When Arnold Palmer won his third Masters championship at Augusta last week, he again demonstrated that the drama he brings to a major golf tournament is so intense and so raw that it temporarily obliterates a lot of other stimulating activity on the course. He makes it necessary to look back and savor the fine points of such a memorable sporting event. Too easily overlooked, for instance, is the tremendous performance of Gary Player, the runner-up, who played all his five rounds under par—67, 71, 71, 71, 71. Only three other players in the 26-year history of this tournament have been able to play even four straight subpar rounds: Ben Hogan in 1953, Claude Harmon in 1948 and Jimmy Demaret in 1947, and they were the winners those years.
Also virtually unrecognized was Jimmy Demaret's tie for fifth place behind Palmer, Player, Dow Finsterwald and Gene Littler, the four who shared the spotlight throughout the four days. Demaret, it should be remembered, is a grandfather who for two years has been old enough to compete in the PGA Seniors' championship for players over 50, and he no longer makes any attempt at full-time tournament golf. Yet here he was in the forefront of the tournament he first won in 1940, tied at 287 with such comparative striplings as Mike Souchak and Billy Maxwell. The other player in this four-way tie for fifth was Jerry Barber, the 45-year-old PGA champion, whose slight build—he measures 5 feet 5 inches and weighs 137 pounds—puts him at a serious disadvantage on a course that requires as much muscle as does Augusta National. Yet he shot a fine 72, 72, 69, 74.
A stunning example of Barber's problems at Augusta came on Thursday, when he had to use a four-wood for his second shot on the 445-yard, par-4 11th hole, a situation in which Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and some of the other big hitters might have been using a five-iron or less. Barber hit this wood shot into the cup for the only eagle ever made on that hole during a Masters championship. But still, it wasn't the kind of shot a golfer expects, to rely on regularly.
There were scenes of Palmer to reconsider, too. This champion has so often displayed his talent for the theatrical climax that he has come to seem larger than life when he has a golf club in his hands. That's why it is so paradoxical, as well as refreshing, to keep rediscovering how human Palmer is.
A few minutes before he was due to tee off on Monday afternoon for his 18-hole playoff with Player and Finsterwald, Arnold was sitting in the upstairs lounge of the Augusta National clubhouse, reviewing with a few reporters that unhappy round of the day before when he had blown his two-stroke lead over the field. Almost any other athlete would have wanted those moments to himself. Not Palmer. He just wanted, someone—anyone—to talk to while he was waiting for the match to begin, and he happened to find that group of reporters.
It is quite clear by now that Palmer's metabolism has to be stimulated by crisis if he is to play his best golf. Some spectators at Augusta were discussing this point just before the playoff started, and one of them said, "If Arnie can just finish the first nine holes a couple of strokes behind Player, he's a cinch to win. If he's ahead, his chances aren't so good. The tiger in Arnie goes to sleep when he has a lead." The first nine holes of the playoff ended with Palmer three strokes behind, and this same spectator canvassed part of the gallery for someone who would bet on Player. Nobody would.
A few moments later on the 10th green, the tide turned. Player had taken a bogey 5 after his spectacular approach shot to the green landed a couple of feet too close to the pin, took a big bounce and rolled off the far edge into the gallery. His subsequent putt for a par 4 stopped on the edge of the cup. Palmer, meanwhile, sank his 25-foot downhill putt for a birdie 3, reducing Player's lead to a single stroke. Here, the tingling excitement of Palmer's personality came out in a brief, five-word sentence. Winking at a friend standing near by, he said, "Now the game is on."
Back at the clubhouse later, his victory in hand and his emblematic green coat won again, Palmer was once more the friendly, gregarious man who thrives on conviviality. He and his wife, Winnie, were sitting at a table with a few of the dozen or so stragglers still on the premises, and someone asked him, "Are you going home tonight, Arnie?"
"Oh, I dunno," said Palmer, looking out the window at the gathering darkness. "It's getting late. Maybe we'll stay over tonight and fly back in the morning. It's been kind of a long day."
Anyone else would have been drained and exhausted. But early the next morning Arnold and Winnie climbed into the twin-engined Aero Commander that Arnold pilots and casually embarked on a four-and-a-half-hour flight home to Pennsylvania, where he would stay only one day before flying right back south again for the Greensboro tournament.