But last week on the sprawling Upper Montclair course, golf investors were still gloriously optimistic and the market in golf futures seemed brisk. The first three days some 40,000 fans turned out, paying 57 admission daily, and they were still crowding the course on Sunday, though Palmer and Player and Casper were by then out of it. Jack Nicklaus started the final round just three shots off the pace but he, too, dropped out of contention. As it grew late on Sunday afternoon, Bobby Nichols, Labron Harris and Dan Sikes were tied for the lead at 10 under par. But Sikes gave way at the par-4 16th, bogeying the hole after leaving an approach shot in a bunker. It now became a struggle between old pro Nichols, 34, winner of a PGA Championship and seven other tournaments, and 28-year-old Harris, whom everybody calls Junior, a former U.S. Amateur champion but a relative unknown and a non-winner on the pro tour. (His father, Labron Sr. is the golf coach at Oklahoma State.)
After a fine drive at 16, Nichols played a perfect pitching wedge to the green, dropping the ball two feet past the hole. He sank the putt for his birdie and took a one-stroke lead. On 17 Nichols lagged a 55-foot approach putt to within 18 inches and made his par-3. Almost immediately he heard a roar at 18. Junior had made a birdie 4 on the 600-yard finishing hole, ramming in a 10-footer from the edge of the green. The two players were tied once again. Nichols drove down the middle on the final hole, then caught a three wood a little fat, and the ball stopped on the right edge of the fairway about 30 yards from the pin. His pitch shot, played nervously, was 14 feet short of the hole. If Nichols made the putt he would win the $60,000; if he missed and lost the sudden-death playoff to Harris, he would collect only $34,200. He studied the line and finally he stroked the putt—"the ball felt like chewing gum on my putter head," he said later. Nichols watched as the ball rolled toward the cup, sure it would stop short. It did, for an instant, but then with a one last slow-motion turn it fell in. For Nichols it was his first victory in two years. Last year he gave up the tour as a steady job, signing on as head professional at the Firestone Country Club in Akron. He now plays in only about half the PGA tournaments. "I found a gold mine at Firestone," he said after his victory, "and I'm not going to leave it." But Clifton wasn't a bad place for panning gold either.
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