It was the craziest Masters ever played, very nearly the longest, among the wettest, and in the case of Jack Nicklaus perhaps his most philanthropic. Tommy Aaron, a nice, quiet fellow who seems seldom to smile because he seldom has reason, will think back on it quite differently, of course. Tommy Aaron did something he rarely does. He won. He won because Jack Nicklaus shot a horrendous 77 on Friday and then on Sunday left the Masters in a pond on the 15th hole, where he took an 8. Perhaps it would have been fitting if Tommy Aaron had acquired some scuba gear and gone back out to the 15th to collect the trophy, the check and that green jacket. Also, as souvenirs, the two golf balls Nicklaus hit in there.
O.K., so that is not entirely fair. Aaron deserves a considerable amount of credit. While Nicklaus was shooting a marvelous 66 on Monday, trying to retake from all those blue-collar chaps the tournament he had turned over to them earlier—and in fact scaring off all but a few—Aaron had a fine and brave 68 himself, refusing to come apart as he almost always has in the past.
Aaron is one of those golfers on the tour you never seem to hear from. He is a tall guy with glasses and a billed cap and a loose swing and he can nearly hide from the crowd even when the fairways are roped off. He went nine years on the tour before he won his first tournament, the Canadian Open, and just about everybody agreed that the main reason for that statistic was that Aaron had a swing with more things that could go wrong with it under pressure than the lead car in a freeway traffic jam.
So why did it happen differently last Monday? Why was Aaron for the first time in his career the strongest, most confident looking player on the course? It might have had something to do with the birdies he scored on the first three holes, getting off to an emphatic start, but more probably it was because he had little or no fear of anyone around him. Who did?
With Nicklaus then so far behind, why shouldn't Tommy Aaron consider himself as capable of winning the tournament as anyone else? Remarkably calm and self-assured all the way, even after he wavered slightly with bogeys at the 10th and 11th holes, Aaron went right back to making birdies—two more, and six for the day—and survived Nicklaus' closing rush and that of the other contending peasant, J. C. Snead, who briefly took the lead but put a ball in the water at the 12th hole the way J.C. Sneads are supposed to.
Aaron was certainly strengthened by the crowds, being a Georgia lad. All day they were cheering largely for Tommy and Nicklaus, who was easy to root for, considering the comeback he was attempting. Here comes Jack. Back from Forest Lawn. But he never made it back far enough, only tying the young Englishman, Peter Oosterhuis, and Jim Jamieson for third at 285 behind Aaron's winning 283.
This Masters began like many others. It was even a bit old-fashioned in that the weather had the kind of chill it seems it used to have for at least one of the four rounds. And then there was Aaron with a 68 that gave him the first-round lead. Aaron had often been a factor in previous Masters, although he had never finished better than fifth. He had led, or been close to the lead, only to lapse into his habit of swinging from birdies to bogeys, from eagles to double bogeys, from woods to creeks to flag-sticks and back again. Then, too, Nicklaus was up there close with his 69—a just-right score for him.
It was mutually decided all across Augusta that night that—ho hum, oh well, it figures, told you so—the tournament was already over on the first day. Nicklaus had shot the 69 with considerable ease, and none of the other favorites were anywhere close. Now the wind would stop, and Jack would score even better on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Or if the wind continued to blow, no one else would cope with it as well as Nicklaus. Tell you what. Let's all meet later at the Cadaver Supper Club and decide who is going to beat Aaron out for second.
When Friday's second round began, it confirmed the notions of Thursday evening. The day was glorious, the blossoms were beautiful, the breezes were quiet and the sun shone. Nicklaus rapped an eight-iron up to the 1st green and the ball sat down right by the pin. Gimme birdie. Now he was four under par, the co-leader, and with the weather and all, and Jack wanting to take a record fifth Masters and his 14th major championship, the one that would break his tie with the ghost of Bobby Jones, well, why wouldn't Nicklaus go ahead and fire a 63 today and win the thing by, say, nine or 10 strokes?
That is how it was as Nicklaus went to the 2nd tee with his playing companion, the engaging amateur Ben Crenshaw, a mere college junior. And it was from this moment on that the Masters went total cuckoo, with its unlikely brigade of contenders, with its wild weather, and with wild Jack Nicklaus.
What Nicklaus did was start missing putts that looked as if they could have been flicked in with a martini olive on the end of a toothpick. Not only did he miss them agonizingly, he began to miss them carelessly, looking as if he had received a person-to-person phone call from the Lord above telling him that this was not his year. Jack would stand over a two-or three-footer for a par or birdie and you could tell by his manner that he knew it was not going in. And it wouldn't. What this in turn did was cause him to slash at a couple of drives and send them into places he had never been before, and to make errors in judgment trying to escape.
