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But Little Ben stroked in his only real monster of the Masters, the 60-footer on 10. Only seconds earlier the usually steady Nelson, who had gone to nine under with a birdie at 11, came off an iron shot on the 12th tee that splashed into the infamous Rae's Creek, far short of the green. "I was just so pumped up, I was afraid of hitting it over the green," said Nelson. "So I hit it fat." In a few crucial minutes, Crenshaw went to 11 under and Nelson double-bogeyed back to seven under. It was almost as if Ben's putt had sent a shock wave through the whole field—and perhaps it did. Little Ben is a rear-shafted relic that Crenshaw's father had given Ben for his 15th birthday.
"I've only been without it a few times in my life," said Crenshaw. "Usually when it ran up a tree."
The next big swing would come between Crenshaw and Kite at the 12th. There, Crenshaw would hit a six-iron 12 feet short of the water-guarded flag and ram home the putt for a birdie. And moments later, Kite would do what Nelson had done—find the water with a seven-iron and totally collapse with a triple-bogey six, a blow that sent him reeling to a disastrous round of 75 and a tie for sixth, the eighth time in nine years that Kite had finished in the top six. "This is always a hard club-selection hole," he said. Players used as much as a six-iron and as little as a nine-iron there during the tournament.
Crenshaw and Kite have never been close friends. So the blow was an extra hard one for Kite, because, as few people realize, Kite has yet to win his first major. In fact, in four of the last seven years, Kite has won more money than Crenshaw, though nobody seems to know it.
"We're better friends now than we were," said Kite. "Our life-styles were always a little bit different."
Said Crenshaw, "I know how Tom must feel, because I've been there."
From the 13th on in, it was Crenshaw's Masters to lose, but he wasn't about to do it. He smartly laid up at that par-5 hole and settled for a 5, he saved a par at the 14th with a 15-foot second putt that was vintage Crenshaw, then he birdied the par-5 15th after again laying up on his second. He parred 16 and slipped to a bogey at the 17th when adrenaline sent his seven-iron just over the green.
Oddly enough, even though the back nine had been a triumph for Crenshaw, there was still an element of doubt with one hole to play. There had to be, given all those terrible memories. Watson had birdied the 16th and 18th holes to close with a 69 and a total of 279, nine under. Crenshaw had to play the 18th with only a two-stroke lead, and double bogeys can be made on any hole at Augusta. Palmer had once double-bogeyed the 18th to lose a Masters to Gary Player. And now Crenshaw was on the tee—with Watson, who wins majors, in the house.
It wasn't going to happen. Crenshaw put a perfect three-wood into the fairway and a cozy five-iron onto the green, 20 feet from the cup. He two-putted for his par and his two-shot victory.
At last, the double bogeys and water hazards that had haunted him in the past had brought down others, and now he could speak of the years of distress.