With one more birdie on the back nine, Miller had a 65. His time bomb had gone off, and it had catapulted him from 27th place to third, five under par. Weiskopf, with a 66, took over first at nine under going into the last day, while Nicklaus, who struggled with a 73, fell into second, eight under.
Now, Johnny Miller is a very good last-round player. His 61 at Tucson, 63 at Oakmont and 63 at the Hope this year are the three lowest closing rounds in history. On Sunday he and Weiskopf were the last pairing, and the dramatic possibilities of that position appealed to Miller. He was relaxed and confident, partly because Weiskopf was not out-driving him as often or by as much as usual. His ball found every fairway and every green all day; he played the front nine in 32, four under par; yet somehow, until late that afternoon, when he birdied the 17th hole to tie Weiskopf, one stroke behind Nicklaus, he did not feel he was part of the action.
"Up to then I was sort of freewheeling. I had this feeling that I was in the background, in the shadows, even though I was playing a very good round," he recalls. "I knew there was a chance, and I was trying. But they were playing so good that I never said to myself, 'I can catch these guys.' When you've got Nicklaus and Weiskopf playing good golf ahead of you, you've got to just play your own game and hope for the best. You can't expect to catch them."
Seventeen made all the difference. After a good drive and a seven-iron that should have been a six-iron, Miller's ball was on the green, but 25 feet short of the hole. His putt, however, had not traveled 10 feet before Miller's arm was in the air. He knew he'd made it.
At the moment the crowd roared, Nicklaus was bent over a 12-footer on the 18th green. He backed off, waiting to learn from the scoreboard whether the birdie was for a pursuing Miller or a tying Weiskopf. When he saw it was Miller, he settled back down and two-putted for a par.
"All of a sudden," says Miller, "I was in position to tie Jack, and boy I was pumped. I was really pumped, like when I was a rookie and had a chance to win."
The 420-yard 18th is the only hole at Augusta that plays left to right off the tee. Last year it played harder than any other hole on the course because of some young pines that had been planted on the left side of the fairway, in a favored landing area of the long hitters. Weiskopf hit a tremendous drive, up and over everything, and a good wedge left him an eight-foot putt for a tying birdie. Miller cut his drive around the corner, what he calls a "Trevino shot," and aimed a six-iron just to the right of the hole. He wound up with a 20-footer, "about a one-in-10 putt, I figured."
Miller's putt broke to the left of the hole, Weiskopf's stopped short and Jack Nicklaus, watching from the entrance to the scorer's tent, had won his fifth Masters. Miller's 66, combined with his 65 the day before, set a 36-hole scoring record, and though it was only good enough for a second-place tie, it was a finish he could be proud of.
On a warm spring morning in California's Napa Valley with the 1976 Masters only a few weeks away, Miller stood at the edge of the pond in front of his house, showing his daughter Kelly how David disposed of Goliath. First he placed a pebble in a small sling on a six-foot-long leather thong attached to his left wrist. Then he spun the pebble in its pouch until it whirred, released the thong, and the missile thudded into the bank on the other side of the pond.
"I hate to say it [whirr] because it'll make me try too hard [thud], but right now [whirr] I'd rather win the Masters than any tournament [thud]."