There is no reason to think that 26-year-old Jack Nicklaus won't win every Masters championship from now until the year 2000, but it is unlikely that he will ever have more trouble earning the tournament's hallowed green coat than he did this week at Augusta National Golf Club.
After days of lurching in and out of the course's piney woods, being confounded by the invisible breaks in the grain of its greens and bewildered by its strong and shifting winds, Nicklaus triumphed in one of the most unusual Masters ever played. He did it by making up a three-stroke deficit in the last five holes of play to tie Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer at 288 on Sunday. Then he took Monday's playoff and the $20,000 purse with a two-under-par 70, beating Jacobs by two strokes and Brewer by eight with a display of the overpowering golf for which he is famous.
This will be known as the hold-my-green-coat Masters in which nearly every big name in golf had ample opportunity to win in the regulation four days, but declined the honor. The biggest decliner of all was Nicklaus. On Sunday night when he tapped in a two-inch putt on 18 to get into the playoff he puffed up his cheeks and let go a great whoosh of relief. "I've blown this tournament three times," he said, and he had. "I play one good hole and then a bad one. I hit one good drive and then a terrible one. I've hit into a ton of sand. I've hit fewer fairways than in a U.S. Open [Augusta's fairways are a mile wide, but Nicklaus needed two miles]. My putting just can't be believed. I don't know how I'm still in the tournament. But I don't intend to blow it again." With that he went home, ate three steaks and got set to feast on Brewer and Jacobs in the playoff.
Brewer, too, had spurned his chances. A journeyman pro on the tour for 10 years, he was one of those perpetual also-playeds until recently, when he became a habitual winner. All he had to do to win this Masters was par the 18th on Sunday, but he missed a seven-footer to make the playoff possible. Jacobs, meanwhile, held his position by taking some chances and hitting fine recovery shots after bouncing drives off trees. "I told my caddie they never remember who came in second in this tournament," he said. Although the remark was not addressed to him, Jack Nicklaus agreed. It was Nicklaus, not Jacobs, who finally got enough control of his game to insure victory.
As the playoff got under way it was quickly obvious that Jacobs, at least, was not particularly in awe of Big Jack. He started off grandly with a 25-foot birdie putt to take the lead at the first hole, although Nicklaus caught him on the 2nd with a big birdie of his own. Each played steady, thoughtful and deliberate golf through the first nine holes, and they both finished one under par at 35. Brewer, meanwhile, was fading out of contention. He failed to sink a series of short putts the like of which he has not missed in months—except, of course, for the crucial one on Sunday.
As the threesome turned into the back nine, Nicklaus slowly edged his way into a lead that Jacobs could not close. He sank a marvelous 25-foot putt for a birdie at the 11th and at the treacherous 12th hole he found himself with a two-stroke lead over Jacobs and three over Brewer. It was here that Brewer's day came to an end. He hooked his tee shot into the water and took a double-bogey 5, a disaster that made the bogies of Jacobs and Nicklaus look good. Jacobs held on stubbornly, in spite of missing relatively short putts that would have closed the gap at the 12th, 13th and 14th holes, but Nicklaus was just not going to blow it all again.
At 15, a par-5, Jacobs knew he had to go for an eagle. He hit his second shot high above the water guarding the front edge of the green but he couldn't bear to watch it. Instead, he turned to the gallery for the first hint of whether his ball had carried the creek. It had, and Jacobs had a cinch birdie. But Nicklaus, trifled with long enough, now came up with a critical shot, a 15-foot birdie putt that went squarely into the center of the hole. There was no real chance after that for Jacobs to make up two strokes. Nicklaus, playing conservatively as the twilight faded into near darkness, finished par-par-par and became the first man ever successfully to defend a Masters title. It was dark when Jack walked off the 18th green—the playoff had taken an agonizing five hours to complete—and the unusual scene that followed was in keeping with the bizarre events of this Masters. There on the putting green in front of the Augusta National clubhouse, with the gallery squinting through the night, Jack prepared to receive his third green coat in four years. "I'm sure you can all hear me, if you can't see me," began Tournament Director Clifford Roberts. "At this point, Jack," said Bobby Jones, "you as defending champion are supposed to put the green coat on the winner. Cliff and I have discussed the problem, and have decided you will just have to put the coat on yourself." Which Nicklaus did.
