Snead, on 16—two under
Player, on 16—one under
Nicklaus, on 13—even
Boros, on 13—even
Lema, on 14—even.
It was during the next half hour that the final scrambling took place, and the tournament was decided. Player, who was the first to finish, took bogey 5s on both the 17th and 18th holes, a depressing ending to his fine bid. Snead, while still in the lead, hit his four-iron tee shot badly at the 16th. It stopped on the front part of the green, 50 feet from the cup, and from there Snead three-putted for a bogey. Moments later he bogeyed the 18th after a poor second shot to play himself out of contention.
Lema was the next to finish, and he arrived at the 18th still even with par after his birdie on the 13th. Tony hit his second shot on 18 some 25 feet above the pin and to the right, leaving himself a terrifying downhill putt over the hump of the green with a sharp break to the right. His only hope for a tie was to sink it, for Nicklaus was again two under.
Lema looked over this scary putt with a poise that denied the torment inside him. For all one could tell, he might have been playing a $2 Nassau on Wednesday afternoon back home in San Leandro. Then he addressed the ball and barely moved it with his putter. Down the hill it rolled—curving, curving, always seeming on the verge of stopping, until, just as Tony leaped into the air, it dropped solidly into the middle of the cup.
But Nicklaus was not to be denied. At the par-5 13th he had gotten back the stroke he had lost to par. He continued without incident until the 16th, an ominous par-3 over a big pond. "I really wasn't nervous there," he said later. "It wasn't until after I'd made my birdie putt on the 16th that I began to get nervous." The putt was a 12-footer from the back of the green that curled into the hole. It put him two under par and allowed him to arrive at the 18th green needing only two putts from 25 feet for his victory. The first putt slid three feet past the hole, and he was surprised that it didn't go in. "Then I was surprised when the second one did," he said.
Surprised? He threw his cap in the air, and a grin came over his cherubic face that won't go away for a month.
It was evident at Augusta, as it was at last year's U.S. Open and at the World Series of Golf exhibition last fall with Palmer and Player, that Nicklaus has become as overwhelming and inevitable as nightfall. The very best competitors in golf may seek to avert him, as they have during the brief 15 months he has been competing as a pro, but he is obviously too strong, too determined, too skillful to be sidetracked or delayed.
The manner in which he tramples a golf course and the opposition was emphatically demonstrated on Friday, when he shot his 66 and caught the entire field except the surprising two-day leader, Mike Souchak. With a gusty wind blowing as much as 30 miles an hour, the course was resisting the golfers as stubbornly as it ever can. A long drought had hardened the sub-surface of the greens, and even the best-played approach shots refused to dig into the turf.
"Those balls wouldn't stop if they had spines on them," is the way Snead described the situation. Other complaining golfers put it far more succinctly but with far less humor.
Nicklaus started his Friday round tied for 16th place after a so-so 74 on Thursday. En route to the six-under-par performance that he delivered that afternoon he had six birdies and 12 pars. The 18th was the only green he failed to hit in par, and after overshooting it he chipped back to within 18 inches of the cup for his 4. What is more, on every one of the first six holes, his putts for birdies hit the cup, but stayed out. "I don't think I ever played a better round of golf in my life," he said later while most of the others in the field were bemoaning their bogeys and blaming their troubles on the golf course and the elements.