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But it was true. Even average putting would probably have given him a 71 or 72, and either score, it turned out, would have won the tournament. On Friday his 71 reflected a slight improvement. At first he told the press, "I'm putting crummy." Then, in an afterthought, he added, "Not crummy, just not sharp." He was still missing some short putts—he two-putted from four feet for a bogey on the 12th—but he also made a couple. He survived the cut by three strokes, but he seemed hopelessly behind Nicklaus, the leader. The scoreboard watchers under the ancient oak on the clubhouse terrace wrote him off.
"I wasn't displeased," said Miller. "It could have been better, but I was happy to make the cut. I was having so much fun that week I wanted to stay around a little longer."
An alarm should sound when Johnny Miller talks about feeling good. It generally means something is about to happen. At the Bob Hope this year he shot a 71 the first round, nothing special, and said, "I feel good. I think I'm going to win." He did, with a 63 in the final round.
"I don't give up on myself because I know I'm capable of things like that," he said. "For me it's a game of patience. If I'm feeling rested, feeling good, it's a matter of waiting for it to happen, like a time bomb. Maybe it won't happen till Monday, and then the week is gone, but I have the ability. Like the 63 at Oakmont. I win tournaments on the strength of one round most of the time, so for me it's a case of avoiding a 74 or 5 or 6 and being patient."
Friday night Miller and Andy Martinez, his tour caddie, and another friend shot baskets in the driveway of the rented house and barbecued steaks in the backyard. Miller was on the 1st tee at 12:26 the next day, and he parred the 1st hole, though he cannot remember how. On No. 2, a par-5 with a slight dogleg to the left, he drove "around the corner," then hit a five-wood into the shallow bunker at the left front of the green, not far from the pin, a good spot to be. He knocked the ball out of the bunker to one foot and sank the putt. It was a routine birdie which put him one over par for the tournament and 10 strokes back of Nicklaus.
On the 3rd hole, a short par-4, he hit a three-wood and a wedge about 14 feet from the hole and made the putt. Another routine birdie, and he was even par.
No. 4 is a 220-yard par-3, the longest 3 on the course. Miller hit a two-iron that landed 10 feet to the right of the pin. "When I made that putt," he said, "I got pretty intrigued. Then when I birdied 5, which is a really hard hole, with a 14-footer from behind the pin, I said to myself, 'All right!' "
At the par-3 6th, where the tee is high on a bluff overlooking a rolling green 190 yards away, Miller hit a five-iron that stopped one foot from the hole. "Now I'm in a heck of a streak," he remembered. "That made five in a row, and I knew I had a chance at 7 or 8 because I'd been cookin' pretty good."
The 7th is a 365-yard par-4. Miller played it with a three-wood and a wedge, but his second shot missed the putting surface. The 7th green is crowned, and the pin that day was atop the crown and 35 feet away. "It was the kind of putt you just try to make in two," said Miller. "When it went in I said, 'My word, I may never stop making birdies.' "
He did stop, temporarily, on the next hole, but he had already broken the record set by Hale Irwin and Gary Player in 1974 of five straight, and by the turn he had his course record of 30 for the front nine.