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In what was supposed to have been a thrilling parade of the green jackets through the Georgia pines last Monday afternoon, Severiano Ballesteros stepped out quickly over the first four holes and marched, almost without a hitch, to his second Masters championship. Ballesteros, one stroke behind Raymond Floyd and Craig Stadler and one ahead of Tom Watson and Jodie Mudd at the start of the final round, had a birdie on the 1st hole, an eagle on the 2nd, a par on the 3rd and a birdie on the 4th—that's four under par through four holes, gang—and from there on in the 47th annual Bobby Jones picnic the menu consisted only of Spanish omelettes.
Certainly, later in the day, Ballesteros would have his usual flirtations with calamities down there around Amen Corner on the Augusta National's back nine holes. But he thrives on trouble shots and gives off the feeling that there isn't any place on a golf course he can't escape from. When he won his first Masters, in 1980, he practically ran away and hid from everyone, building himself a 10-stroke lead at one point in the final round, but his aggressive style got him into difficulty and he drifted back to the same four-stroke margin of victory by which he won this time.
It's well remembered that when Ballesteros triumphed at the British Open at Royal Lytham in 1979, for his first major win, he hit so few fairways off the tee that he was often mistaken for a gallery marshal or a parking-lot attendant. Still, up and down he got, over and over.
What Ballesteros did last Monday was so typical of him, of the style he established at Royal Lytham, that it was almost like watching reruns. First, he went out and killed a golf course that was quite breezy and frustrating. On the 1st hole he sent a seven-iron knifing into the wind and it settled only eight feet from the flag. Birdie. On the twisting, downhill par-5 2nd, he slammed home two wood shots and slam-dunked a 15-foot eagle putt. At the tricky 3rd, a par-4, his seven-iron wasn't on line, but his 20-foot putt barely stayed out for what would have been another birdie. Then on the brutal 205-yard par-3 4th, against a wicked wind, he smashed a two-iron that ate up the flag and left him with only a two-foot putt. By now his challengers were reeling and muttering.
Ballesteros was paired with Watson, who got to watch all of this up close. Floyd and Stadler were directly behind him, so they were privileged to be eyewitnesses as well. The rest saw it on the scoreboards, and sometimes that can be even more depressing. "The first four holes were the best I ever played in my life," Ballesteros said afterward. "If people say I'm lucky after that, I want to be a lucky golfer for many years."
Ballesteros was in the tournament all the way. His first-round 68 had placed him only a stroke out of the lead, his second-round 70 had kept him in the same position, and his third-round 73 hadn't done him any real damage; he was still that single stroke away. His closing three-under 69, largely wrought by his outgoing 31, brought him home with a total of 280, eight under par, and made him $90,000 richer.
Two shots saved the victory for him on the back nine—and two lucky breaks, which always go along with winning. His iron shot on the dangerous 12th hole cleared Rae's Creek, all right, but only a steep embankment kept the ball on the premises. Instead, it came back down into a spot where he could not only find it, but hit it. He played on to a bogey four, holing a very nice three-foot putt at a time when some real erosion might have set in.
Besides, the competition never got organized. Watson massacred the par 5s in this Masters, just as Ballesteros did—they were 13 and 10 under—but Watson putted poorly, and it finally affected his driving. Floyd, generally as tough as they come when he's up front, never made anything happen. Stadler, another gutty competitor, looked forever as if the gods were against him, and he kept finding ingenious ways to get rid of his clubs. The two-hand stick-in-the-mud was his most colorful. That Watson, Floyd and Stadler could go out to put heat on Ballesteros and each other in the money round and come limping home with 73, 75 and 76, respectively, may be one of the mysteries of the year.
When all of the green jackets but Seve's disappeared into the dogwood, the runner-up position was shared by Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite, two young Texans who went out early and came in with a 68 (Crenshaw) and a 69 (Kite). Crenshaw's 68 was the low round on Monday, and he could look back and see that an opening 76 on Thursday, when it seemed as if everyone but Horton Smith broke par, may have cost him his first major title. Crenshaw fired two-under 70s in the second and third rounds; he was thus eight under for the last 54 holes. He said of his terrible first round, "I shot a dial tone. I couldn't get a number."
Crenshaw might have summed up Ballesteros the best, however: "He's a natural. He's the most imaginative player in golf. He knows how to invent shots because he grew up that way, playing with only one club—and sometimes at night. Seve's never in trouble. We see him in the trees quite a lot, but that looks normal to him."