much of a chance to win anymore, that's when I'll quit."

The tournament, which has raised more than $450,000 for Children's Hospital the past nine years, was won by a fivesome led by PGA Tour pro Bob Wolcott. He teamed with Tom DeSimone, Bill Dellamore, Joe DiVincenzo and Joe Cardinale for a score of 59 in the scramble format.

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