SI Vault
Alfred Wright
April 20, 1964
He said it was his greatest triumph, and when he achieved it late last Sunday afternoon, becoming the first man ever to win the Masters championship four times, there was no reason to doubt Arnold Palmer's assessment of his feat. Months without a victory on the tour, he had heard increasing talk that his career was in eclipse, that he could no longer summon forth the intensity of will and concentration required to win a major title. His answer was a show of majestic golf in the event he treasures most. He led, in effect, from the first tee shot to the last putt—a birdie putt, of course. He won by six strokes, and his 276 total was the second best score in the tournament's history. His attack on the course was beautifully planned and perfectly executed. So overwhelming was his performance that the impact of it seemed strangely muted. It was a four-day sports conquest best savored day by day as it developed to the seemingly inevitable climax that left Arnie once again the Masters' master.
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April 20, 1964

A Master To Top Them All

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Right behind Player were Don January and Gene Littler. January had an otherwise splendid round spoiled by a triple-bogey 6 on 12, where he hit two shots into the pond fronting the green and then chipped into the cup.

The pairing of Billy Joe Patton and Tony Lema, an inspired piece of casting by the tournament committee, produced the expected drama. Inspired by Billy Joe's fierce attack on the course and its forests, Lema turned in a 68, taking only 27 putts in the process. Billy Joe was as wild and woolly as ever, but the putts didn't go down as well as they had the day before, so it took him 74 shots to get around, leaving him tied at even-par 144 with Jack Nicklaus and 10 others. Nicklaus, who was again struggling with his putter, had a lackluster 73. When he had walked off 18 after all his putts the day before, he had still looked happy. This time he signed his card, was motionless for a second, then threw the pencil to the ground—a fleeting public trace of deep disappointment that was immediately replaced by his usual semismile. And Davis Love? Oh yes. It took only six holes for the Augusta National course to wrench him back to even par, and reality.

The question on everyone's mind by sundown was whether Palmer could maintain his extraordinary concentration now that he had a comfortable four-stroke lead. And was the lead so comfortable? Thinking about it, Jack Nicklaus said, "If Arnold has a normal round, anyone who is at par or better can catch him. But if he keeps playing like this, forget it." Bobby Jones, whose tournament this is, put it another way. "I don't pay much attention to what happens the first two days," he told some friends. "That's just jockeying for position." Which is true, but Palmer had proved himself quite a jockey.


SATURDAY. This was the day of pursuit, the day everyone had to chase Arnold Palmer. But all who are old enough to watch television or read Little Red Ridinghood know there can be no suspense in a chase unless the pursued is in some danger of being caught. And stroke by stroke, hole by hole, the chance of anybody catching Arnold Palmer was disappearing as surely as morning dew. Palmer himself, who has always in the past seemed to need the nourishment of theatrics to perform at his best, ignored his usual tendency to give a big lead away and shot another excellent 69. No one could get closer than five shots. By the time the sellout gallery of 40,000 (the gates were locked before Palmer teed off) had finally wandered off at the end of the day and left the Augusta National's green acres looking like a dump heap, Palmer stood 10 strokes under par for the tournament—five better than Bruce Devlin, a young Australian who observed, "The way Arnold is playing, I guess the rest of us are just shooting for second place." Bruce, of course, did not remember that Sunday in Augusta in 1962 when Palmer went from six strokes up on Player to three down in a stretch of only seven holes. The experienced knew it still could be a chase for real.

For the third straight day, the weather was sublime. It was sunny, yet cool enough for many of the golfers to play in light sweaters, and just the tickle of a breeze kept the air fresh. "It's super out there, and it's been that way for three days," Gary Player croaked hoarsely to one and all. "I don't think I've ever seen playing conditions any better," Palmer said. But then he paused and added, "I don't know if I've ever seen the pin placements any tougher." Even so, 19 players broke par, compared with only 11 on Friday and 15 on Thursday. There seems to be no accounting for the astrophysical whims that produce such variations, except perhaps that a field in pursuit has to go for birdies.

Palmer's round was not the inhuman masterpiece of the day before. It was flawed in spots, and the very step back from perfection was both refreshing and tantalizing. It also enabled him, for example, to answer the question of whether he would play safe to protect his lead—a form of behavior that has little place in the Palmer scheme of things—or once again go out and shake the golf course by the scruff of its neck. Naturally, he chose the latter route, as was obvious on the 11th hole, where he took his only bogey of the day.

The 11th is as difficult a par as there is at Augusta. Even after a fine drive on this 445-yard par-4, a long and extremely accurate second shot is necessary to avoid the pond that cuts into the left front of the green. The bold player will hit for the right side of the green on his second and try to draw the ball from right to left. In doing this, Arnold produced a hook that dumped his ball in the pond. After dropping, he played a superbly delicate chip of at least 60 yards, and the ball stopped no more than an inch from the cup.

At the 13th, he tried to hook his drive around the corner of the dogleg to insure himself a birdie on this par-5, or possibly an eagle. He duck-hooked the ball well into the woods and had to loft it out with a wedge through a pine-cone-sized opening in the thick foliage. From there he salvaged a par. These two forays in brinkmanship were just the stimulant he needed. He immediately ran in three straight birdies for his 69. Palmer always says the second nine is the hardest at Augusta—and he always destroys it.

The chase after Palmer now looked desperate indeed, and some surprising people were making it. The closest was Devlin. This skinny, boyish Australian, who arrived in the U.S. in January with no greater ambition than to finish among the top 50 money winners on the pro tour, had started the day at even par—seven strokes behind Arnie. Two birdies on the first nine and another at No. 12 brought him no closer to the leader, but he had another birdie at 13 and then an eagle 3 at 15, where he sank a 25-foot putt.

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