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Alfred Wright
April 22, 1968
A cruel technicality destroyed the popular Roberto de Vicenzo and also awarded the Masters to Bob Goalby, but before that happened a number of colorful players contributed to the sport's most suspenseful theater in years
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April 22, 1968

Golf's Craziest Drama

A cruel technicality destroyed the popular Roberto de Vicenzo and also awarded the Masters to Bob Goalby, but before that happened a number of colorful players contributed to the sport's most suspenseful theater in years

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It was a Masters finish they will still talk about when Arnold Palmer's grandsons are wearing the green jackets of champions. Eleven players started the final round within three strokes of the lead, and six of them still were in contention through the last nine holes Not till the final two holes did the tournament distill into a contest between Roberto de Vicenzo, the gay and charming Argentine, and Bob Goalby (see cover), a big, handsome onetime football player from Illinois who has been laboring fitfully on the golf tour for 11 years. When Goalby sank a sticky four-foot putt for a par at the 72nd with de Vicenzo pulling at his lower lip as he watched apprehensively from a chair at the scorer's table alongside the green, a big cheer went up for the tie. Both were in at 277, 11 strokes under par and the fourth best score in the 32-year history of golf's spring classic.

As everyone started replanning his schedule for the playoff on Monday, de Vicenzo was led off to the television room for the ersatz presentation ceremony that is broadcast prior to the real thing. It was only after Roberto had left the scorer's table that Tommy Aaron looked at de Vicenzo's scorecard and noticed something odd. The final total read 66 instead of 65, which was the remarkable score Roberto had shot. Aaron called it to the scorer's attention, and that green-coated gentleman snatched up the card and rushed off with it to a nearby cottage where the ailing Bobby Jones, president of the Augusta National Golf Club and co-host of the Masters, was watching the tournament on television.

Clifford Roberts and several other officials got wind of the trouble and also hurried over to Jones's cottage. At this brief meeting in Jones's bedroom it was agreed that nothing could be done, that the harsh rules of golf must apply. De Vicenzo had signed and thereby verified the wrong score, and the rules say that in such a case the score he signed must stand. So Roberto was credited with 278 and Bob Goalby became the 1968 Masters champion on a scorekeeping error.

The first that de Vicenzo knew of the trouble was when a tournament official appeared in the television room and summoned him back to the 18th green. He was shown the card and he acknowledged the error—three errors, in fact. Aaron, who had been keeping his playing partner's score, as is the custom in tournament golf, had written in a 4 instead of a 3 for the birdie Roberto had made at the 17th hole. He had also totaled the second nine holes at 35 and the 18 holes at 66, both wrong, although the totals are not considered part of the error. The fact that Roberto had checked the figures for each hole, signed the card and handed it in to the scorer as correct meant that it was official. (If the erroneous figure had been lower than the actual score, instead of higher, Roberto would have been disqualified).

"I am so unhappy to make 5 on the last hole, and Bob, he gave me so much pressure on the last hole that I lose my brain," Roberto said sadly in his broken English when it was all over. "I play golf all over the world for 30 years, and now all I can think of is what a stupid I am to be wrong in this wonderful tournament. Never have I ever done such a thing before. Maybe I am too old to win." It was Roberto's 45th birthday—galleries along the course had sung, "Happy birthday, Roberto, happy birthday to you"—and what a miserable present it was.

It was certainly a most depressing climax to a thrilling Masters. All afternoon the pressure had been building. De Vicenzo, who had started the final round on this beautiful Easter Sunday in a tie for seventh, two strokes behind Gary Player's lead, set the tone of the day by sinking a nine-iron approach shot at the first hole for an eagle 2 and followed that with birdies at the 2nd, 3rd and 8th for an outgoing 31.

One after another they came to challenge him. First it was Bruce Devlin, the Australian, who birdied the first three holes to draw even. Then came Goalby with birdies at 5, 6 and 8. Then Player himself with birdies at 7 and 8 after an unsteady start.

Roberto was well into the back nine and still getting birdies before he could shake all but Goalby, playing two holes to the rear and matching him birdie for birdie. Going down the 15th fairway, a par-5, Goalby hit an absolutely classic three-iron over the pond that fronts the green, and the ball settled softly eight feet from the pin. Almost simultaneously Roberto lofted an approach shot off the 17th fairway, going in the opposite direction, and his ball, too, was no more than eight feet from the hole.

It was at exactly 23 minutes past 4 that the roar went up from the great gallery banked around the 17th green, a roar that started rolling across the Augusta countryside carrying the news that Roberto had dropped his birdie putt to go 12 under par and lead the tournament by two strokes. But even as the cheer for Roberto was in the air, an answering roar came from the 15th green, where Goalby had sunk his putt for an eagle 3 that brought him to 12 under, too.

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