Close Calls After a fight to the finish, what was a heartbreaking defeat for one man was a moral victory for another

April 20, 1998
April 20, 1998

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April 20, 1998

Golf Plus

Close Calls After a fight to the finish, what was a heartbreaking defeat for one man was a moral victory for another

At no other course is the line between success and failure as
thin as it is at Augusta National during the Masters, and no one
knows that better than Ken Venturi. So when Mark O'Meara birdied
the last two holes on Sunday to defeat Fred Couples and David
Duval by a stroke, the 66-year-old CBS golf analyst fell silent.

This is an article from the April 20, 1998 issue

That had also been Venturi's reaction in 1960, the year he
finished the final round in the lead, then sat down in front of
a black-and-white TV and watched as Arnold Palmer became the
only player besides O'Meara to make 3s on the 17th and 18th
holes to win by a shot. Venturi was already well versed in
Masters heartbreak. In 1956, as an amateur, he had shot an 80 on
Sunday and lost by one to Jack Burke Jr., and in 1958 he was
leading on the back nine when he was victimized by a hometown
ruling that handed the tournament to Palmer.

Yet for a moment on Sunday, while Duval was transfixed by a
color monitor showing O'Meara preparing to stroke the climactic
putt, Venturi didn't make the connection. "I got totally lost in
the action," he said. "I didn't relive what Arnold had done to
me. When you're a professional golfer, you have to bury that

But is there a hole deep enough? This year six players--Couples,
Duval, Paul Azinger, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and David
Toms--worked themselves into contention on Sunday only to come
away with a crater full of what-ifs.

Couples, who like Duval finished at eight under, led from the
opening round and was ahead by three strokes through eight holes
but made a telling error at the 9th, spinning his sand-wedge
approach shot back off the green and making a bogey 5. No one
has ever won the Masters with a final-round bogey at 9, the
gaffe mirroring the mistake that touched off the decline and
fall of Greg Norman in '96. Couples's bogey made his double at
the par-5 13th much more critical. "If you can't get it up the
hill [at 9] from 105 yards, you shouldn't be out here--it killed
me," said Couples.

Azinger's fifth-place finish, at six-under 282, was his best in
11 starts at Augusta. He will remember the birdie putt that hung
on the lip at the 11th hole, the bogey at the par-3 12th and,
most of all, his chip at the 17th that hit the flagstick but
didn't drop. "I don't know how that ball came out. It was
heartbreak hotel," said Azinger, who nonetheless was upbeat
after his best finish in a major since undergoing chemotherapy
treatments for cancer in his right shoulder, in 1993. "I'm going
to take a lot out of this," he said, "and hopefully it will
propel me to greater things."

Furyk, who finished alone in fourth at 281, two strokes behind
O'Meara, had only one regret: the three-wood shot from 240 yards
at 15 that landed on a downslope behind the green and bounded
into the pond that fronts the 16th tee. "I would've had to kill
a five-wood to get there, but maybe that was the play," he said.
The resulting bogey put Furyk three shots off the pace, a
deficit he couldn't overcome despite birdies on 16 and 17. If he
had holed a 25-foot birdie putt at the 18th, Furyk would have
moved into a tie with the leaders. "I'm not long enough to
attack all the par-5s," said Furyk, who had never broken 293 in
two previous starts at Augusta, "but when the winning score is
around 280, I'm very comfortable here."

Mickelson sank like a stone on Sunday, falling all the way to
12th with a disappointing 74 after starting the day only two
shots behind Couples. Mickelson will never forget the bogey he
made at the short par-4 7th and his watery pull hook at the
12th, a shot that was impetuously aimed at the unforgiving
far-right pin. Mickelson, who has 12 Tour victories but remains
winless in the majors, hid his wounds on Sunday evening. "I
really thought today could be my day," he said, "but I feel like
I've made some strides in this tournament."

