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In the tent, Zoeller still couldn't give any thought to winning the Masters unless Sneed bogeyed the last hole. Sneed did just that by hitting a poor second shot with a seven-iron, creating a terribly difficult chip shot out of a lie that was about as close to being in the bunker as it was to being out of it. Sneed chipped nicely enough but left himself six feet below the cup and needing the par to win. His putt is still hanging over the edge of the cup and not falling in.
Zoeller had to observe all this in the company of Watson, who had completed his round in a blaze of missed birdie putts. Watching Sneed, Zoeller's caddie said, "He better hit it firm or it'll stay left." Sneed's putt obviously required a minuscule left-to-right break. It broke all but the last 100th of an inch, and the three golfers went to the 10th tee for what would be the third sudden-death playoff in a major championship in the past three years.
This was Watson's second loss in sudden death in a major tournament. Only last summer at Oakmont in the PGA he had watched helplessly while John Mahaffey beat him with a birdie putt, so perhaps he's getting used to it. As for Sneed, it was his first chance at even coming close to a major title, so perhaps the loss was all the more crushing, particularly in view of the lead he had held and let slip away.
Sneed is a fine, stylish player who had gone 12 under par in the first three rounds without putting extremely well. He had been the best tee-to-green golfer in the field—he bogeyed only one hole in the first three rounds—and if he had putted as well as an average weekend hacker, he would have won the tournament from the clubhouse to the airport.
The fact that Sneed is capable of hitting splendid golf shots was evident during his whole painful Sunday afternoon. No doubt it was stage fright that caused him to let three strokes erode through the first 10 holes and put Watson and Zoeller—even Nicklaus—in contention. But it was Sneed's inspired iron and bunker play that enabled him to save a par and get back two of those shots with birdies at 13 and 15.
In the playoff, Sneed had to overcome the worst possible frame of mind after throwing it all away. Moving almost immediately to the 10th hole, he hit first off the tee, perfectly. He hit first to the green, also perfectly, to within six feet of the cup. The trouble with this, as far as Sneed was concerned, was that Zoeller and Watson did the same thing. All three had makable birdie putts—and they all came close.
The same was true of their drives at the par-4 11th, where the green is guarded by Rae's Creek. Sneed, who was away, then hit his approach shot first, a shot he later would insist was looking very good "until the wind knocked it down." It went into the back bunker. Watson and Zoeller were both on in two with legitimate birdie possibilities.
On Sneed's third shot he almost accomplished with his sand wedge what he had continually failed to do with his putter. He very nearly holed it out, and this on a shot that he could hardly have expected to get close. Then Watson missed his birdie try. Zoeller didn't.
In reflecting on what it is like to blow a three-shot lead in only three holes for the Masters title, Sneed said, I don't feel like I ever lost my composure. On 16 and 17 I hit every shot just like I wanted to. On the two playoff holes I hit every shot just like I wanted to. I did hit a poor second shot on 18 because it was a guessing game. I was trying to bounce in a seven-iron and not get above the cup. The result was that I finished second. Somewhere in there I hope I've learned something."
This was not all of the torture Sneed was forced to undergo in this Masters. Friday was also horrible. He had shot his 68 on Thursday to trail the leader, Bruce Lietzke, by a stroke, but his 67 on Friday was obviously going to give him the 36-hole lead if it could outlast a fierce storm that came lashing across the course just after he finished.