Seven times Nicklaus missed putts of five feet or less. He three-putted five greens, three of them from within 15 feet of the hole. In all, he used 38 strokes on the greens, eight more than on Thursday, and that was the difference between his two scores—68 on Thursday and 76 on Friday. Even so, he finished tied with Palmer at 144. He had played a ruinous round and not been ruined, but he had made it possible for 19 pros to go home that evening thinking "the game is on and I can win."
By the next evening it seemed likely that the only true winner of the 1966 Masters would be the Augusta National golf course itself. The course has a schizophrenic personality. It can be gentle, as it was last year when Nicklaus set a 72-hole tournament record at 17 strokes under par, but it also can be ornery, as it was in 1963 when Nicklaus' winning score was 286, only two strokes under par. When Saturday was over, it was obvious that the course was in one of its mean phases—perhaps the meanest ever. Nicklaus was again in the lead, tied now with Jacobs, whose many ups and downs since he first joined the pro tour in 1957 had recently turned mostly into downs. Their score, an even-par 216, was the highest 54-hole score in the history of the Masters.
Never had there been such atrocious putting, not even during the early years, when the greens were like waxed linoleum. Player, who has appeared in the Masters steadily since 1957, was at a loss to understand what had happened after "playing so well" throughout the first round yet putting himself into a two-over-par 74. "I just seemed to misread so many greens," he reflected. "I can't remember ever doing that before—not that often, anyway."
"These greens putt easier when they're fast," Nicklaus explained after his third-round 72, having missed more short putts in the last two days than he normally would in a season of competition. Then Nicklaus' sense of humor took over, as it always does when things get a little too serious. "Maybe nobody wants to win," he cracked. "It's kind of silly, really. I've had two opportunities to run away with the tournament and blew them. The rest of the field has had two opportunities to run away from me and didn't do it. They say the third time is lucky, so maybe somebody will do it tomorrow. I hope it's me, but it has been a funny kind of a week."
It must have seemed anything but funny to Nicklaus an hour or so earlier when he was playing the 12th hole—back there at Amen Corner again. At that point Jack stood three under par, thanks to an outgoing 34 and a birdie 3 on the eminently unbirdieable 10th. He hit a seven-iron toward the 12th green and really had no cause for concern since the winds of the previous two days had died down to a slight breeze and the balmy day was ideal for precision golf. But Jack's ball buried itself in the top of the bunker on the hillside behind the green, leaving him an almost impossible shot to play. It was virtually the same problem Palmer had faced the first day. Like Palmer, Nicklaus failed to hit the ball hard enough and it simply rolled to the bottom of the bunker, from where he, too, took a double-bogey 5. One birdie and two bogeys later, Jack finished with his 72. Meanwhile, on the scoreboard was the 31-year-old Jacobs, who, having opened the tournament with a mediocre 75, had followed with subpar rounds of 71 and 70. While Nicklaus was taking 10 strokes to play the 12th and 13th, Jacobs took only six, making one of the tournament's rare eagles on 13.
Not too many people watched Nicklaus and Jacobs play their Saturday rounds, despite the fact that they were near the front of the pack most of the day, for the majority of the people on the course had decided to follow the most attractive pairing of the half century: Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan.
When they teed off late in the day Palmer stood one stroke off the lead, the aging but ageless Hogan only two. Palmer was quite obviously off form, and he has rarely had such an inauspicious round of putting in a major tournament. No one, least of all Ben himself, expected any miracles from Hogan's putter, which has been an instrument of torture for him these last few years, but his short game, usually precise, was also shaky. Before the first nine holes were over, Palmer had three-putted at the 4th and 7th greens, and Hogan had done likewise at the 3rd, 7th and 8th. Palmer was out in 37 and Hogan in 38. It looked very much as if neither of them would ever again get close to Nicklaus.
Then, for a short while beginning at the 10th hole, Hogan suddenly was a young man again. He chipped in for a birdie 3 at the 10th and sank a 30-foot birdie putt at the 11th. After a par 3 at the 12th, he hit a marvelous four-wood to the green at the 13th that brought him his third birdie in four holes. Now he was even with par, just a stroke behind Nicklaus.
Palmer, with birdies at 14 and 15, seemed momentarily on his way to a charge, but it died when he three-putted 16. Hogan also faltered. He finished with a 72, Palmer with a 73, and they were tied at 218, only two strokes behind the leaders. Nor were they alone. Standing even with the two golfing giants in score, if not reputation, was Gay Brewer, a quiet pro who was about to make himself heard.
Until this year Ben Hogan had never made an appearance in the press room at Augusta, where the leading players are ushered for a formal interview after completing their rounds. Hogan always held his interviews seated in front of his locker, a scene that became a kind of Masters institution. This year, however, Ben broke his own personal tradition.