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Former PGA Champion Runyan dies aged 93

Paul Runyan, the two-time PGA champion known as ``Little Poison'' for beating the biggest names in golf with his crafty short game, died Sunday morning after a short bout with pneumonia. He was 93.

Jeff Runyan said his father died at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs, Calif. He had been hospitalized a week ago with pneumonia in both lungs.

``He still had so much he wanted to do,'' his son said. ``He was looking forward to going back to the Masters again this year.''

Runyan had been one of the few survivors who played in the first Masters in 1934, finishing two shots behind Horton Smith in a tie for third.

``Paul's longevity and competitive spirit will long be remembered,'' Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson said.

Runyan competed in an era that featured Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen and Sam Snead, and he held his own.

``I was sorry to hear that Paul Runyan was gone,'' Arnold Palmer said from the Bay Hill Invitational. ``He was a great player with an exceptional short game, and he had a wonderful career.''

Tiger Woods said he met Runyan a couple of times, but never had a chance to sit down and talk about their eras or their games.

``I remembered he played nine holes during a practice round at Sahalee,'' Woods said, referring to the '98 PGA Championship at the Seattle-area course where Runyan was once the head pro. ``He was striping it down the middle. We were a few groups behind, and it was pretty fun to watch.''

Runyan was a wizard with his short game, and often frustrated the big hitters by scratching out pars, and victories, when it looked as though he was the heavy underdog.

The biggest of all came in 1938, when he whipped Snead 8 and 7 in the 36-hole final of the PGA Championship. Snead was often 25 yards past him down the fairway, but Runyan plugged along by making every putt.

It was that short game that earned him his nickname.

``I think he liked it,'' his son said. ``He was just cocky enough to enjoy that.''

Born July 12, 1908, in Hot Springs, Ark., Runyan won 26 times on the PGA Tour, including a career-high seven victories in 1933. He won six times a year later, including the PGA Championship at Park Country Club in Williamsdale, N.Y., beating Craig Woods in 38 holes.

Four years later, Runyan scored his most stunning victory by beating Snead.

Runyan, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was equally renowned as an instructor, and continued to give lessons at the Golf Center at Palm Desert as recently as three weeks ago.

Among the clubs where he taught were La Jolla Country Club near San Diego, Sahalee Country Club outside Seattle and Green Gables in Colorado.

``He had more energy than anybody I ever saw,'' said Gene Littler, a former PGA champion who grew up playing at La Jolla when Runyan was the head pro. ``He would work in the shop, run out to the practice tee, run back to the shop. I never saw him walk.

``I saw him a year ago, and he told me was still teaching.''

Littler never took any formal lessons from Runyan, but often played with him.

``I saw him play some marvelous shots around the green,'' Littler said. ``I learned a lot from him.''

Runyan enjoyed returning to Augusta National, and he played in Par 3 Contest at the Masters three years ago, posting a 9-over 36.

``I remember that it was a very important event for us,'' Runyan said at the time. ``Anything that Bobby Jones had anything to do with was important the first time. Of course, nobody at that time would understand how important it has become now.''

His son said funeral services were pending.

Runyan is survived by two sons, Jeff and Paul; and two grandsons, Gentry and Asa. His second wife, Bernice, died in September 2000.

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