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He had begun the tournament's final round tied for seventh place, two strokes behind the leader, Gary Player, but he had come out firing. He dropped his approach shot for an eagle 2 on the 1st hole and birdied the next two holes as he took the lead with a blistering 31 on the front nine. But as brilliantly as de Vicenzo was playing, he couldn't shake a dogged pursuer, Bob Goalby, an 11-year pro from Illinois, playing two holes back. On 17, before a cheering gallery and millions on national television, de Vicenzo sank an eight-foot putt for a birdie 3 to go 12 under. But there was an answering roar from the crowd at 15 as Goalby sank his putt for an eagle 3 to stay even with the leader.
The emotional de Vicenzo was feeling the pressure. Gambling for another birdie on 18, he ignored his caddie's advice and used a five-iron instead of a six for his second shot. He hit the ball over the green and into the crowd and finally bogeyed the hole. Even so, he finished 11 under par at 277, then the fourth-best score in Masters history. But he was still grousing over his one bad hole of the day when he cursorily checked the scorecard kept for him, according to tournament protocol, by his playing partner, Tommy Aaron, and then signed the card, making it official. Goalby, meanwhile, had three-putted the 17th for a bogey of his own. He needed a par on 18 to tie de Vicenzo and force a playoff. Or so he thought.
Aaron, it developed, had mistakenly given de Vicenzo a par 4 on the 17th instead of the birdie 3 he had actually shot. The error gave de Vicenzo a final score for the day of 66, rather than 65, and a tournament score of 278 instead of 277. The matter was brought to the attention of Masters cofounders Bobby Jones and Cliff Roberts, who agreed that a rule is a rule, and according to USGA Rule No. 38, a player who signs an incorrect scorecard faces one of two consequences: If the score on the card is lower than what he shot, he is disqualified; if it is higher, the incorrect score must stand.
"I play golf all over the world for 30 years," de Vicenzo said, anguishing in broken English, "and now all I can think of is what a stupid I am to be wrong in this wonderful tournament. Never have I done such a thing before."
De Vicenzo returned to the 18th green to watch Goalby, who was unaware of the boner, finish his round. Goalby's birdie putt fell two feet short. De Vicenzo waited miserably for the next putt. "That was the first and only time in my life I wished someone would miss," he says now. But Goalby sank the putt for a 277. He was the Masters champion on a technicality. "I'm very happy I won," he said. "But I'm really sorry I won it the way I did. I'd much rather have done it in a playoff."
There were letters of protest from all over the world to Masters officials. De Vicenzo himself estimates that he received "one million letters and telegrams of sympathy." Lawyers crowded forward to take his case, but de Vicenzo would not file suit. "In this world, if everybody follows the rules, the world would be a better place, people would be better," he says from his home near Buenos Aires.
For a time it was difficult to tell who actually had won that '68 Masters. In consolation, tournament officials gave de Vicenzo as well as Goalby a winner's trophy. De Vicenzo made an estimated $250,000 in endorsements and got a handsome contract from Coca-Cola. Goalby was either ignored or defamed. "Roberto got all the sympathy," Goalby says today. "I got all the hate mail. People actually thought I had kept his card and given him a higher score."
De Vicenzo is sympathetic. "I don't think Goalby got all the prestige and all the money he should have," he says. "I make the mistake, and to many people, he no win the tournament....
"Before, I cry, because it was the Masters. But after 22 years, I receive so many good things from the game, things maybe if I don't make the mistake, I never receive.... I made more money after the Masters mistake than I did after winning the British Open in '67. So many people don't remember I won that tournament. They say this is the guy who made the mistake in the Masters."
De Vicenzo, Goalby and Aaron now compete on the PGA Senior tour, but they almost never talk about the unfortunate event of 22 years ago. And yet de Vicenzo still gets his share of mostly good-natured ribbing. "It is inside me for all my life," he says. "When I forget, someone always comes over to remind me. When I am feeling good, I joke about it when people bring it up. When I feel bad, I just say, 'Go to hell!' "