What had happened to so drastically change the character of Augusta National? It was agreed that, as Palmer put it, "The course played almost as hard today as it played easy yesterday. The pin placements were as difficult as I've ever seen for a day like today. My guess is that they had a little thing in the back of their minds about some 30 or more scores under par yesterday. They didn't want to see that again."
"You could drop a bag of balls on some of the fairways and not hit one of them closer than 10 feet to the hole," said Player. Tony Lema thought the course played "six strokes tougher," which was the difference between his scores on Thursday and Friday.
On Saturday everyone settled down to watch the contest between the leaders—Palmer, Player and Nicklaus—and if the situation had a decided similarity to a television series called Big Three Golf, well, that's show biz.
Nicklaus was the first of the trio to leave the tee, and after a routine par on the first hole he came up with a remarkable birdie on 2, a 555-yard par-5. His tee shot was of epic proportions and could have resulted in epic trouble. It started to the right, began to fade even more and was last visible over a pine forest and headed in the general direction of Atlanta. The trees eventually slowed the ball, and it fell in a bed of pine needles about 25 yards deep in the woods. When Jack walked up his face was a mask of concern. Then he looked toward the green and discovered a wide-open path for his shot. He raised his eyes to heaven, his face broke into a wide grin and from that moment on he was never in danger of losing the 1965 Masters. He hit a three-iron out of the woods, put a wedge on the green and stood over a 22-foot putt with a slightly different stance than the one he had used the day before. It was wider and more open, and it worked, for the ball went in.
With that, the deluge was on. Par, birdie, par, birdie, birdie, birdie, par for an outgoing 31. At each tee he was greeted with thundering applause. ("I hope it doesn't wake him up," said his wife Barbara on the 9th hole.)
Though Jack did not know it, it was his birdie on the 7th hole that caused his biggest foe double trouble, for it came as Arnold Palmer was about to hit a pitch shot to the 2nd green. Palmer already knew that Jack had suddenly gotten three strokes ahead. Now came the roar from 7, which adjoins the 2nd hole. "It shook me," said Arnold later. "I started pressing. It was the turning point."
Still, it is doubtful that anything Arnold Palmer could have done would have stopped Jack Nicklaus, who was now making more of a rout of the Masters than Palmer had in his hottest year.
When Jack sank an eight-foot putt on the 16th hole for his eighth birdie of the afternoon, he needed only two pars to tie the 64 that Lloyd Mangrum shot in 1940. He was now 14 strokes under par for the tournament, which quite obviously put Hogan's record within easy reach. At that point, his nearest pursuer, Player, was seven strokes to the rear. Palmer, who was still struggling with his balky putter, was back even farther.
As it turned out, Nicklaus tucked away his final two pars to equal the 18-hole record, and Player, thanks to birdies on the two par-5 holes on the back nine, pulled to within five strokes of him with an excellent 69. Palmer's shaky 72 left him trailing by eight strokes and out of contention.
Strangely enough, Nicklaus was not at the very top of his form during this monumental round of golf. He hit five drives that he rated as "bad," but the rest of his game was so sharp and his putting touch was so delicate that he demonstrated the single most depressing fact that the touring pros have to contemplate in their spare time: even when he is not at his absolute peak, Nicklaus can shoot the kind of scores that others can achieve only on a day of miracles. Bob Jones was not talking idly when he recently described Nicklaus as "the greatest golfer who ever lived."