It was the first Masters for a lot of things, such as a sudden-death playoff, a near tornado that caused an agonizing delay and the prolonged torture of Ed Sneed. When it was finally over down in one corner of the course, amid the blazing dogwood and azalea, the winner was just about the last man on anyone's mind at the beginning of the tournament and certainly the last man in the field alphabetically—Fuzzy Zoeller. In fact, with only three holes to play, winning the Masters was probably the last thing on Zoeller's mind. But maybe that is the only way it could have happened to a first-time visitor.
There was Zoeller, playing one hole ahead of Sneed and four strokes behind him with just those three holes to go. So Fuzzy finished his business first, making a par, then making a birdie, then saving a par, and after that he got out of the way—now just three strokes down—before something evil grabbed him. This left Sneed, who was merely trying to win his first major title, to face up to the pressure of protecting his lead, as he had been doing more or less successfully all day long—and the result was three terrible putts and three consecutive bogeys. In between there was Tom Watson, paired with Zoeller but not playing well enough to win anyhow, and he came in with three unspectacular pars. Playoff!
Before all of this, equally ghastly and thrilling things had been occurring throughout the afternoon, as they usually do on the final day of the Masters. Such turnabouts are apt to include Jack Nicklaus, and for a while last Sunday they did so again, or until a bogey at 17 kept him from making it a foursome when the sudden death began at the 10th tee.
It was on the second hole of the playoff, the brutal 11th hole, the start of what is known at the Augusta National Golf Club as Amen Corner, with Zoeller, Sneed and Watson all doing wonderful things under the bizarre and unbearable circumstances, that Zoeller out-wonderfulled everyone else. He made the kind of putt that had refused to drop for Sneed consistently and for Watson occasionally. The winner was a 6-footer for a birdie on that second extra hole, and it made the carefree Zoeller the first player ever to win the Masters on his first try, if you don't count Gene Sarazen and his double-eagle back in 1935, or Horton Smith, who won in 1934, which happened to be the first year of the Masters as well.
As is true in most major championships, someone has to lose in order for someone to win. This will be remembered as the Masters Ed Sneed lost as much as the or Fuzzy Zoeller won, for Sneed not only had that three-shot lead on Zoeller and Watson with three holes to play, but he also had six strokes on Zoeller and at least five on everybody else at the start of the day. Five-stroke leads tend to diminish when you shoot a final-round 76, which was what Sneed did after playing the best golf of anyone through Thursday, Friday and Saturday when he had rounds of 68, 67 and 69.
During these early days Zoeller's name had been mentioned but lightly in Augusta. Frank Urban Zoeller, hence F.U.Z., hence Fuzzy, was there because after four years on the tour he had won his first tournament in San Diego back in January. He is a strong, good-natured, long-hitting, bareheaded 27-year-old from New Albany, Ind. who usually manages to grin even when a shot goes wrong.
Zoeller grinned through his earlier rounds of 70, 71 and 69 and said things like, "I just like to play golf, and I think finishing fourth is better than fifth, and finishing 15th is better than 16th."
But after he got through with his leaping around after the sudden-death birdie, he confessed to what had been on his mind back there when he really had no chance at all unless Sneed suffered some major disappointments.
Zoeller said, "I was just trying to stay close to Watson, who's not a bad guy to stay close to."
It was Zoeller's staying close to Watson, who won the Masters in 1977, that got him into the scorer's tent on the 18th hole with a closing round of 70 and a 72-hole total of 280. Watson had the same total with his four rounds of 68, 71, 70 and 71, during which he spent a good bit of time playing poorly on the par 5s. Going for the 13th and 15th holes in two blows during previous rounds, Watson had put three balls into the water.