Fight to the Finish

April 22, 1991
April 22, 1991

Table of Contents
April 22, 1991

The Masters
NHL Playoffs
Mark Spitz
Jerry Evans
David Robinson
Fading Fast
First Person
Point After

Fight to the Finish

Feisty little Ian Woosnam outlasted a wave of challengers and won over hostile Masters gallery

Those were notstudents of psychology down in Amen Corner on Sunday, those who cheered whenIan Woosnam hooked his drive on the 13th hole into Rae's Creek. At 5'4½",Woosnam is short, not deaf. He heard the cheers, and he knew what theymeant.

This is an article from the April 22, 1991 issue Original Layout

The cheers were arude way of saying, Enough, already. Enough of European golfers winning theMasters. Please, no more Scots, Englishmen, Spaniards or Germans; no moreSandys, Nicks, Seves or Bernhards. And especially—nothing personal, mind you—nolittle Welshmen answering to "Woosie."

"That was abit disappointing," said Woosnam on Sunday evening, his new green jacketclashing nicely with the red tartan trousers he had worn into the Georgiawoods. "Bad sportsmanship. But never mind, that's life; let's get on withit."

Maybe that's whatWoosnam was thinking as he stared down at his ball, dimly visible in the murkywater off the 13th fairway. Maybe he wasn't still bristling over another tasteof American jingoism back at the 10th hole, where spectators had rooted for hisball to roll off the green and down a hill, which it had done. Perhaps, as hedropped a new ball on 13, he was feeling magnanimous. More likely, though, hewas thinking dark, bloody thoughts.

Woosnam would biteyour shins in a pub brawl if you crossed him, but at 33 he has learned tochannel his feistiness. He no longer breaks clubs over his knee or gets bookedfor racing his Porsche through the Shropshire night at more than 120 mph."The more angry I get, the better I play," he said on more than oneoccasion last week.

Come to think ofit, the 1991 Masters was a pub brawl, and as with most good melees, youcouldn't tell much about the fight by who was last out the door. Three men cameto the 72nd hole tied for the lead at 11 under par: Woosnam, winner of theUSF&G Classic in New Orleans three weeks earlier and a 17-time winner onthe European tour; 41-year-old Tom Watson, the people's choice down thestretch; and young Spanish star Josè-María Olazàbal, the second-leadingmoney-winner on the European tour this season.

By then, however,all three seemed spent. They had fought off challenges by guys who seemed tocome out of nowhere—Ben Crenshaw, Andrew Magee, Jodie Mudd, Steve Pate—and oneman, Lanny Wadkins, who was there among the leaders all along. They also hadbattled the brain-numbing delays of Masters play. "You never can get arhythm on this golf course," said Watson, citing his 25-minute wait for afour-group pileup on 13. "It felt like 10 hours out there," saidWoosnam.

No one left moreof himself on the course than Watson, who had not won since the 1987 NabiscoChampionships. Seemingly out of contention after dunking his tee shot in thewater on the par-3 12th, Watson wrought pandemonium in the pines by eagling the13th and 15th holes—a feat rivaling Gene Sarazen's final-round double eagle at15 in 1935. His first eagle produced a three-shot swing with the front-runningWoosnam, who after taking his drop on 13 had laid up and taken bogey. The eagleat 15—following a brilliant five-iron to within six feet of the pin—gave Watsona share of the lead with Woosnam, who two-putted for a birdie, andOlazàbal.

Like Woosnam,Olazàbal needed only to win his first major to secure his reputation, which hasrapidly been established with a total of seven wins worldwide in 1990 and '91,including a 12-stroke victory at last summer's World Series of Golf in Akron."I would be very surprised if he does not pull this out," said SeveBallesteros of his countryman as the contenders made the turn on Sunday."He is 25, but he is 35 in maturity."

Olazàbal was offhis game on Sunday and plodded along at a pace that probably crippled the hopesof the fast-moving Wadkins, his playing partner. Olazàbal missed fairwaysconsistently and bogeyed three straight holes—8, 9 and 10—to fall four strokesoff the pace, but he birdied 13, 14 and 15 and seized the lead briefly at 11under. Proving what? "That I'm able to come back," said the man whowould be Ballesteros.

