It was a goofy Masters that could have been won by any number of speed skaters or snorkelers or tree-climbers, but in the end it went to the man who probably deserved it the most, Craig Stadler. All week long on a frustrating golf course he combined the best shots with the greatest amount of luck. When Stadler finally clinched his victory over Dan Pohl at dusk last Sunday on the first sudden-death playoff hole, the big problem around Augusta, Ga. was whether anybody could find a green jacket to fit a walrus.
Stadler is nicknamed the Walrus because he is built like a freezer and he has a mustache that is only slightly smaller than the forest around Lake Tahoe, where he lives. But over much of the four rounds of last week's tournament he didn't really look like anything but the very fine golfer he is. Stadler can do an irate on you at times, but he kept that part of his personality under firm control, give or take a snarl. The rest of the time he defied his appearance by stroking putts across the glassy and puzzling Augusta National greens with the delicacy of a heart surgeon, and he hit some irons and woods and recovery shots that you could build monuments to.
After three rounds, it was Stadler's tournament to win or lose, because he had survived the two-day opening 18 with a 75 and then added a three-under 69 and a five-under 67 to take a three-stroke lead into the final day. And after nine holes on Sunday, Stadler seemed intent on sending everyone to the veranda earlier than usual. He strolled to the 10th tee with a whopping six-shot lead. To be exact, Stadler was half a dozen strokes ahead of Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite and Tom Weiskopf. He was also six shots ahead of Pohl, but who cared? Even if you knew that Pohl was the longest hitter on the tour and even if you had noticed that on Saturday he'd made back-to-back eagles at the 13th and 14th holes and followed them with back-to-back birdies on the 15th and 16th, you also knew that he was playing in his first Masters, and that he putts cross-handed, and that he wasn't going to catch up by firing any 61.
Thirty minutes later things were even clearer. Stadler had parred 10 and 11, and he had a four-stroke lead with only seven holes to play, and now that lead was over Pohl alone. Evil things had befallen Weiskopf—two triple bogeys, for instance—while Ballesteros and Kite were either starting to lose strokes or not making a move, and Jerry Pate was yet to get back into the picture after looking for most of the week like the guy with the best chance of making a run at Stadler.
Now there were only two things to consider, history and the fact that the closing holes at Augusta can always make something happen. Golfers have blown leads as large as the one Stadler held in a major championship—just ask Arnold Palmer. In the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Palmer gave away six shots to Billy Casper over the last six holes and eventually lost in the playoff. In the 1937 Masters, Ralph Guldahl lost six strokes—and the tournament—to Byron Nelson over just two holes on jolly old Amen Corner.
But Stadler wasn't thinking any more about history than he was about Pohl at this point. As his wife, Sue, said to a friend out on the course, "Isn't it nice that Dan Pohl's doing well this week?"
If Stadler was thinking about anything, it was Ed Sneed, with whom he had been paired in 1979 when Sneed bogeyed the last three holes without hitting a truly bad shot and let slide a three-stroke lead. That Masters wound up in the lap of a bewildered Fuzzy Zoeller.
It didn't matter all that much then that Pohl, playing three groups ahead of Stadler, went on and made some more birdies and finished the round with his second consecutive 67 and the tournament with a 284, which was four under par. Swell. It would earn him a nice check. What was going to matter was how Stadler would stay out of trouble and nurse along his lead in case Pate or Ballesteros suddenly went on a birdie binge and put a little heat on him.
Well, here's how you squander a six-stroke lead on the always-capricious back nine at Augusta. Stadler hit safely over the water on the evil little par-3 12th, but he hit too far over the water and left himself a nasty chip. He chipped short and missed an eight-foot par putt. Bogey. He tried to make a bogey or something worse at the par-5 13th when he sent an unwise four-iron shot into the creek in front of the green. But the ball skipped over the water and wound up on the grass below the green, and he was able to escape with a par. Why did he go for the green?
"I wanted to make a birdie," Stadler said later. Oh, O.K.