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Suddenly it was on to the back nine on Sunday. On 11, Langer tapped in for par, and then Beck made par. On 12, Langer aimed for the pin but flew the green. Chip-up par. Beck missed a birdie putt. Par. At the famous dogleg-left par-5 13th, Langer, now nursing a two-shot margin, drew a drive breathtakingly close to the trees on the left side but wound up in good shape. Then, without a moment's hesitation, he hit a three-iron 205 yards over Rae's Creek to within 20 feet of the pin and made the eagle putt.
A three-iron over Rae's Creek with a two-shot lead? Are you crazy? "I would always go for it," Langer said later. "I don't care if I have a four-shot lead. I don't even think about it."
Beck birdied the hole but fell three strokes behind with four holes to play. Still close enough. Along came the 500-yard, par-5 15th, the canvas of Masters legend. Gene Sarazen made double eagle here in 1935 to beat Craig Wood. Langer won in '85 thanks to Curtis Strange's rinsing one in the pond in front of the green. Nicklaus's miracle in 1986 wouldn't have happened without Seve Ballesteros dunking one here. And Nick Faldo wouldn't have won in 1990 without making birdie here while Floyd laid up for par.
So now Langer and Beck trundled onto the stage. Beck struck a perfect drive. He was a good 10 yards past Langer, who was just out of range to try and knock his second shot over the water in front of the green. Beck had 215 yards to carry the pond—clearly the throw-up zone, but what choice did he have? If he went for the green and made it, he would have a chance to make an eagle and shrink Langer's collar by about three sizes. On the par-5 2nd hole Beck had faced almost the same shot—250 yards to the green. There he had absolutely nailed a three-wood to set up a near eagle.
As Langer and caddie Coleman walked ahead, they were sure Beck would go for it on 15. "He's got to," Coleman said. "If he wants any chance to win this tournament, he's got to."
Behind them Beck's caddie, Pete Bender, was of the same mind. "We didn't come this far to finish second," he told his man. Beck, however, wasn't sure: "I figured I always had 16 and you can generally make birdie there and 17 was down breeze and anything can happen on 18."
In fact, Beck had birdied only once on those three holes all week. No matter. With a Cadillac bumper sticking out from behind curtain number 1 and a toaster oven peeking out from behind curtain number 3, Beck chose the toaster oven. He laid up. "I stood there trying to make a decision whether it was worth the risk," said Beck. "Finally, I decided I'd played so well, I didn't want to throw away the entire round on just one shot."
If Arnold Palmer had thought like Chip Beck on the golf course, we would all be bowling today. If this wasn't "worth the risk," what was? Greensboro? "Let me tell you something," said Beck defiantly. "Anytime you can get a wedge in your hand with an open pin, you're better off." With a wedge in his hand and an open pin, Beck pitched over the green and had to chip back to make par. Langer rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt to increase his lead to four strokes.
"If I were in his shoes, yes, most certainly I would have gone for it," said Langer. "I was surprised he laid up. But I don't mind so much."
Guess not. The rest of the round was marching bands and police escorts. Par on 16. Par on 17. Safe bogey on 18. Un-Couple the jacket and order der Wiener schnitzel for next year's champions dinner.