This year, of course, his figure has changed, and his Augusta habits may change, too. His exotic diet (SI, Feb. 7) has led to a loss of 50 pounds and. at 175, Casper has never felt better. In the past his failures at Augusta might seem to have had an emotional basis—a viewpoint with which Casper himself is inclined to agree. He is preparing for this Masters much differently. He had a good winter, winning at San Diego, but then left the tour following the Phoenix Open in February. He has found he is allergic to a spray used on the Bermuda grass of Florida golf courses, and says it was playing in Florida that always made him sick at the Masters, even last year when he was already much thinner. So this year he played in the Philippine Open and then went on to a two-week tour of Vietnam, visiting American encampments there and giving demonstrations. He planned to come home in late March and start a rigid practice program. This too is different, for Casper does not believe in much practice. Like Nicklaus, he will get to Augusta a week early for still more preparation.
The fact that Casper fades his tee shots is considered something of a handicap at Augusta National. He cannot change that, but he will make some small modifications in his game to suit the course. He is going to try to hit the ball higher and to hook his irons more. Though regarded as one of golf's finest putters, Casper is more concerned about his putting than anything else. "It is the weakest part of my game." he insists. "I've already changed putters four times this year. I'm not hitting the ball solidly and I can't seem to get a line to the hole." If true, this could cause considerable trouble at Augusta, where putting is so important. But his rivals on the tour guffaw at Casper's statements. They are watching Casper's frame of mind, not his putting stroke. If he stands on that first tee with a lean and hungry smile, he could cause anybody trouble.
As far as this Masters is concerned, Bruce Devlin has won the battle of the cripples. Two normally worthy challengers, Tony Lema and Ken Venturi, have to be downgraded—Lema because of a sore right elbow and Venturi because he has not yet regained the full sense of feel in his hands. But Bruce Devlin can now walk the fairways or kneel down to line up a putt without worrying about aching legs, and so he joins Casper to form a Little Two with the best chance to knock off the Big Three.
Last year Devlin was a sick golfer, a rather peculiar thing to say about someone who finished second by a stroke in four tournaments, earned $67,658 and ranked sixth on the PGA money list. But the only title Devlin won on the U.S. tour was that of richest runner-up. Part of this failure to finish first could be attributed to a case of severely painful varicose veins. Until 1963, when he began to enjoy some success as a professional golfer, Devlin, who comes from Canberra, Australia, was a part-time pro and a full-time plumber. The heavy sinks and bathtubs he lifted put such a strain on his thin legs that varicose veins developed.
"The circulation in my legs was so bad," he says, "that after 12 or 14 holes they would be tired and aching. It was painful, and it affected my swing. My legs got lazy and my footwork was slow. My backswing and pivot became restricted. I'd get a good round going and then lose it in the last few holes."
Last September, Devlin entered a Houston hospital and had an operation that required 29 incisions and 116 stitches. Then he returned to Australia and spent two hours every day for three weeks wading hip deep in the Pacific Ocean to strengthen his legs. The operation and the sea cure had a therapeutic effect on his golf. Starting on the Australian tour, he finished fourth and sixth, and then won his last two tournaments on consecutive weeks. Following a nine-week layoff at home, in which he pushed lawn mowers and floor polishers but never touched a club, Devlin rejoined the U.S. tour in March and picked up right where he left off, finishing second at Pensacola. "My legs feel so good now," he says, "that I can hardly keep up with myself. My swing has a new freedom and tempo."
Devlin has the kind of game that suits Augusta National. He is a long hitter, and he moves the ball from right to left. Two years ago Devlin finished fourth in the Masters and last year, despite his ailments and a bad second round, tied for 15th. As he plays himself into shape in the tournaments leading up to the Masters, he is working on increasing his distance.
"I know how strong Palmer, Nicklaus and Player are," he says, "but I don't feel I am giving much away. I'm not about to back off. I'm driving well, and I'm also putting well. When you're sharp at both ends like that, you've kind of got a lock on this game, don't you?"
Devlin's only drawback—and it should not be overlooked—is that in the U.S. he has not yet developed the winning habit. This could also mean that he is about due.