Toms, a Masters rookie who tied for sixth with Jack Nicklaus,
was the only loser who felt like a winner. He followed
error-filled rounds of 75, 72 and 72 with a closing 64--one off
the course record shared by Norman and Nick Price--which
included six birdies in a row and a record-tying (with Mark
Calcavecchia) 29 on the back nine. "This is probably the
highlight of my career," said Toms, whose only goal at the start
of the day was to finish in the top 24, which would qualify him
for next year's Masters. A 31-year-old Nike tour grad, Toms has
won one regular Tour event, last year's Quad Cities Classic. His
string of birdies started at the 12th hole. When he made number
six by holing a 25-foot putt at the 17th, "It was like,
whatever," he said.

Duval had his only bad round of the tournament on Saturday, a
74, but was able to put it behind him and match O'Meara on
Sunday with a nearly flawless 67. His lone miscue came at the
par-3 16th. He teed off there with a three-stroke lead while
O'Meara and Couples were playing the 15th. Duval pushed his
six-iron to the wrong side of the green and left himself a
downhill 45-footer that broke 20 feet from right to left. He hit
his first putt 10 feet past the hole and left the comebacker
short. When Couples eagled 15, the three-shot cushion was gone.
"I hit [the six-iron] good and just cut it a little bit," he
said, "but that's the beauty of this course and this tournament.
It's a very, very fine line that you walk."

For those who fall off, the pain can be more intense than at any
of the other three big events of the season. The Masters is the
only invitational among the major championships--in fact,
technically it's a tournament, not a championship--but no
victory provides more long-term fulfillment. A Masters winner is
enshrined in the living history of the game, if only for one
week a year. Along with his green jacket, he's given a lifetime
exemption into the tournament, a seat at the annual champions'
dinner and a cubicle in the champions' locker room.

"The Masters is unsurpassed for making its champions feel
special," says Gary Player, who has won three green jackets. "If
you can win it, you have a place to go for the rest of your life
and be remembered. That's very special, especially as you get
older. Those who are able to win it feel so fortunate. For those
who come close but fall short, it's quite sad."

Winners are always far outnumbered by losers, yet Augusta
National seems to produce an outsize proportion of heroic
victims. Some, like Couples, are felled by self-inflicted
wounds, while others, like Duval, are brought down by an
opponent's arrow. The course can richly reward a well-executed
gamble and brutally punish one that's an inch off. For every
comeback there's a train wreck, and when they happen
simultaneously, as they did on Sunday, the Masters is the most
memorable of majors.

The precedent was set in the first four years of the tournament.
In 1935 Gene Sarazen wiped out Craig Wood's three-stroke lead in
the fourth round by holing a 235-yard four-wood shot at 15 for a
double-eagle 2, and then beat him in a playoff. In 1937 Byron
Nelson arrived at Amen Corner on Sunday trailing Ralph Guldahl
by four, but while Guldahl went 5-6 on 12 and 13, Nelson went
2-3 and won by two. Since then there has been a continuum of
flameouts by, among others, Venturi, Ed Sneed in 1979 and Norman.

"The history of the place and what it could mean to win made my
spine tingle," says Dan Forsman, explaining what happened in
1993 when he came to the 12th tee one stroke out of the lead and
nervously hit two balls into Rae's Creek to make a
quadruple-bogey 7. "I had never been in that position before and
realized I didn't feel I had the pedigree of players who had. I
was overwhelmed."

Forsman can take solace in the fact that players with far
greater reputations have faltered at Augusta. Other than Nelson
and Sarazen, just about every elite player in the last 70 years
has blown at least one Masters. Sam Snead and Ben Hogan were
beaten every which way before winning their first green jackets,
in 1949 and '51, respectively. Palmer handed the title to Player
in 1961 by double-bogeying the last hole. In the final round in
'86, Seve Ballesteros dumped a four-iron approach into the pond
at 15, costing him the tournament and beginning his decline. In
1990 Raymond Floyd was on the verge of becoming the oldest
Masters winner, at 47, but he bogeyed the 17th hole and went on
to lose a playoff to Nick Faldo. "Nothing has ever affected me
like that loss," Floyd says. "I'll never get over it."

