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Palmer hoping to get game back in shape

His game is a mess, the heat is oppressive and most of the competition is younger and hungrier.

If winning was his lone objective, Arnold Palmer probably would be better off skipping the U.S. Senior Open this week. But he still gets a kick out of teeing it up and strolling down the fairway, even if the ball doesn't travel nearly as far as it used to.

``I suppose it would have been pretty easy for me to just say, `Hey, I'm not going to play in the Open or any other events,''' Palmer said Wednesday. ``But I'm still hopeful that I might play some good golf. And I enjoy it.''

The $2.5 million tournament runs from Thursday to Sunday at Caves Valley Golf Club. Palmer may not be favored to win, but he remains a fan favorite.

``I've been around so long, I know most of the people by their first names, and the ones I don't know by their first names are relatives,'' he quipped. ``The fans have been, for 50 years, just very supportive and wonderful to me.''

No one will have a larger gallery Thursday, even though the 72-year-old Palmer has very little chance of competing against the likes of Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Fuzzy Zoeller and defending champion Bruce Fleisher.

Palmer hasn't won a tournament since 1988 and has missed the cut in the last three U.S. Senior Opens. He's played in two events this year, finishing 77th in the Verizon Classic and missing the cut in the Senior PGA Championship.

``I won't go into the gory details about my play,'' he said. ``It has not been very good.''

But Palmer shot a par-71 Saturday on the 7,005-yard course, and he's not conceding anything to anyone.

``Things are coming together a little bit. I recently have started hitting some shots a little bit better than I have most of the year,'' he said.

In the days leading up to the start of the tournament, much of the talk centered on the 95-degree temperatures, the stifling humidity and the fact that none of the golfers will be allowed to use carts. Such conditions do not faze Palmer, who suggested that all senior tournaments -- not just the majors -- ban the use of carts.

``I'm 72 years old and if I'm going to play in an event, I want to walk. I don't have a problem with that at all,'' he said. ``We are athletes. When you start complaining about the heat and humidity, the heck with that. Just go home and sit in front of the TV and have a beer.''

Palmer is not ready for that lifestyle. Although he's no longer a regular on the senior tour, he has kept busy by attending the opening of golf courses around the country and playing in charity exhibitions.

Palmer, who was winning tournaments before Tiger Woods was born, remains one of the most popular and respected golfers in the game.

``I love Arnold Palmer,'' Fleisher said. ``He's got guts.''

There was a time when Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were kings of the game. The senior tour has enabled them to keep their careers afloat, although age has finally caught up to both.

Nicklaus had to withdraw from the tournament because of back problems, and Palmer has cut his schedule back to only a handful of events each year, and said in April that he would not play another Masters.

``I haven't made any determination on anything I do, as far as playing is concerned. I really thought maybe this year I wouldn't play much at all, and I haven't,'' Palmer said. ``But I have made some commitments, and I will keep those commitments -- if the heat and humidity don't kill me.

``But I'll tell you what, if the heat and humidity kills me this week, it's the best way I know to die.''

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