There was something else about Thursday's Gary Player besides his good putting. There was the same tunneled intensity that had been so evident up to and through his Masters victory in 1961. After that, he became upset by the attentions that distract many a celebrity. Now, back on the golfing circuit after six weeks at home, he was all business and in the best of spirits.
Player explained his new frame of mind this way. "My wife is having a baby in April, and I want to be home when it's born. If I win this tournament I'll go home to my family right away. I'll be on the plane Monday. I was not home when my other two children were born, and that doesn't make me a very good husband. But I can't go home unless I win. It wouldn't be fair to my sponsors, the men who put out the clubs and shoes and other things with my name on them, if I went home when I wasn't doing well."
Although Thursday was decidedly Player's day, it was Palmer who captured the largest galleries. For three weeks Arnold had been trying to hone his game to a championship edge. He, too, was desperately worried about his putting. He had lost confidence in it, though the idea of an unconfident Palmer is hard to grasp. On Thursday he had a three-putt bogey on the first hole and eight scrambling pars thereafter.
"Arnie has been very concerned about his putting," said Palmer's pretty wife, Winnie, as she trailed unobtrusively along with his gallery. She also explained the presence of a white cap on Arnold's head. He hates hats, but he had been having trouble with his ears. A winter infection had never completely cleared up, and he didn't want to risk a cold. After the three putts on the first green, off came the cap, for good.
On the second nine Palmer hit a five-iron into the pond bordering the 11th green to go two over par. Something about that shot seemed to ignite the fire in Palmer that burns brightest in adversity. He produced a stretch of four birdies over the remaining seven holes to finish the round in 70—two under par.
By Friday Palmer was ready to justify the spotlight that had been on him all week. He had whopped a savage drive off the first tee. The birdie he had had on the 18th hole the day before had cheered him up considerably, for it was there that he lost last year's championship to Player. "I'm going to get even with that hole," he said. Palmer hit a lovely seven-iron to the first green and sank the 12-foot putt for a birdie.
Here a middle-aged lady slipped up to Winnie Palmer and handed her a dime. "She does it every time Arnie gets a birdie," said Winnie. "This has been going on for years here." Winnie was to collect a pocketful of dimes that day. And Arnie had left his cap back in the locker room.
When he reached the 13th hole, Palmer stood two under for the day, having produced four birdies and two bogeys in the first 12 holes. From there on he delivered a streak of golf that well deserves that overworked adjective of the game—sizzling. He was entering that stretch of six closing holes at Augusta which is purposely designed to make or break the golfer who is brash enough to try to make them yield a sub-par score. Palmer birdied 13, 14, 15 and 16 in succession and finished the day with a typical Palmer display that so often overwhelms the opposition as he inflicts one of his violent attacks on a golf course.
Player, who was about half an hour in front of Palmer, was able to finish his round without realizing the full effect of Palmer's surge.
U.S. Open Champion Gene Littler, on the other hand, was playing a good hour behind Palmer, and by the time he reached the 11th green he could see what was happening. But Littler—who has been called Stoneface—is one of the few golfers not fazed by this sort of unsettling news.