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.
SLUGGERS, TONSILS AND LOVE
THURSDAY. A weird yellow globular object startled the natives at dawn this morning as it rose in the east above the green pines and red clay of Augusta, Ga. A few hours later out at the Augusta National Golf Club, people shaded their eyes and chattered with excitement over the phenomenon called sunlight that warmed the spongy hills and damp foliage after days and days of rain. A couple of gallant octogenarians named Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod, champions of an earlier, more graceful era, stepped stiffly down the first fairway in pursuit of their drives, and the 28th Masters championship was under way.
This was going to be, the experts agreed, a sluggers' tournament. There would be little bounce and roll on the marshy fairways. The sluggers of golf are, of course, Jack Nicklaus, the 24-year-old defending champion and favorite to repeat, and Arnold Palmer, a three-time winner of the tournament trying for an unprecedented fourth. By the end of the day, however, five men of widely varying strength and reputation were in the lead with scores of 69, three strokes under par. Palmer was one of them, and so was Gary Player, who had been fighting a bad attack of tonsillitis and sounded like Andy Devine when he talked. The other three were Kel Nagle, a middle-aged Australian; Bob Goalby, a husky young man who once played quarterback for Illinois; and Davis Love Jr., a little-known 29-year-old.
The day had started on a quiet note. All through the morning and early afternoon the course lay quiet, lovely and stolid, daring the golfers to prove its vulnerability. But the minutes of waiting slipped on into hours before, finally, the first heartfelt roar went up from the big gallery. Player, who had been cruising along smoothly at even par, had sunk a 12-foot putt on the 9th green, and up went the first red (for sub-par) figure on the scoreboards that record the progress of the 10 most prominent contenders. Moments later, as if in reply to the roar of Player's gallery, Arnie's Army cheered with unrestrained feeling when he birdied 8 to join Player in the red.
These minor inroads, like a scratch single in a tightly pitched ball game, seemed to break the resistance of the course, and golfer after golfer came alive with birdies. Nagle, Goalby, Dave Marr and Nicklaus all went under par. And then, as if as a special gift to the whooping and hollering galleries that have in recent years given the Masters a kind of carnival feeling, Billy Joe Patton got hot with three birdies and an eagle. Ever since he almost stole the tournament from Ben Hogan and Sam Snead in 1954, Billy Joe, now 41, has been to the Masters galleries what Lillian Russell was to the gay blades at Rector's in the '90s. They drive their cars all the way from his native North Carolina to cheer his flamboyant triumphs and groan over his equally spectacular disasters. As sunset was near, Billy Joe came gaily up the 18th fairway, his gallery yelping at his heels. He was still three under and needed only a par 4 to tie for the lead. Walking just ahead of him was his playing partner, Hogan, a gray-haired but leaner-than-last-year 51. The huge gallery surrounding the 18th green in the late afternoon shadows applauded these two survivors of so much Masters drama as if they were heroes returning from foreign wars. Anticlimactically, Billy Joe three-putted to end with a 70 for the day.
But it was Arnold Palmer's round that injected the most electricity into opening day. Because he had not won a championship since the Whitemarsh Open last October, people were saying that Palmer was in trouble. They preferred to overlook statistics showing he is fourth on the list of 1964 money winners, the leader by far in Ryder Cup points and first in the Vardon Trophy standings, which list the average number of strokes per tournament round.
Coming to the formidable 15th hole, where it takes two very large shots to clear the pond in front of the green, Palmer was two under par. Up to this point virtually all the golfers had been playing 15 cautiously, laying their second shots up in front of the pond and lofting short wedges across it. Palmer decided to go for the green in two. While his shot was still in the air the Army that was six deep along both sides of the fairway let loose a tremendous cheer in appreciation of his gallantry. His audacity rewarded him with a birdie 4.
On a course that was supposed to favor strength over cunning, Nicklaus was several times the victim of his own immense power. On these occasions he drove the ball past the area on the fairway that had been mowed closest, leaving himself thick and difficult lies. For the most part, though, his trouble was in his putter, for he reached all of the 18 putting areas in par or less yet never took fewer than two putts to get the ball in the hole. On the 18th he three-putted from 15 feet for the bogey that raised his score to 71. "You can't win golf tournaments when you take 37 putts a round," Jack said later. Nobody disagreed.
Pleasing and predictable as it was to find the Palmers and Players in the forefront of the contest, it was a special treat to discover a Davis Love right there with them, however briefly. An amiable man from Texas, Love first qualified for the Masters 10 years ago by reaching the quarter-finals of the U.S. Amateur championship at the age of 19. On being told that he would be eligible for the Masters the following spring, he produced a remark that is still cherished among golfers. "Gee, that's a good deal," he had said. "Where they playin' it next year?" In the interim, Love's golfing accomplishments have been among life's better-kept secrets, so his success, and Patton's, lent a special gaiety to a Masters opening day that was bright and friendly. In a sense, it was their day, because their fame had to be fleeting. It is the way of things. The less romantic noted three points: Player had scrambled to his 69; Nicklaus was not putting; Palmer had rarely looked sharper.