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Dan Jenkins
April 19, 1976
Going on a birdie binge that put him on top from the start, Ray Floyd mastered the Masters, proving his number was up
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April 19, 1976

It Was Ray All The Way

Going on a birdie binge that put him on top from the start, Ray Floyd mastered the Masters, proving his number was up

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Everybody except Raymond Floyd played the same old Masters last week amid the glorifying adjectives that once a year flutter in the breezes of Augusta, in the cathedral of pines, at the altar of golf and all that stuff. Floyd surely must have mailed in his scores from Phoenix or the Greater Milwaukee or the Westchester Classic, for they bore no resemblance to what anyone else was doing in the tournament. To put it as bizarrely as it was, Floyd came to the final hole on Sunday needing to make a 12—maybe four drives, four approaches and four putts—to tie Ben Crenshaw, the only guy in the last round who caused enough whoops to make the azaleas sway.

When it was over Floyd had done the following things: shot rounds of 65-66-70-70, which added up to 271, a mere 17 under par, good enough for a share of the Masters record with Jack Nicklaus; broke the first 36- and 54-hole records and finished a brutal eight strokes ahead of his nearest pursuer, Crenshaw; flogged Nicklaus and the rest of the field like step-children; laid waste to the course; burned down the clubhouse; and in the end even removed his visor for an instant and smiled.

Floyd has always had the kind of golf game that seemed suited to Augusta National—a long drive, a high trajectory. But in the past he had been the type of golfer who was as much interested in enjoying life on the tour as winning. In his previous 13 seasons he had won only six tournaments, and even though one of them was a major championship, the 1969 PGA, he remained a phantom individual who would play superbly only once or twice a year. Floyd, in fact, was more noted for his cocktail habits, his friendships with show-business personalities, his eligible bachelorhood, his whirl as a guitar player, his intense interest in the Chicago Cubs and a little wagering trip he once made to El Paso to take on an unknown Mexican—a guy name of Trevino—and the return trip Raymond made in a crate.

But that was the old Ray Floyd, not the mature married gentleman, father of two and rededicated athlete who finally reached his full potential last week. One major championship? That's luck, they say. Two? That's talent. And what about how he did it? Well, let's put it this way: when did Nicklaus ever make three eagles in a major championship and finish 11 strokes behind the winner?

A tournament in which a man out-distances the field with such monumental ease tends to get written off as the ultimate in boredom. Yet in a strange sort of way, this Masters was fascinating. For one thing, it was loaded with peculiarities other than Floyd's wondrous shotmaking.

It was blessed with marvelous weather. It saw Tournament Chairman Clifford Roberts take at least one hand off the steering wheel when he named his successor, Mr. Bill Lane, of whom absolutely nothing was known beforehand—and very little after. Rich guy, food products, Texan, pleasant. It was a Masters that saw Nicklaus hit the kind of shots that normally might have won for him—dropping the occasional monster putt, riding the long ball home over the water, even shattering the premises one day, Friday, when he holed out a sand wedge from 100 yards on the 7th hole for an eagle deuce. It was a Masters that produced a sad Arnold Palmer shooting an 81 and missing the cut. A tournament that provided an indifferent Johnny Miller, who came to town and said, "I'm not major championship-oriented," and then proceeded to prove it—at least this time—by finishing in a tie for 23rd. It produced a frustrated Tom Weiskopf, who had finished second four times before and so had thought of nothing else but Augusta all year—and then never got his putter working because the soft, slow greens demoralized and disappointed him from the beginning. "The only way the greens can get fast," Weiskopf said at one point, "is if Mr. Roberts walks out on each one and personally speaks to every blade of grass."

It was a Masters that gave the crowds a schizophrenic Hubie Green who would go from rounds of 71 and 66 to ones of 78 and 77. It would offer up a Gary Player who would be seen constantly rolling up a pants leg to get at a ball in the water, and who would actually fall down in Rae's Creek after slashing at either his golf ball or a Georgia shark. It would produce a Lee Trevino who would play from the start as if he had a plane to catch. And it furnished a splendid backdrop for Ben Crenshaw, whose enormous appeal is increasing with each of his attractive grins and his attacking nature.

But while there was considerably more to this Masters than Raymond Floyd, it was Floyd who kept it from repeating the thrilling finish of last year, when Nicklaus, Weiskopf and Miller battled down to the last turn of the last putt. Floyd started taking the suspense out of this Masters on the very first day when he fired his seven-under 65. The day was warm and windless, and the first indication that the course would be a setup was when Andy North shot an early 66. This was the same Andy North who would ultimately go east and west with an 81, 75 and 76, but the layout was exposed. Nicklaus shot the 67 he always shoots, and 18 other players beat the par of 72.

Floyd's low round featured a plastic surgery job on the Augusta National's par-5 holes. He birdied all four of them, but that was only a start. He would wind up touring those holes in a record 14 under par for the four days by scoring 12 birdies and an eagle 3 on Friday, which was the most dramatic shot of the week.

It came at a time when the tournament was still very much of a contest. People had been out there in the pines making moves at him, people like Nicklaus racking up two eagles in the first seven holes, and Crenshaw getting off to a start of four under through the first three holes on a birdie-eagle-birdie binge, and Green going for a 66 and looking like the Green who had just won three tournaments in a row.

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