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With three holes to play in the Masters, Ed Sneed had a three-stroke lead over Tom Watson and Fuzzy Zoeller, plus an appointment with Augusta National's tailor. But Sneed bogeyed 16 and 17, and a chip shot left him with a six-foot putt for par on the 18th hole and his first major title. He stroked the ball, and, well, for Sneed it will always be hanging there on the lip. That set up the first sudden-death playoff in Masters history. On the second extra hole, Zoeller rolled in a birdie putt, and the green jacket was his. "It was like a children's birthday party," Sneed reflected after it was all over. "The presents were there, the cake was on the table, and I made a wish. Only I forgot to blow out the candles."
It was hip, hip, hooray for Jerilyn Britz, who won her first tournament, the Open.
Hale Irwin's balancing act included his second U.S. Open victory, a near-miss in the British open and a new set of braces.
Lon Hinkle changed the name of the tournament to the Arbor Day Open.
WATSON'S CROWNING ACHIEVEMENTS
All Tom Watson did in 1979 was win five tournaments, finish second in four others and collect—all for the third straight time-the PGA Player of the Year award, the Vardon Trophy for low stroke average and the money-winning title. His earnings of $462,636 broke his own annual record. He also became a father. "I'm ready to hand the crown over to him," said former king Arnold Palmer, "and it looks like Jack is, too." Although Nicklaus did not officially abdicate, he did finish 71st on the money list, the first time in his 18 years on the tour that he came in worse than fourth. There was one thing that Watson didn't do—win a major tournament. He had his chance in the Masters playoff, and he was within striking distance in the British Open, but he finished tied for 12th in the PGA and missed the cut altogether at the U.S. Open.
That was the Open that immortalized Hale Irwin's orthodonture and Lon Hinkle's tree. As to the tree, Hinkie discovered a shortcut to the 8th green at the Inverness course in Toledo, Ohio and in the opening round drove down the adjacent 17th fairway, saving himself 75 yards on the par-5 hole. He easily birdied the hole, and early the next morning USGA officials planted a scraggly Black Hills spruce that Hinklke, a co-leader after the first round, simply went around for another birdie. After that, though, his game went tim-berrrrr. Meanwhile, Irwin, flashing his tin grin, played so well that he could afford to double-bogey and bogey the last two holes and still win his second Open by two strokes. Irwin also led the British Open going into the final round, but he was overtaken by Severiano Ballesteros, who shot a wild 70, hitting only one fairway off the tee. In the PGA, David Graham's double bogey on the 72nd hole forced him into a playoff with Ben Crenshaw, but Graham's birdie putt on the third extra hole gave him back the tournament. Larry Nelson, the No. 2 money-winner, shed his anonymity by leading the U.S. Ryder Cup team to victory. Nancy Lopez was even better than she was in 1978, winning eight tournaments and $197,488. And Jerilyn Britz, a 36-year-old former schoolteacher, got her first tour victory in the Women's Open.