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THREE WAS A CROWD
Alfred Wright
April 18, 1966
But the crowd, which had been more of a mob through four high-scoring, hectic days, finally was reduced to just one man. In a three-way playoff Jack Nicklaus proved again that he is master of the Masters
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April 18, 1966

Three Was A Crowd

But the crowd, which had been more of a mob through four high-scoring, hectic days, finally was reduced to just one man. In a three-way playoff Jack Nicklaus proved again that he is master of the Masters

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"Yeah," said Dave Marr, a close friend of Palmer's, "just like you used to do, Arnold."

The next day Palmer began to produce the kind of miracle Marr was kidding him about. It was coming on toward noontime of what was presumed to be the start of the three-day pursuit of Jack Nicklaus when a roar that is unique in golf began to roll across the gentle hills and swales of Augusta National. The sound starts at full decibel, lasts for perhaps 10 seconds and then gradually fades to a punctuation of joyful whoops and hollers. It is a roar that means Arnold Palmer has sunk a birdie putt in the Masters. This was to be the day of the roars.

The first one came when Palmer birdied the 2nd hole. The sound exploded again with another birdie at the 6th. It was repeated a few minutes later from the 7th green, and then from the 8th—three birdies in a row and his fourth of the young round. With each birdie Palmer's stride seemed to lengthen several inches, and for the first time he was showing real enthusiasm for his work. He made the turn in 32.

Up ahead, Nicklaus had just bogeyed the 11th hole, and—improbable as it seemed—he and Palmer were tied. The big lead had vanished; the three-day pursuit required less than three hours. To use the phrase that Palmer himself had brought into the patois of sport right here at Augusta four years ago: the game was on.

One of Palmer's great problems over the past year or so has been his inability to maintain a hot streak for the full 18 holes. He will shoot a spectacular first nine and then falter, or start in a wobbly way and finish brilliantly. Some questions arise: At 36, does he have trouble holding his concentration? Or has he lost some of his stamina? He has had, of late, some aches and pains, among them twinges in his hip that bothered him from time to time at Augusta. As one who believes doctors are only for the deathbed, Palmer has been prescribing his own treatment, which consists of an application of Ben-Gay when he happens to think of it.

Palmer, now tied with Nicklaus for the lead, went down the 10th fairway with booming, twingeless strides. His drive had been a beauty, at least 280 yards. When he reached the ball he pulled out a four-iron and hit his first really poor shot of the day, pushing it into a bunker short of the green and some 80 or 90 feet from the hole. From there a loosely struck sand shot bounced to the left and rolled off the edge of the putting surface.

Now faced with a bogey—maybe even a double bogey—he went to the wedge, which has been the weakest club in his bag this year, bent over the ball and punched it briskly. It bounced a couple of times and then disappeared into the hole for a heavenly par. Standing inconspicuously in the gallery, as is her custom, Winnie Palmer said, "Arnold is trying to send me to an early grave. I think he wants to marry a younger woman."

But not even Palmer could unsettle the pattern that was taking shape in this tournament—one of trouble for everybody. His bad shot on 10 marked a change in tempo, and it was Amen Corner time again. At 11, a short approach and a weak chip off the hard ground gave him a bogey. At the 12th his low seven-iron failed to hold the green although it was dead on the pin, but this time he chipped within 12 inches and holed the putt for his par. At 13, a 475-yard par-5, an excellent drive left him with only a five-iron to the green. However, to his enormous disgust, he pushed it into Rae's Creek. This meant still another victory for Amen Corner and the loss of the lead for the rest of the day. Nonetheless, it was good old Arnie who, as far as the Augusta gallery was concerned, had breathed new life into a tournament that only that morning had looked like another Nicklaus runaway. "Go Arnie," the crowd had shouted at him along the way, and Arnie had gone his best, shooting a 70 to trail by one stroke the second-day leaders, Paul Harney and England's Peter Butler, who must have shared the general surprise at their brief, as it developed, moment in the sun.

"It was," said an irreverent Chicago sportswriter. "the best Good Friday Peter and Paul have had in 2,000 years."

It was also a very good Friday for Ben Hogan, who was playing the kind of golf that the purists follow with wonder. On the second round he hit 17 of the 18 greens in par, the most precise golf of the tournament, and finished with a 71 to leave him only two strokes behind at 145. He was within a gasp of leading the Masters but, come to think of it, who wasn't? Twenty golfers were bunched within four strokes of the top, and the tournament was a sporting proposition again, thanks to the largess of large Jack Nicklaus, who shot a tortuous 76.

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