If this 30th Masters championship had a frantic—though eventually formful—ending, it also had a distinctive beginning.
Almost as if it were a ritual, the first day of a Masters is devoted to savoring the warm, moist air of the Georgia springtime, relishing the tradition and beauty of a great golf tournament and watching for the pattern of the whole event to evolve as the players cautiously feel their way through the opening round. But this opening day was different. The weather was cold and annoying, with the wind whipping the Spanish moss off trees and rolling it across fairways like tumbleweed. An "improved" section of the course was out of control, and the only pattern was chaos. Instead of tranquillity there was, thanks to Jack Nicklaus and a place called Amen Corner, constant excitement.
In the preceding days there had been much talk about the course. There always is before play begins, but this time there were things to talk about. The fairways were hard, what the players call a "fast track," and the grass on them was unusually long, making it doubly difficult to control approach shots. But the chilly wind was also making the huge, undulating greens unpredictable, which put a heavy premium on getting the approach shots close to the pins. "This is the first time in some years that the course played the way we wanted it to," Bobby Jones was to say later.
Nicklaus was the last of the favorites to tee off. He was depressed and unsettled, for just as he was about to retire the previous night, the phone had rung at his house with shattering news. Four of his closest friends and neighbors from Columbus who had been flying south to spend the weekend and watch him play had been killed when their private plane crashed and burned on a hillside in Tennessee. The accident was to affect his concentration throughout the Masters. He hooked his opening drive badly, but recovered with a spectacular shot and sank a 25-foot putt for a birdie 3. He got a birdie again with a 2 at the difficult 4th hole and again at the 9th. And at Amen Corner, as the 11th, 12th, and 13th holes are called at Augusta, Nicklaus protected his round while almost everyone else was losing ground. He played safely to the right at the 11th green, hit a delicate chip that rolled six feet past the hole and then sank the putt for his par. On the 12th he pushed a five-iron dangerously past the green on the right but chipped back splendidly and sank a 15-inch putt for his par. At the crescent-shaped 13th his drive just skirted the tall trees on the left—might even have gone through them—but landed in ideal position. A four-iron to the green gave him a birdie that put him four under par, and from there he coasted in for a 68 and a forbidding three-stroke lead that threatened to turn the tournament into a rout.
Every time it looked as if Nicklaus might get some subpar company of consequence the challengers would come to grief at Amen Corner, particularly at 11 and 12. Gary Player, for instance, was even par when he got there. At the 11th he hooked a five-iron to the green, and it bounded into Rae's Creek, giving him a double-bogey 6. At the 12th he pounded a five-iron into the bank on the far side of the green and buried the ball in mud. Of his Shakespeare ball he said, "I could see the Shake but not the speare." At first he thought of calling the lie unplayable and taking the penalty. But then he took a wedge and decided to try to nudge it out and into the bunker below. He could barely see the ball as he stood over it, and he chopped at it like a lumberjack. It popped out of the earth, crossed the bunker, reached the putting surface and rolled into the hole for a birdie 2 that could easily have been three or four strokes higher. "My greatest shot ever," said Gary. "And luckiest." It was also the end of Gary's luck, and not even abandoning his basic black for a white shirt and blue-green pants on Saturday could get him back in this Masters.
Doug Sanders reached Amen Corner one under par and left one over. He bogeyed 11, and then at the 12th his six-iron from the tee was short and rolled off the front bank into the mud at the edge of Rae's Creek. Dressed like a human tangerine from spikes to sweater, Sanders delighted the gallery (and thus himself) by removing one tangerine shoe, rolling up one tangerine pant leg and nearly toppling himself and his tangerine alpaca into the red-brown water before blasting a fine recovery close enough to two-putt for his bogey 4.