No knock onOlazàbal, but Augusta National never played easier. Thunderstorms had softenedthe course on Tuesday night, and three of the four par-5s played downwind allweek. Saturday's 30 subpar rounds broke a third-round tournament record, andthe 37 eagles over four rounds were 11 more than the previous high, achieved in1983. "The course is playing so easy," said Davis Love III aftershooting a 74 on Saturday, "that I should be doing better."

Another guy whothought he should be doing better was Nick Faldo, who tied for 12th but nevermade a convincing bid to win an unprecedented third straight Masters. "It'stouch" said Faldo on Sunday, explaining what was lacking in his short game."I just haven't had it this week."

On Thursday,following Masters tradition, Faldo, as defending champion, played with thereigning U.S. Amateur champ, Phil Mickelson. A 20-year-old junior at ArizonaState, the lefthanded Mickelson breezed around Augusta National in 69 toFaldo's 72. At the difficult 18th, Mickelson hit his approach six feet behindthe hole. Faldo, from a fairway bunker, bounced his into the spectators left ofthe green. Result: Mickelson, a.k.a. the Next Jack Nicklaus, sauntered onto thegreen to a dream ovation. For his part, Faldo fussed with the gallery ropes andthe gallery, thoroughly upstaged.

Meanwhile, itseemed as if nothing could disturb affable Mark McCumber. Upon arriving at thelocker room on Thursday, McCumber found a FedEx from his wife, Paddy. Enclosedwere two photos of their five-day-old son, Mark Tyler, and a note: "If youmake a bogey, think about this face." He made only one bogey en route to a67 and a share of the first-round lead with Wadkins and Jim Gallagher Jr. Thenext day, McCumber spiced his act with stunts. When his birdie putt spun out at16, McCumber rolled over on his back and his caddie toppled into a greensidebunker.

But then, nothingless than pratfalls would do on Friday. In what was perhaps the most eventfulsecond round in Masters history, the golfers kept changing masks: hero, victim,warrior, fool. Wadkins, having missed a four-footer for par at the 9th hole,tried to backhand his tap-in for bogey—and missed. Olazàbal, after needingthree pitches to escape a muddy lie beside the 6th green, became the firstplayer in Masters history to get a quadruple-bogey 7 on the hole. He trudged tothe 7th tee with tears in his eyes.

Even Nicklaus shothimself in the foot. On the 12th tee he was four under par and two strokes offthe lead. Minutes later, after playing the infamous par-3 water hole, he wasback at par and six shots off the pace. "I committed a cardinal sin,"Nicklaus said later. "I always hit that shot over the [front] bunker, butthe conditions were so ideal that I decided to play a little more toward theflag, and I blocked it out right." The ball landed on the steep bank to theright of the bunker and rolled back into Rae's Creek.

They don't handout dunce caps at the 12th; they just make the wretch hit his next shot frominside a chalk circle by the creek. Nicklaus, shooting three with the penaltystroke, tossed a delicate wedge shot at the flag and watched in disbelief as itspun back off the green and rolled into the water. Said Nicklaus, "Istarted thinking, What am I going to make here? Seven? Nine? Eleven?Thirteen?"

Seven, it turnedout, the day's second quad. The pink and purple azalea blossoms, alreadywilting, drooped further. It was so quiet in Amen Corner you could hear alegend drop.

This legend,however, would not stay down. Nicklaus birdied 13, 14, 15 and 16, and thequadruple bogey was covered like a kited check. On the 14th, where hisfour-iron approach stopped inches from the flag, Jackie, his son and caddie,said, "Dad, that is the greatest golf shot I've ever seen."

On the 500-yard15th, Nicklaus amazed himself. "Guess what club I just hit to thatgreen?" he said to Watson, his playing partner, after clearing the waterwith his second shot. "A six-iron!"

Watson, amused,passed the information to those behind the fairway ropes: "Jack hit asix-iron."

