"I'd love to take the club back quicker, but I can't," he said later.
Hogan has never had trouble taking the other clubs back—and bringing them through with as much perfection as any golfer who ever lived. One of pro golf's clich�s is that Ben will still reach more greens in regulation than anyone else in the field. He usually does.
His third-round 66, with a record-tying 30 on the back nine, was one of the epic moments in Masters history. Here was a 54-year-old man for one more fleeting interlude showing them all how it ought to be done, and doing it for pride. As he said, "If the Masters offered no money at all, I would be here, trying just as hard."
There was something magnificently nostalgic about it. After all, Hogan was still wearing the old-fashioned white billed cap and the trousers with high pleats and cuffs. When he finessed his irons into the greens, each one wired to the flagpoles as if held on track by radar, it was time turned back. It was the young Hogan, a Hogan at Oakland Hills, at Merion, at Carnoustie. They like to build monuments at Augusta. The one to mark this aging hero's back nine on Saturday could be a bronzed walkway over the entire nine holes, from the 10th to the 18th.
It was at the 10th, after an ordinary 36 on the front nine, that Hogan hit a driver into the bottomland of the left fairway and put a seven-iron within six feet of the hole. Hogan always puts seven-irons within six feet of the cup, but this time he sank the putt. At the 11th, another par-4 that goes over a hill and down to a dangerous green hard by a pond, Ben laid a six-iron within one foot of the pin. One foot. Like golfers used to do it. And he made that one. Now came the 12th, that deadly little par-3 over Rae's Creek where club selection is a calculus problem. Hogan rammed a six-iron right in there, about 12 feet away, and by the time he squeezed that putt in there was hardly anyone among the 30,000 spectators who did not know that William Ben Hogan, a club manufacturer from Fort Worth, had just gone birdie, birdie, birdie through the toughest stretch of holes at Augusta.
Still, Hogan had only struggled back to even par for the tournament. On the 13th, a par-5 around a bend to the left, backdropped with so many azaleas and dogwood it looks like a card section in a football stadium, Hogan stared at the lie—not floaty, not fuzzy, just a slight sidehiller—for a long time. Would he lay up, as he usually does, or would he go for the green in two? He took out a four-wood, and the great mass of people along the upper bank of the fairway exploded into applause and shouts of encouragement. Then he cracked it superbly into the green, pin high, no more than 15 feet from the hole. The eagle putt stopped short, but the next one was easy—even for Ben—and for the first time he was under par and on the leader boards.
After a par at the 14th there was a similar moment of suspense on the par-5 15th as Hogan again studied the shot and went back to his four-wood for another uncharacteristic gamble. And again he put the ball on the green, safely over water, for a try at an eagle, this time from 20 feet. His putt just curved around the right side of the cup, with Hogan crouching and leaning in an effort to guide it, but it was another two-putt birdie. He then parred the 16th and 17th, and drove perfectly off the 18th tee. His five-iron into the last green, as splendidly struck as all of the other shots, stopped 15 feet above the cup. And as he marched up the fairway and onto the green, it was a moment to be remembered for as long as men chase little pellets across pastures. Thousands stood and clapped. The sun beamed down. Ben Hogan held the bill of his old-fashioned white cap and gently nodded. Then he proceeded to drop one last putt for all of those damp-eyed souls. He was in with his 66.
For his age and the importance of the event, it was a tearer-upper. The tournament could have ended perfectly right there, and perhaps for thousands who appreciate the true elegance of shotmaking it did just that.
But for those who appreciate the benefits of a $20,000 prize and a first major championship, it ended a day later with Gay Brewer, who comes from another time and place.