Billy Joe Patton, who earlier had run off a string of four consecutive 3s to tie for the lead, hooked his tee shot at the 12th toward downtown Augusta. His ball stopped in bushes 30 feet up a cliff, from where mountaineering Billy hit it down and somehow salvaged a double-bogey 5. Don January lost the tournament lead by hitting into the water at 13. Casper did it at 12. So it went.
Even par after the 10th, Arnold Palmer bogeyed 11. At the 12th, where the wind swirls unpredictably from moment to moment out of the tree-lined 13th fairway, Palmer's tee shot buried itself in a bunker past the green. "I could feel rock under my spikes," Palmer said, "and I suddenly got worried that if I struck down strongly and hit rock, the ball would fly into the water. So I tried to hit carefully and didn't hit hard enough." Palmer's first swing moved the ball only an inch or so, and he finally putted out for a double-bogey 5. He finished with a two-over-par 74.
Palmer later emphasized the critical nature of the 11th and 12th holes. "There is no way to play them safely. They raised those two greens to protect them from flooding. The work has left the fairway around 11 as hard as the top of a table, so you can no longer play safely to the right—away from the water—and feel confident of chipping close enough to get your par.
"On 12 you have to hit a perfect shot, and then have perfect luck," Palmer said. "I think it is probably the toughest par-3 in golf. Because of the changing winds you have to punch or draw your shot into the green to get safely across the water, and the green won't often hold that kind of shot. The other way is to float a high shot in there, but if a gust of wind comes up at that moment it will just grab the ball and dump it into the pond. I haven't yet figured out a way to play 12." As it developed, it was the 12th hole that cost Palmer the tournament, for he played it four strokes over par.
Ben Hogan, in his laconic way, said what is probably all there is to be said about the 12th. "There's no point in worrying about it. It's there, and you've got to play it."
The field did play it, but the box score for the first day was three triple bogeys, 20 double bogeys, 28 bogeys, 48 pars and only three birdies, one of them Player's fantastic shot.
Thanks in no small part to Amen Corner, the opening day was all Jack Nicklaus. Reviewing Nicklaus' round, Palmer noted with admiration that Jack was the only player who crossed the pond and reached the par-5 15th in two shots in the face of the angry wind blowing from the west. Said Palmer, "Jack just stood there at the crest of the hill and raised his arms to heaven and commanded the wind to stop while he hit a three-wood over the water."
"Yeah," said Dave Marr, a close friend of Palmer's, "just like you used to do, Arnold."
The next day Palmer began to produce the kind of miracle Marr was kidding him about. It was coming on toward noontime of what was presumed to be the start of the three-day pursuit of Jack Nicklaus when a roar that is unique in golf began to roll across the gentle hills and swales of Augusta National. The sound starts at full decibel, lasts for perhaps 10 seconds and then gradually fades to a punctuation of joyful whoops and hollers. It is a roar that means Arnold Palmer has sunk a birdie putt in the Masters. This was to be the day of the roars.
The first one came when Palmer birdied the 2nd hole. The sound exploded again with another birdie at the 6th. It was repeated a few minutes later from the 7th green, and then from the 8th—three birdies in a row and his fourth of the young round. With each birdie Palmer's stride seemed to lengthen several inches, and for the first time he was showing real enthusiasm for his work. He made the turn in 32.
Up ahead, Nicklaus had just bogeyed the 11th hole, and—improbable as it seemed—he and Palmer were tied. The big lead had vanished; the three-day pursuit required less than three hours. To use the phrase that Palmer himself had brought into the patois of sport right here at Augusta four years ago: the game was on.
One of Palmer's great problems over the past year or so has been his inability to maintain a hot streak for the full 18 holes. He will shoot a spectacular first nine and then falter, or start in a wobbly way and finish brilliantly. Some questions arise: At 36, does he have trouble holding his concentration? Or has he lost some of his stamina? He has had, of late, some aches and pains, among them twinges in his hip that bothered him from time to time at Augusta. As one who believes doctors are only for the deathbed, Palmer has been prescribing his own treatment, which consists of an application of Ben-Gay when he happens to think of it.
