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Friday dawned as oppressively hot and tormenting as New Jersey can get in June, and in the breathless hours around noon temperatures must have topped 100� on the baking putting surfaces. "Hot?" said Ben Hogan. "Hell can't be any hotter. I'll check that out one of these days." Nicklaus, too, was hot. His opening-round 71 had occasioned speculation that he had left his best golf out on the course the day before during that fantastic 62, but Nicklaus denied it. "Maybe the 62 helped by giving me more confidence," he said.
The Nicklaus theory was supported by Friday's events. He started with a bogey, and at the 4th hole, a par-3, he found himself with a 10-foot putt that he needed for his par. "If I miss it I'm two over for the day and three over for the tournament, and it would be looking very bad for me," he said afterward. But the strange-looking Bull's Eye putter with the white-painted head that he had borrowed from a friend of Deane Beman's a few days before got the ball into the hole.
Two birdies brought Nicklaus through the first nine at 33 and, with three birdies and a bogey on the way home, he was in with 67, the lowest score he had ever shot in a U.S. Open. What seemed to please him even more than his new white putter was his driving. "All the Open has ever been is a driving contest," he said, in what rated as the oversimplification of the week. "You drive it into the fairway and play it from there."
The day was almost over when Palmer brought in a 68 to take the tournament lead at 137, thanks to a round in direct contrast to his rather shaky opening 69. He hit the ball quite well all the way, except for a brief lapse on the 6th hole, where he had to sink a 10-foot putt to salvage a bogey 5. That was the only green he failed to reach in the regulation number of strokes. His ball was in the rough only twice, and he was never in a bunker. Of both Nicklaus and Palmer the same could now be said: their shot-making was superb, and only the treacherous rolls in Baltusrol's greens had kept them from rounds in the low 60s. It was time for the confrontation.
As they started down the first fairway Saturday afternoon, the tournament now at its midpoint, Nicklaus was a stroke back of Palmer. Bill Casper, the defending champion, was just one behind Nicklaus. But on this day the shot-against-shot duel that the gallery of 19,598 anticipated with such relish quickly deteriorated into something resembling the consolation round at a taxi drivers' golf outing. Not since 1962, in the Open at Oakmont, had Palmer and Nicklaus been paired in a major championship while having a chance to win. The opportunity to get at each other was more than their golf swings could bear. By the time they reached the 8th tee they had thrashed their way through so much trouble that they had surrendered the lead by two strokes to Casper, who was playing just ahead of them. At that point Jack turned to Arnold and said, "Let's stop playing each other and play the golf course."
On they went without conspicuous improvement, Casper's lead increasing to four strokes. Finally, on the 16th green, each made a ridiculously poor short putt that would have given either of them his first birdie had it dropped. When Jack's rolled two feet past the hole, Arnold turned his back and began to laugh. "Nice stroke," he said to Nicklaus, a comment that he was applying to his own putt as well. The gallery joined in the mirth, and from that moment on—the tempo of the bad play broken—the 1967 U.S. Open was a different story.
In the remaining 20 holes Palmer was to post only one bogey, a performance that could well have presented his Army with the victory it screamed for, but Nicklaus was to make a phenomenal 10 birdies. His streak began at the 17th, where he hit an eight-iron to within 12 feet of the hole. The gallery watched numbly, but when Palmer's wedge landed only six feet away the crowd exploded with joy. Palmer walked onto the green to an enormous ovation; silence greeted Nicklaus. Then a wonderful lone voice burst out: "That's all right, Jack, I'm for ya." The vast gallery roared its amusement. Nicklaus tipped the peak of his visor in the direction of his fan, and sank his birdie putt.
The 18th hole was more of the same. Both drove long on this 542-yard par-5. Palmer hit a four-wood from the fairway that carried just over the green, and the gallery applauded enthusiastically. Nicklaus followed with a four-iron up the hill, and the silence of the thousands of people surrounding the green implied that the ball must have bounded away, maybe into the pro shop or down the driveway. Instead, it was 15 feet from the hole. From there Nicklaus two-putted for his second straight birdie. Minutes later he was a lone figure out on the practice tee. He worked on his game until darkness fell.
Thanks to their Saturday dedication to bludgeoning each other, Nicklaus and Palmer started the final round in a three-way tie for second place with Casper, who had run into a bogey streak himself. A stroke ahead of these three was Fleckman, the amateur. Once again Nicklaus and Palmer were paired, a freakish circumstance that tournament officials would have liked to avoid, especially in view of the rabid nature of Arnie's Army, New Jersey Division. But the USGA system is to pair the field in order of the scoring. When players are tied, the man who turned in his score first is considered the leader in that category. Thus Fleckman, at 209, was paired on Sunday with Casper, who was the first man to post a 210 on Saturday. That left Nicklaus and Palmer, the other 210s, with nobody to play with but each other.
This time, however, Palmer and Nicklaus were determined not to let their personal rivalry overcome their concentration on the championship at hand. Within minutes Fleckman and Casper were no longer in the Open.