In shooting his unbelievable 77 on Friday—the round that turned the Masters into a golf tournament for everybody, making contenders even out of people who had almost missed the cut—Nicklaus used 39 putts, three-putting four times and missing just about everything he stood over. Later that evening had he missed his mouth with a bite of steak, it would have seemed routine.
While Nicklaus struggled on Friday, other things began to occur that offered a striking contrast. First, Ben Crenshaw had a stretch of holes—from the 2nd through the 10th—in which he beat Nicklaus by 10 strokes, playing him head on. As Nicklaus shot a 40 on the first nine, Crenshaw had a four-under 32, eagling the uphill 8th with a drive, a three-wood and a 30-foot putt. For a while Crenshaw, surely the most impressive amateur since Nicklaus, led the Masters as if it were the Southwest Conference tournament back in Austin, Texas. Little Ben would ultimately drop back with a couple of disasters at the evil 12th hole, but collegiate juniors are not supposed to win the Masters anyhow.
With Crenshaw's lead disappearing in the creek and Nicklaus still stumbling around on the greens, it was time for the Masters to become the tournament of the working class. Here now came Gay Brewer, J. C. Snead, Bob Dickson, Bob Goalby, Jim Jamieson, Johnny Miller, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Aaron and, of course, Oosterhuis to make the event look like a protest by the guys in the mines against the man who lives in the big white house on the hill.
Brewer had six birdies and an eagle for a 66; Dickson threw in an eagle and shot a 71; and Chi Chi chipped into the cup on both the 17th and 18th holes for birdies to get himself a 70, a round which saw him take only 23 putts in comparison to Nicklaus' 39. There was all sorts of insanity around. Like these other two foreigners, Jumbo Ozaki, the long-driving Japanese folk hero, and Oosterhuis, hardly more than an English schoolboy, who would perform relentless magic on Sunday's third round, shoot a 68 and assume a three-stroke lead on everyone.
Around the world, the news that someone named Oosterhuis had taken control of the Masters and that someone named Ozaki was a contender must have seemed splendid nonsense. With a name like Oosterhuis you ought to be an engine in a racing car, and with a name like Ozaki you ought to be a motorcycle. But suddenly they were popular with the throngs, not just because they hit soaring tee shots but because they responded warmly to the cheers. Oosterhuis, 6'5", would look tall any-where outside a pro basketball court—or next to George Archer. Jumbo, although only six feet tall, is a jumbo in Japan, nevertheless.
"It would be a good thing for a foreigner to win the Masters," said Chi Chi Rodriguez. "Good for human relations. Very good for England and Oosterhuis, or for Japan and Ozaki, but better than ever for Puerto Rico and Chi Chi."
At this point, the most remarkable thing was that the Masters was being played at all. On Saturday the rains had come, and kept coming, washing out the day. The sky turned the color of a gray flannel suit, and the holes down in the bottomland looked as if they were soon going to have some small towns from Kansas washing across them. It was the first rainout since 1961 when Gary Player became the only foreigner ever to win the Masters, so it seemed appropriate on Sunday that Oosterhuis and Ozaki and Rodriguez continued giving the premises a foreign flavor.
The real flavor of the tournament, however, was provided by Jack Nicklaus' continued rendezvous with doom. If his mysterious 77 on Friday had not given everyone a boost, then his lesser catastrophe in the third round certainly did. There he was hauling himself back into the middle of the race, having just birdied the 13th and 14th holes and apparently headed for the 69 or so that would unnerve all those fellows wearing the Amana caps; there he was going to the pushover 15th hole that he could reach with a driver and a flick of his wrists for another birdie—when once again he became the Nicklaus nobody knew.
What Jack did was hit a bad drive into the mounds on the right, which cost him at least 40 yards in distance. What he did next was hit a three-wood into the pond. What he did next was hit a wedge into the same pond. Result: a triple-bogey 8. An eight on a hole where he ought to make a four.
Well, that finally clinched it. Jack couldn't win now. Could he? He was eight strokes and 14 players behind with only one round left.
Perhaps at this point the green jacket should have been draped on a pine tree of the 7th hole where Nicklaus made a double bogey on Friday or tossed into the pond at the 15th where he made his triple bogey on Sunday.
Anyhow, the other fellows were grateful. That was a nice gesture, Jack, giving the Masters back to the working classes—for a while.