Palmer, now tied with Nicklaus for the lead, went down the 10th fairway with booming, twingeless strides. His drive had been a beauty, at least 280 yards. When he reached the ball he pulled out a four-iron and hit his first really poor shot of the day, pushing it into a bunker short of the green and some 80 or 90 feet from the hole. From there a loosely struck sand shot bounced to the left and rolled off the edge of the putting surface.
Now faced with a bogey—maybe even a double bogey—he went to the wedge, which has been the weakest club in his bag this year, bent over the ball and punched it briskly. It bounced a couple of times and then disappeared into the hole for a heavenly par. Standing inconspicuously in the gallery, as is her custom, Winnie Palmer said, "Arnold is trying to send me to an early grave. I think he wants to marry a younger woman."
But not even Palmer could unsettle the pattern that was taking shape in this tournament—one of trouble for everybody. His bad shot on 10 marked a change in tempo, and it was Amen Corner time again. At 11, a short approach and a weak chip off the hard ground gave him a bogey. At the 12th his low seven-iron failed to hold the green although it was dead on the pin, but this time he chipped within 12 inches and holed the putt for his par. At 13, a 475-yard par-5, an excellent drive left him with only a five-iron to the green. However, to his enormous disgust, he pushed it into Rae's Creek. This meant still another victory for Amen Corner and the loss of the lead for the rest of the day. Nonetheless, it was good old Arnie who, as far as the Augusta gallery was concerned, had breathed new life into a tournament that only that morning had looked like another Nicklaus runaway. "Go Arnie," the crowd had shouted at him along the way, and Arnie had gone his best, shooting a 70 to trail by one stroke the second-day leaders, Paul Harney and England's Peter Butler, who must have shared the general surprise at their brief, as it developed, moment in the sun.
"It was," said an irreverent Chicago sportswriter. "the best Good Friday Peter and Paul have had in 2,000 years."
It was also a very good Friday for Ben Hogan, who was playing the kind of golf that the purists follow with wonder. On the second round he hit 17 of the 18 greens in par, the most precise golf of the tournament, and finished with a 71 to leave him only two strokes behind at 145. He was within a gasp of leading the Masters but, come to think of it, who wasn't? Twenty golfers were bunched within four strokes of the top, and the tournament was a sporting proposition again, thanks to the largess of large Jack Nicklaus, who shot a tortuous 76.
Seven times Nicklaus missed putts of five feet or less. He three-putted five greens, three of them from within 15 feet of the hole. In all, he used 38 strokes on the greens, eight more than on Thursday, and that was the difference between his two scores—68 on Thursday and 76 on Friday. Even so, he finished tied with Palmer at 144. He had played a ruinous round and not been ruined, but he had made it possible for 19 pros to go home that evening thinking "the game is on and I can win."
By the next evening it seemed likely that the only true winner of the 1966 Masters would be the Augusta National golf course itself. The course has a schizophrenic personality. It can be gentle, as it was last year when Nicklaus set a 72-hole tournament record at 17 strokes under par, but it also can be ornery, as it was in 1963 when Nicklaus' winning score was 286, only two strokes under par. When Saturday was over, it was obvious that the course was in one of its mean phases—perhaps the meanest ever. Nicklaus was again in the lead, tied now with Jacobs, whose many ups and downs since he first joined the pro tour in 1957 had recently turned mostly into downs. Their score, an even-par 216, was the highest 54-hole score in the history of the Masters.
Never had there been such atrocious putting, not even during the early years, when the greens were like waxed linoleum. Player, who has appeared in the Masters steadily since 1957, was at a loss to understand what had happened after "playing so well" throughout the first round yet putting himself into a two-over-par 74. "I just seemed to misread so many greens," he reflected. "I can't remember ever doing that before—not that often, anyway."
"These greens putt easier when they're fast," Nicklaus explained after his third-round 72, having missed more short putts in the last two days than he normally would in a season of competition. Then Nicklaus' sense of humor took over, as it always does when things get a little too serious. "Maybe nobody wants to win," he cracked. "It's kind of silly, really. I've had two opportunities to run away with the tournament and blew them. The rest of the field has had two opportunities to run away from me and didn't do it. They say the third time is lucky, so maybe somebody will do it tomorrow. I hope it's me, but it has been a funny kind of a week."
