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The first important golf tournament of the year produced a bizarre combination of glamour and comedy last week as Ben Crenshaw finally did what he was supposed to have been doing all along, which is be blond and talented and a winner, and Jack Nicklaus did what he never does, be blond and immortal but suddenly out to lunch. When the last sparkling ray of sunshine had glanced off the last heavenly chunk of real estate known as Carmel Bay, Crenshaw had won the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am that everyone expected Nicklaus to win, and Nicklaus, or someone posing as Nicklaus, had shot, in order, a 45 on the back nine at Pebble Beach, an 82 for the final round and, possibly, himself.
There were two stories on this Crosby Sunday. One was Crenshaw, who had come into professional golf a little more than two years ago as the greatest thing since push-button windows and had won his very first tournament—and then had not won anything since. It was Crenshaw who went out on the demon Pebble in the last round trailing Nicklaus, the 54-hole leader, and a couple of other guys by as many as three strokes, and fired a superb three-under 69 for a total of 281 and a two-stroke victory over an unknown named Mike Morley.
It was Crenshaw who overcame a poor opening round of 75 with a blazing 67 on Cypress Point the second day and a splendid 70 on the hated Spyglass Hill the third day. Then, with his relentless closing round on Sunday, he just kept on doing the thing that seems to have restored his game: hitting the ball hard, trying not to guide it and striving to forget his catastrophe at Medinah in the 1975 U.S. Open.
When Crenshaw reached the 17th tee at Pebble Beach on Sunday with a two-stroke lead, he thought about the shot he had hit into the water at Medinah in the U.S. Open last summer when it looked as if that was to be his comeback.
"Yeah, they're both par 3s," he said. "I thought about that. I took a five-iron. I figured I couldn't hit a five-iron far enough to reach the ocean."
He did reach a bunker, and he had an ugly lie, but he dug it out beautifully and then made a tough four-foot putt to save his par.
"It sure feels good to win, especially on one of the greatest courses in the world," Crenshaw said afterward. "I guess I'm the only 24-year-old around who's had to make a comeback."
If Crenshaw's game has been improving steadily, Nicklaus' game disintegrated suddenly Sunday and in various silly ways. It got so absurd that finally even Jack started laughing. He was only one shot out of the lead when he stood up to an approach shot at the 400-yard 13th. What Nicklaus would do, of course, was make a birdie or two from there in and win as usual. Wrong. He hit some kind of wild iron off down a hill left of the green, tried to run it up the hill and saw it roll back down, rolled it up again, and then three-putted for a triple bogey. A few other things happened to him between there and the 18th but they don't compare to his grand finale.
ABC-TV spent the weekend going off the air when fascinating things were occurring in the Crosby, so the world did not get to see Jack's finishing birdie at Pebble on Saturday, the one that gave him the tournament lead, and it did not get to see all of his triple-bogey eight on the same hole Sunday.
Here is how you make an eight on the same hole where you can make a four. You try to reach the green in two, but hook the ball into the bay instead. You drop a ball and, now shooting four, you hit it into a bunker up by the green. You hit a poor bunker shot and then you three-putt again, giggling over the last one from about one foot. There it is, from first place to 18th in a few hours.