Such a reaction wouldn't have been appropriate from this year's
also-rans, although Couples's bad back may limit his
opportunities to win again and Mickelson's inability to close
out majors leaves him with more questions than answers. Duval,
for certain, should feel good about the way he handled himself.
Swinging with controlled power that seemed to preclude the wild
shot, he managed his game intelligently and took advantage of
his length. Playing two groups in front of Couples and O'Meara,
Duval went from four shots behind to three shots ahead by making
six birdies in nine holes beginning at the 7th. On the two
critical par 5s on the back nine, Duval followed big drives with
a six-iron at 13 and a three-iron at 15, both times leaving
himself eagle putts of less than 30 feet. He also barely missed
birdie putts of 12 and 20 feet on the final two holes.

"He played flawlessly," said Johnny Miller. "I always look for
leaks in the dyke, and I didn't see any. He did everything
right. It was just an incredible finish by O'Meara. If Duval
played the same way in that same situation 10 times, he'd win at
least six of them."

Duval's style requires guts, which he's prepared to rely on at
Augusta. "I'm not going to back down when I'm trying to win the
Masters," he says. "I'll go down in flames if I have to. It's
not like I was really doing stupid stuff."

That description even applies to his tee shot at 16, where he
played away from the water but failed to produce the precise
ball flight that he intended. That tiny error gave a proven
closer like O'Meara just enough of an opening to take his first
major. "You know, honestly, I wish I had won the tournament,"
said Duval, momentarily letting down his guard. "Am I
disappointed? Yeah. But I started three behind, I shot a 67 and
gave myself a chance. I'll be patting myself on the back."

Duval can draw hope from the Masters tradition of close
finishers going on to win green jackets. In the early years
Guldahl and Wood both came back to win. Gay Brewer missed a
five-footer on the 72nd hole in 1966 that cost him the title,
then came back the next year with a closing 67 to win. In 1969
Billy Casper finished with a 74 to lose by one to George Archer
but returned to win his only green jacket in 1970. After Jose
Maria Olazabal bogeyed the 72nd hole in 1991 to lose to Ian
Woosnam, he returned to whip Tom Lehman down the stretch in '94.

Since he broke through with his first Tour victory last
September in the Michelob Championship, Duval has won three more
times. Although he was once suspected of being shaky down the
stretch, he has established himself as a solid closer. "I had a
ball," Duval said on Sunday evening. "I can't really explain it,
but I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be. It was a good time."

Duval seems immune to the destructive soul-searching that
sometimes follows a close loss in a big event. Venturi remembers
that he had to fight through his emotions. "I thought, Why me?"
he says. "But that was bad thinking. I don't see that in David
Duval. David is good. A major championship is waiting. What
happened to him is a little adversity, and adversity is just a
fork in the road. He can accept what happened and get better, or
refuse to accept it and get worse."

It's the lesson of losing--a lesson learned or a lesson lost.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO LAST CHANCE Furyk birdied the 16th and the 17th, but his bid for three in a row and a share of the lead just missed on the 72nd hole. [Jim Furyk holding putter]COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN GOING LOW No one expected much from Azinger, who had never finished better than 14th in 11 previous trips to Augusta National. [Paul Azinger watching golf ball on green]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO NEXT YEAR? Masters history is full of players like Duval who came back to win soon after a difficult defeat. [David Duval golfing]
"If you can't get it up the hill [at 9]," said Couples, "you
shouldn't be out here--it killed me."
"I always look for leaks in the dyke," said Miller, "and I
didn't see any [in Duval]."
"I'm not going to back down," says Duval. "I'll go down in
flames if I have to."