Make no mistake,the moment belonged to Watson, too. Nicklaus's eagle putt lipped out at 15, butWatson's 15-footer for eagle fell to a huge roar. At the par-3 16th, Nicklausrolled in a 30-foot rainbow and clutched his head in disbelief. Watson thendropped an equally improbable putt from about the same distance to take thelead at eight under. He was headed for a second straight 68 that would give hima two-shot lead over McCumber, Wadkins, Mark Calcavecchia and Woosnam, who hadjoined the fun on the leader board with a 66 on Friday. And Nicklaus was justfour back.

The round calledto mind a pair of memorable Nicklaus-Watson duels: Turnberry in 1977 and PebbleBeach in 1982, both won by Watson. Three weeks earlier the two had led in NewOrleans after two rounds and were paired in the final group for the thirdround, only to disappoint themselves and their fans with sloppy play. Friday atAugusta was different; their climb to the 18th green was the walk of champions.As the ovation built, Nicklaus paused to let Watson pass. Watson put his armaround his old foe and said, "No, no, let's go up together."

Sunday's finalwalk up 18 was shorter on ceremony, but longer on drama for Watson—and hisco-leaders. The tournament came down to three tee shots, and each golfer playedhis drive differently.

Olazàbal, in thenext-to-last twosome, tried to knock the ball past the steep-faced bunkers onthe left, but he didn't fade it enough and found the sand. His second shotlanded in the trap to the left front of the green. His sand wedge from thereleft him with a 40-foot uphill putt for par. If he'd made it, the pressurewould have been on Watson and Woosnam, who were playing together, to escapetheir own troubles. Olazàbal's putt stopped three feet short. "I would loveto be able to hit that tee shot again," said Olazàbal, who after signinghis scorecard remained near the 18th green to watch the final gut-wrenchingstrokes of the tournament. "Obviously, there's a tremendous amount ofpressure out there, but that's golf."

To shorten thedogleg, Watson attempted to cut a three-wood up the right side with his teeshot. "I did nothing but just shove it," he said of the fateful shot,which rifled into the trees.

That left WeeWoosie, whose strategy all week at 18 had been to take his driver, aim left ofcenter and swing with all his might. "I've seen Greg Norman play it thatway," said Woosnam, who after moving in front late in the third round wasnever more than one shot out of the lead. "Even if I hooked the ball, Iknew it would carry the bunker."

Carry the bunker?Woosnam hooked his final drive over grass, sand and most of the gallery. Butthere was no trouble where Woosnam went, and his only concern for the next fiveminutes was helping the marshals relocate the few thousand spectators betweenhim and the green.

Watson was not solucky. The trees in his path were firmly rooted, so his only play was to try toslice a three-iron out of the pine straw and onto the green. He caught the leftfront bunker instead and, like Olazàbal, couldn't get up and down.

That opened theway for Woosnam, whose second shot had landed just off the left side of thegreen, about 50 feet from the hole. He chose to putt it on and rolled his balleight feet past the cup. With Watson already having missed his par putt,Woosnam needed this one to avoid a possible three-way playoff. "I felt itwas a right-lip putt," Woosnam said. "I kept my head down for the firstfour feet or so, but I saw the last three feet, and I thought, It's in,baby." When the ball dropped, he crouched and pumped his arm.

Woosnam's wife,Glendryth, who is also tiny, couldn't see the final putt from her nonvantagepoint among the gallery at 18, but she could gauge what had happened by thereaction of the crowd. The cheers told her 1) that her husband had won, markingthe sixth time in the last nine years that a European has gotten the greenjacket, and 2) that the Yanks didn't think he was such a bad bloke, afterall.

It was a headymoment for a player who once languished on Africa's Safari Tour, where heat,snakes, mosquitoes and diarrhea are more prevalent than azaleas. "I'm notgoing to change my life for anybody," said Woosnam as he celebrated with abeer at an Augusta hotel. "I just want to be the best and do it in my ownlittle way. Drink a few beers and have fun."

Translation: Mindyour shins, mates.

THREE PHOTOSJOHN BIEVERAfter Olazàbal (opposite, top) and Watson missed par putts on the final hole, Woosnam rolled to victory.PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINTreed after pushing his drive on 18, Watson was unable to slice a three-iron to the green.PHOTOJOHN IACONOToo many trips to the traps on Sunday cost young Olazàbal his first major championship.PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINNicklaus would fade, but he was only four strokes behind when he teed off on Saturday.