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Despite Floyd's criticism, the match-play tournament was never a question of who could shoot the hottest golf over four days with par as the enemy. Palmer did just that for the first four rounds—and went home in the midst of the semifinals. Palmer played marvelous golf against Bruce Devlin, Mike Hill and Dave Eichelberger, firing rounds of 68, 68 and 69—11 under par. But it didn't matter after Saturday morning, when he could manage no better than an even-par 72 against Crampton's three-under 69. He was beaten and he was out of the tournament, a disaster that cast no more of a pall over the area than if the entire championship had been drowned out by tropical storm Doria.
Palmer had shot a 277 for four rounds, better than anyone else. Next was George Knudson with 279—and he was eliminated Saturday morning, too. Next best were Weiskopf, Lou Graham and Ken Still at 284. "Palmer won this thing as far as I'm concerned," said a spectator fiercely loyal to his hero. The two men who made the final, Weaver and Rodgers, were thrashed soundly at 72 holes by Palmer, who was nine strokes lower than the first and 12 strokes lower than the latter.
There were all sorts of jokes about this from the beginning, as the golfers tried to decide how they felt about playing head to head. Nicklaus smiled graciously after his defeat on Wednesday but said, "I played 18 in the pro-am and 18 against Raymond and didn't make a bogey, but I'm going home." When Gary Player lost his first—and only—match at the third extra hole to Homero Blancas, he said, "I've just flown 20,000 miles to make a bogey."
The familiar names of pro golf were disappearing so fast, so soon, that the big Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst, where most were staying, looked as if it were undergoing a constant evacuation. Spectators who didn't get out to the course until Thursday missed seeing not only Nicklaus and Player but Miller Barber, Frank Beard, Bert Yancey, Bob Lunn, Bobby Nichols, Don January, Bob Goalby, George Archer, Gay Brewer, Bob Rosburg, Tommy Aaron, Bruce Devlin, Tom Shaw, Bob Murphy and Dale Douglass. All lost the first day. Those who didn't get out until Friday could add Charles Coody, Doug Sanders, Mason Rudolph, Dave Hill, Larry Hinson, Lionel Hebert and Johnny Miller to the list. Those who arrived Saturday morning had to add Floyd, Julius Boros, Gene Littler, Dave Stockton, Art Wall and Gardner Dickinson.
And those who didn't make it until Saturday noon, when the big hordes usually begin to turn up for most tournaments, missed all these and Palmer, too. They did get to see Crampton, Still, Rodgers and Weaver, of course.
Yet what was left in the end on Sunday were two guys who had managed to play the best golf in the situations and conditions that faced them each day through five successive rounds, which is what match play is about. Weaver and Rodgers had survived, and that was all that mattered. Neither had been pushed to extravagant under-par figures to reach the finals. Each, in fact, had faced only one opponent who had shot as low as 72. Rodgers, who has a bit of the gabby hustler in him, like Trevino, caught Goalby shooting 77, for example, Littler 76 and Still 76. Weaver, the son of the old Texas Tech football coach of the same name and a big hitter when it goes in the right direction, had such soft touches as Sanders at 76 and Crampton at 78. Weaver shot a 77 against Crampton in a battle of catastrophes, which again was the essence of this unique tournament.
In the final match Weaver never had to worry about how many pine limbs his drives might saw off. He caught Rodgers in as horrid a round as he had caught Crampton. Phil just missed equaling the worst nine of the tournament when he went out in 41, compared to DeWitt's one-under 35. So a big bulge was opened up and Weaver's demoralizing length off the tees—which is up there with Jack Nicklaus'—weighed more and more heavily on his opponent, as it no doubt had on others during the week, particularly since he was staying in the fairways most of the time. People aren't used to seeing DeWitt Weaver drive that straight. At least not that often.
When the two reached the 10th tee, even Rodgers was laughing at what had become a laughable climax. He teed up his ball there, sat the driver behind it and said loudly, "Say hello to the clubface. You ain't seen it too much today."
By the time ABC's telecast came on the air, the competitors were at the 15th hole and Weaver had a seven-stroke lead. One imagined that Chris Schenkel might be telling his audience, "We've got plenty of action for you today, folks. We'll be going out to Latrobe to watch Arnold Palmer file down an eight-iron and then we'll take you to Palm Beach to watch Jack Nicklaus scrape his boat."
If it had been true match play, Weaver would have closed out the affair at the 13th hole 6 and 5, but this was match-medal so there was still the remote possibility that Rodgers could do unto Weaver what Casper once did unto Palmer over the last nine holes of a U.S. Open playoff. It didn't happen. Weaver played on to a fine 71, while Rodgers slogged home with his disappointing 77.