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It was the craziest Masters ever played, very nearly the longest, among the wettest, and in the case of Jack Nicklaus perhaps his most philanthropic. Tommy Aaron, a nice, quiet fellow who seems seldom to smile because he seldom has reason, will think back on it quite differently, of course. Tommy Aaron did something he rarely does. He won. He won because Jack Nicklaus shot a horrendous 77 on Friday and then on Sunday left the Masters in a pond on the 15th hole, where he took an 8. Perhaps it would have been fitting if Tommy Aaron had acquired some scuba gear and gone back out to the 15th to collect the trophy, the check and that green jacket. Also, as souvenirs, the two golf balls Nicklaus hit in there.
O.K., so that is not entirely fair. Aaron deserves a considerable amount of credit. While Nicklaus was shooting a marvelous 66 on Monday, trying to retake from all those blue-collar chaps the tournament he had turned over to them earlier—and in fact scaring off all but a few—Aaron had a fine and brave 68 himself, refusing to come apart as he almost always has in the past.
Aaron is one of those golfers on the tour you never seem to hear from. He is a tall guy with glasses and a billed cap and a loose swing and he can nearly hide from the crowd even when the fairways are roped off. He went nine years on the tour before he won his first tournament, the Canadian Open, and just about everybody agreed that the main reason for that statistic was that Aaron had a swing with more things that could go wrong with it under pressure than the lead car in a freeway traffic jam.
So why did it happen differently last Monday? Why was Aaron for the first time in his career the strongest, most confident looking player on the course? It might have had something to do with the birdies he scored on the first three holes, getting off to an emphatic start, but more probably it was because he had little or no fear of anyone around him. Who did?
With Nicklaus then so far behind, why shouldn't Tommy Aaron consider himself as capable of winning the tournament as anyone else? Remarkably calm and self-assured all the way, even after he wavered slightly with bogeys at the 10th and 11th holes, Aaron went right back to making birdies—two more, and six for the day—and survived Nicklaus' closing rush and that of the other contending peasant, J. C. Snead, who briefly took the lead but put a ball in the water at the 12th hole the way J.C. Sneads are supposed to.
Aaron was certainly strengthened by the crowds, being a Georgia lad. All day they were cheering largely for Tommy and Nicklaus, who was easy to root for, considering the comeback he was attempting. Here comes Jack. Back from Forest Lawn. But he never made it back far enough, only tying the young Englishman, Peter Oosterhuis, and Jim Jamieson for third at 285 behind Aaron's winning 283.
This Masters began like many others. It was even a bit old-fashioned in that the weather had the kind of chill it seems it used to have for at least one of the four rounds. And then there was Aaron with a 68 that gave him the first-round lead. Aaron had often been a factor in previous Masters, although he had never finished better than fifth. He had led, or been close to the lead, only to lapse into his habit of swinging from birdies to bogeys, from eagles to double bogeys, from woods to creeks to flag-sticks and back again. Then, too, Nicklaus was up there close with his 69—a just-right score for him.
It was mutually decided all across Augusta that night that—ho hum, oh well, it figures, told you so—the tournament was already over on the first day. Nicklaus had shot the 69 with considerable ease, and none of the other favorites were anywhere close. Now the wind would stop, and Jack would score even better on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Or if the wind continued to blow, no one else would cope with it as well as Nicklaus. Tell you what. Let's all meet later at the Cadaver Supper Club and decide who is going to beat Aaron out for second.
When Friday's second round began, it confirmed the notions of Thursday evening. The day was glorious, the blossoms were beautiful, the breezes were quiet and the sun shone. Nicklaus rapped an eight-iron up to the 1st green and the ball sat down right by the pin. Gimme birdie. Now he was four under par, the co-leader, and with the weather and all, and Jack wanting to take a record fifth Masters and his 14th major championship, the one that would break his tie with the ghost of Bobby Jones, well, why wouldn't Nicklaus go ahead and fire a 63 today and win the thing by, say, nine or 10 strokes?
That is how it was as Nicklaus went to the 2nd tee with his playing companion, the engaging amateur Ben Crenshaw, a mere college junior. And it was from this moment on that the Masters went total cuckoo, with its unlikely brigade of contenders, with its wild weather, and with wild Jack Nicklaus.