It must have seemed anything but funny to Nicklaus an hour or so earlier when he was playing the 12th hole—back there at Amen Corner again. At that point Jack stood three under par, thanks to an outgoing 34 and a birdie 3 on the eminently unbirdieable 10th. He hit a seven-iron toward the 12th green and really had no cause for concern since the winds of the previous two days had died down to a slight breeze and the balmy day was ideal for precision golf. But Jack's ball buried itself in the top of the bunker on the hillside behind the green, leaving him an almost impossible shot to play. It was virtually the same problem Palmer had faced the first day. Like Palmer, Nicklaus failed to hit the ball hard enough and it simply rolled to the bottom of the bunker, from where he, too, took a double-bogey 5. One birdie and two bogeys later, Jack finished with his 72. Meanwhile, on the scoreboard was the 31-year-old Jacobs, who, having opened the tournament with a mediocre 75, had followed with subpar rounds of 71 and 70. While Nicklaus was taking 10 strokes to play the 12th and 13th, Jacobs took only six, making one of the tournament's rare eagles on 13.
Not too many people watched Nicklaus and Jacobs play their Saturday rounds, despite the fact that they were near the front of the pack most of the day, for the majority of the people on the course had decided to follow the most attractive pairing of the half century: Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan.
When they teed off late in the day Palmer stood one stroke off the lead, the aging but ageless Hogan only two. Palmer was quite obviously off form, and he has rarely had such an inauspicious round of putting in a major tournament. No one, least of all Ben himself, expected any miracles from Hogan's putter, which has been an instrument of torture for him these last few years, but his short game, usually precise, was also shaky. Before the first nine holes were over, Palmer had three-putted at the 4th and 7th greens, and Hogan had done likewise at the 3rd, 7th and 8th. Palmer was out in 37 and Hogan in 38. It looked very much as if neither of them would ever again get close to Nicklaus.
Then, for a short while beginning at the 10th hole, Hogan suddenly was a young man again. He chipped in for a birdie 3 at the 10th and sank a 30-foot birdie putt at the 11th. After a par 3 at the 12th, he hit a marvelous four-wood to the green at the 13th that brought him his third birdie in four holes. Now he was even with par, just a stroke behind Nicklaus.
Palmer, with birdies at 14 and 15, seemed momentarily on his way to a charge, but it died when he three-putted 16. Hogan also faltered. He finished with a 72, Palmer with a 73, and they were tied at 218, only two strokes behind the leaders. Nor were they alone. Standing even with the two golfing giants in score, if not reputation, was Gay Brewer, a quiet pro who was about to make himself heard.
Until this year Ben Hogan had never made an appearance in the press room at Augusta, where the leading players are ushered for a formal interview after completing their rounds. Hogan always held his interviews seated in front of his locker, a scene that became a kind of Masters institution. This year, however, Ben broke his own personal tradition.
Hogan was asked to explain his surprising success this year at the age of 53. Was he driving the ball farther? "No," he said. "I think some of the other fellows are backing up a bit." Then he smiled. "Maybe they're getting older. I know Arnold isn't driving it nearly as far as he used to. As a matter of fact, he didn't swing nearly as hard today as he usually does. How about that, Arnold?" Ben asked, turning to Palmer, who had finished his own interview and was standing among the reporters listening to Hogan. "How come you didn't swing harder today?"
"I wanted to keep it on the fairway with you," Palmer replied, and the way he said it one knew he meant it.
Someone asked Hogan how he felt about playing in front of Arnie's Army. "I think they're just golf fans," he answered. "Arnie takes a lot of chances, and that's why they're always trying to key him on to do something that's next to impossible."
