"What a group!" Palmer said, walking up to Williams and the rest of his team on the 1st tee. "I've got two sick guys"—he counted himself—"and I don't know about the other two." That produced grins, none bigger than Williams's, and set the tone. A half hour later, walking off the 4th green with a birdie, Williams was practically floating. "It doesn't get any better than this," he said in poignant parody of the beer commercial. Watching Palmer stride back to the blue markers on number 5, Williams added, "That is probably the finest human being on the face of the earth."
To be human, alas, is to be frail—less durable than a silly nickname or a silver trophy. In his Shootout rounds Palmer stopped from time to time to observe the water turkeys on a pond or to stare up at an interesting aircraft, following the white fuselage across the blue ceiling until it dwindled to a dot and vanished. "We think we're indestructible, but we aren't," he told Havre.
That's something Palmer's fans should keep in mind next week as he walks in the shadows of Augusta's tall pines. The hills will be steeper than he remembers, and the greens a little too fast for his old nerves. But the bigger tests—the challenges of restoration and reconnection—he has already met in the company of friends.
"You think I can hit Finsterwald?" he asked one morning. Palmer stood on the clubhouse end of the range, a driver in his hand, and stared at his old Tour rival, Dow Finsterwald, warming up at the opposite end, 320 yards away. Palmer turned to his entourage, grinning mischievously. "I'd love to bounce one in his pocket."
Mr. Palmer was nowhere in sight. But Arnie was back, and ready to give it a rip.