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AUGUSTA, ST. ANDREWS
This was The Birdie, redux. Leifer set up at the par-3 16th hole at the Masters this year to shoot Tiger Woods striding across the green in the golden afternoon light. Woods crossed him up, though, by holing out from off the green. After Leifer snapped Woods and his caddie exulting (opposite), he remembered that he'd taken an almost identical SI cover shot of Jack Nicklaus and his caddie after the Golden Bear holed out from virtually the same spot in 1972 (right). Leifer later got Tiger and Jack in duplicate at St. Andrews during the 2005 British Open (below), Nicklaus's farewell tournament.
Giants of the Hardwood
Of all the team sports, basketball is the most intimate. Vivid action shots by SI photographers helped the struggling NBA turn its stars into distinct personalities. The classic matchup was in the pivot: Wilt Chamberlain versus Bill Russell. Leifer photographed this legendary pair of giants in a 1966 76ers-Celtics playoff game at Convention Hall in Philadelphia (above). "So this year I wanted to do Shaquille O'Neal," Leifer says, "and I was impressed by how much more physical the game is. Back then they weren't leaning on each other all game. But Shaq has three people on him, pushing him in all directions." The picture at right shows the Heat center manhandling the Pistons' Ben Wallace in the 2005 Eastern Conference finals in Miami.
The Fighting Alis
The first championship bout that Leifer shot was Floyd Patterson versus Ingemar Johansson, in 1959, when the 16-year-old photographer pointed his camera down from a $5 seat in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. Only six years later he would take the most famous boxing photo ever: Muhammad Ali standing over the vanquished Sonny Liston. The shot above captures Ali at the height of his powers, whipping Zora Folley at Madison Square Garden in 1967. As the once regal heavyweight division has descended into insignificance and ennui, women boxers--especially Ali's daughter Laila (left)--have muscled in on the ring spotlight.