Asked to appraise his own game, Hogan said, "I've had my problems judging distance and selecting clubs. I'm usually pretty good at selecting clubs and choosing shots, so maybe it's because I haven't been playing enough competitive golf. And I've had problems going downwind. I can't attribute all that to lush lies. I guess it requires a little more skill than I have at the moment. The fellows who have that skill aren't having the same trouble."
Then Hogan said something that was obviously from the heart. "I want to apologize to Arnold for having to watch me go through the jitters out there on the putting greens. I'm very sorry. I really am."
"Ben," asked a reporter, "are you satisfied with your showing so far?"
"I have to accept it," Hogan replied. "But I'm not satisfied."
Many of the reporters in the room would have been happy to see a Hogan victory, yet they realized the chances were slight; when all the scores were in on Saturday there were still six players grouped at the top, just two strokes apart. One shot behind Nicklaus and Jacobs came Don January at 217, while a stroke behind him were Palmer, Hogan and Brewer. Furthermore, four more players were just one shot behind them. Palmer called it the most unusual Masters he had seen. It was also one of the closest.
The tournament became even closer when Doug Sanders, three strokes behind as the final round began, birdied the first hole. But after that Sanders, now dressed in fire-engine red, was unable to sink the putts he needed and dropped back. As usual, the leaders were paired together, so that Palmer went out with Brewer, Jacobs with January, and Nicklaus with Hogan. Poor Ben. His play for three rounds had been magnificent, but it was apparent almost immediately in the final round that his putting was too shaky to let him win. January also played himself out of contention early in the round.
As Hogan and January were falling back, Gay Brewer went rushing into the lead, shooting a 33 on the front nine. Despite a peculiar loop at the top of his backswing, Brewer, when he is on his game, drives the ball nearly as far as Nicklaus, hits accurate irons and putts superbly. That is exactly the way he was playing in the final round, working his way to the front and then keeping one or two strokes between himself and his pursuers throughout the latter part of the afternoon.
One of his pursuers was Palmer, his playing partner. Palmer had shot a 34 on the front nine to fall behind Brewer, and on the back nine he was never able to catch up. Palmer came to 18 two strokes behind and in need of supernatural help. It never came.
Not that Brewer didn't give him a chance. Reaching the 18th green at one under par, the only player in subpar figures at that point, he needed just two putts from 60 feet for apparent victory. He stroked the first one gingerly downhill, but it swerved left at the last minute and rolled seven feet past. When he missed coming back, he sat down among the green-coated officials and, looking like the saddest man in the world, waited for someone to beat him.
The first man to have a try was Tommy Jacobs. Jacobs had been two strokes back of Brewer at one time on the second nine, but a birdie on the 15th plus Brewer's bogey on 18 made them all even. Jacobs came to the final hole, scene of innumerable last-minute disasters, needing a par to tie, and promptly hit his drive with the toe of his club, sending the ball into the rough swale at the bottom of the hill. From there he hit a four-wood he will never forget. It landed 10 feet to the right of the pin, bounded 25 feet up the green, stopped and rolled back 10 feet. He missed his birdie putt, but he sank a three-footer for his tie and sat down beside Brewer to await the big man, Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus had also been two strokes behind Brewer late in the afternoon, but like Jacobs, he birdied the 15th and got even on Brewer's 18th-hole disaster. Just after Brewer missed his putt on 18, Nicklaus hit a magnificent nine-iron three feet from the 17th pin. It looked like a certain birdie and, therefore, an equally certain victory for Nicklaus. But when he stroked his putt, the ball broke sharply to the left, never coming close to the hole. Jack moved over to 18 as Brewer and Jacobs, companions in agony, sat and squirmed.
Nicklaus' huge drive was into the gallery on the left side of the fairway and his approach ran 40 feet past the hole, very close to where Brewer and Jacobs were sitting. After studying the tricky downhill putt for some minutes, Jack tapped the ball with infinite delicacy. Two feet from the hole it was surely headed in, but on the last turn or two it drifted left and missed the cup by a couple of inches. Over at the edge of the green, Brewer and Jacobs suddenly were all smiles. Gloomy Sunday had become Happy Sunday, and as for Monday—well, Monday was another day.