It was a Masters for a lot of guys who can lay claim to being the world's best golfer, either because they have the classy swings or the major championships or the bank accounts to prove it. But it was also a Masters that all but one of them would leave on the greens, in the bunkers, in the trees—the usual places—by suffering attacks of what the pros call a rush of grits to the heart. The Masters does this to a man because it happens to have become almost as important an object of worship as a flag in the window or Mom in the kitchen. Thus, nobody wins a Masters anymore. Somebody accepts it, as Gene Littler says, "by scraping it the goodliest." But this year Littler's goodliest wasn't good enough, and it was Billy Casper (see cover) whose scrapings won their 18-hole playoff and the championship.
For four unreasonable, suspense-filled days last week the Masters of 1970 was alternately scraped and blown into the pines and bunkers—and a few holes of burrowing animals—by all sorts of people who can swing a golf club for you like Laurence Olivier recites Hamlet. Jack Nicklaus, who may be the world's best player if you want to count big titles, spent most of his time breaking flag-sticks in half with the shots he flew into the greens. But he spent the rest of his time missing short putts and looking for one particular shot that he never found, the ball having disappeared into an animal digging, the animal no doubt wearing a green jacket.
What a Nicklaus rush or a Palmer charge would have meant, of course, is that they would have been right there in the middle of all the Sunday traffic, coming down the stretch with all of those Gene Littlers, Billy Caspers, Gary Players and Bert Yanceys who were swinging so sweetly and turning this Masters into one of the more exciting dramas since Bette Davis invented chain-smoking. Everybody knows, of course, that when Nicklaus is close, it shakes the earth, not to mention the Caspers, Players, Littlers and Yanceys.
But it really wasn't a dimension the tournament needed. Before the Masters turned into that country stroll for a couple of quiet Californians, we seem to remember there were these four marvels out there, gasping to stand up under the pressure. All of them could qualify as legends of one kind or another. There was Gary Player, who drops in every now and then from South Africa to say "hi there" to a few thousand dollars. Gary was the hottest thing going and consumed with confidence. He was, like Nicklaus, a man who had won all four of the major cups. But he had taken Greensboro the week before Augusta, which was more important than history, and with his game warm he had everyone a little frightened. As they say of Player, nobody tries harder, although many hit more talented shots.
"He doesn't drink, which is worth two shots," is the way Bob Rosburg put it. "He's religious, and that's worth another shot," said Dave Marr.
So that ties him with Billy Casper at the start, right?
What sent Player into those final agonizing holes was neither his religion nor his drinking habits. It was a couple of 68s that overcame a starting 74 and kept him within striking distance of Casper, who led after 54 holes, and Littler, who was only a stroke behind.
The credentials for Yancey were a little less impressive because he was younger. Yancey has one of the better swings on the tour, but he is also a Masters nut. He is overwhelmed by the treasures that lie in wait for him at Augusta, which is why he has constructed models of all the holes to study, why he always stays in a home owned by Mr. J. B. (naturally) Masters and why, one must suppose, he has the best stroke average for his four tries of anyone who has competed there ever. Yancey is so entranced by Augusta that his pals on the tour call him Fog, that being what he stays in. Before the final round, in fact, Yancey sat in the locker room and listened to a writer try to get him to explain his attitude.
"Bert," the journalist said, "are you sometimes forgetful and in a trance because you keep going over your shots out there? I mean, do you really relive every stroke of every Masters?"
Bert looked at the man and asked, "What did you say?"