Nicklaus was the last of the favorites to tee off. He was depressed and unsettled, for just as he was about to retire the previous night, the phone had rung at his house with shattering news. Four of his closest friends and neighbors from Columbus who had been flying south to spend the weekend and watch him play had been killed when their private plane crashed and burned on a hillside in Tennessee. The accident was to affect his concentration throughout the Masters. He hooked his opening drive badly, but recovered with a spectacular shot and sank a 25-foot putt for a birdie 3. He got a birdie again with a 2 at the difficult 4th hole and again at the 9th. And at Amen Corner, as the 11th, 12th, and 13th holes are called at Augusta, Nicklaus protected his round while almost everyone else was losing ground. He played safely to the right at the 11th green, hit a delicate chip that rolled six feet past the hole and then sank the putt for his par. On the 12th he pushed a five-iron dangerously past the green on the right but chipped back splendidly and sank a 15-inch putt for his par. At the crescent-shaped 13th his drive just skirted the tall trees on the left—might even have gone through them—but landed in ideal position. A four-iron to the green gave him a birdie that put him four under par, and from there he coasted in for a 68 and a forbidding three-stroke lead that threatened to turn the tournament into a rout.
Every time it looked as if Nicklaus might get some subpar company of consequence the challengers would come to grief at Amen Corner, particularly at 11 and 12. Gary Player, for instance, was even par when he got there. At the 11th he hooked a five-iron to the green, and it bounded into Rae's Creek, giving him a double-bogey 6. At the 12th he pounded a five-iron into the bank on the far side of the green and buried the ball in mud. Of his Shakespeare ball he said, "I could see the Shake but not the speare." At first he thought of calling the lie unplayable and taking the penalty. But then he took a wedge and decided to try to nudge it out and into the bunker below. He could barely see the ball as he stood over it, and he chopped at it like a lumberjack. It popped out of the earth, crossed the bunker, reached the putting surface and rolled into the hole for a birdie 2 that could easily have been three or four strokes higher. "My greatest shot ever," said Gary. "And luckiest." It was also the end of Gary's luck, and not even abandoning his basic black for a white shirt and blue-green pants on Saturday could get him back in this Masters.
Doug Sanders reached Amen Corner one under par and left one over. He bogeyed 11, and then at the 12th his six-iron from the tee was short and rolled off the front bank into the mud at the edge of Rae's Creek. Dressed like a human tangerine from spikes to sweater, Sanders delighted the gallery (and thus himself) by removing one tangerine shoe, rolling up one tangerine pant leg and nearly toppling himself and his tangerine alpaca into the red-brown water before blasting a fine recovery close enough to two-putt for his bogey 4.
Billy Joe Patton, who earlier had run off a string of four consecutive 3s to tie for the lead, hooked his tee shot at the 12th toward downtown Augusta. His ball stopped in bushes 30 feet up a cliff, from where mountaineering Billy hit it down and somehow salvaged a double-bogey 5. Don January lost the tournament lead by hitting into the water at 13. Casper did it at 12. So it went.
Even par after the 10th, Arnold Palmer bogeyed 11. At the 12th, where the wind swirls unpredictably from moment to moment out of the tree-lined 13th fairway, Palmer's tee shot buried itself in a bunker past the green. "I could feel rock under my spikes," Palmer said, "and I suddenly got worried that if I struck down strongly and hit rock, the ball would fly into the water. So I tried to hit carefully and didn't hit hard enough." Palmer's first swing moved the ball only an inch or so, and he finally putted out for a double-bogey 5. He finished with a two-over-par 74.
Palmer later emphasized the critical nature of the 11th and 12th holes. "There is no way to play them safely. They raised those two greens to protect them from flooding. The work has left the fairway around 11 as hard as the top of a table, so you can no longer play safely to the right—away from the water—and feel confident of chipping close enough to get your par.
"On 12 you have to hit a perfect shot, and then have perfect luck," Palmer said. "I think it is probably the toughest par-3 in golf. Because of the changing winds you have to punch or draw your shot into the green to get safely across the water, and the green won't often hold that kind of shot. The other way is to float a high shot in there, but if a gust of wind comes up at that moment it will just grab the ball and dump it into the pond. I haven't yet figured out a way to play 12." As it developed, it was the 12th hole that cost Palmer the tournament, for he played it four strokes over par.
Ben Hogan, in his laconic way, said what is probably all there is to be said about the 12th. "There's no point in worrying about it. It's there, and you've got to play it."
The field did play it, but the box score for the first day was three triple bogeys, 20 double bogeys, 28 bogeys, 48 pars and only three birdies, one of them Player's fantastic shot.
Thanks in no small part to Amen Corner, the opening day was all Jack Nicklaus. Reviewing Nicklaus' round, Palmer noted with admiration that Jack was the only player who crossed the pond and reached the par-5 15th in two shots in the face of the angry wind blowing from the west. Said Palmer, "Jack just stood there at the crest of the hill and raised his arms to heaven and commanded the wind to stop while he hit a three-wood over the water."