This story first appeared in the April 20, 1987, issue of Sports Illustrated.
Of the dozens of ways Greg Norman could have lost the 1987 Masters Tournament, this had to be the unlikeliest: a 140-foot chip shot that bounced twice up a grassy bank and once on the putting surface before it rolled halfway across the 11th green directly into the hole. That this miracle shot was hit by 28-year-old Larry Mize, a local boy, no less, who had won only one tournament in his six years on the PGA Tour, and that it beat the luckless Norman, the premier player in the world, on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff, made it downright unbelievable.
Yes, it was more unbelievable than the 72nd-hole bunker shot that Bob Tway holed last August to beat Norman in the PGA. Yes, once-in-a-lifetime shots have now robbed Norman of apparent victory in the last two major championships.
It was indeed an unbelievable Sunday afternoon at Augusta National. Who, for instance, would have believed that Seve Ballesteros, the toughest head-to-head player alive, would drop out of the playoff with Mize and Norman by three-putting the first playoff hole? Or that as many as nine players would be bunched within a shot of each other with nine holes to play? Or that Ben Crenshaw, the '84 champion, would hold the lead or a share of it for eight holes, scrambling heroically all the while, only to lose it by pulling an easy five-foot uphill putt for par at the 17th?
Norman was definitely not a believer. "I didn't think Larry would get down in two, and I was right. He got down in one," Norman said Sunday night. "This is probably the toughest loss I've ever had. The PGA was tough, but this one...because of the shot...I think I'm more disappointed now than in any tournament I've played."
Sunday was a struggle for all concerned as the beautifully conditioned Augusta course dried by a week of sun and wind, its greens as hard and fast as a purist could want them to be took on all comers and fought them to a draw. Mize shot a 285 for 72 holes, and no eventual winner had scored that high since Jack Nicklaus's 286 in 1972.
It is frequently said, frequently enough that the statement now goes unquestioned even by the players, that the Masters is always decided on the back nine on Sunday. This year's tournament, however, didn't begin to sort itself out until the 71st hole. Seventeen was the hole where Ballesteros and Norman both made the birdies that moved them into a tie for the lead at three under and where Crenshaw saw his chance for a second Masters championship slide by the hole. Mize had to wait for the 18th.
Mize had briefly led the tournament at the 13th, where he birdied to pull a shot ahead of Roger Maltbie and Crenshaw, but bogeys at the 14th and 15th had dropped him back to two under and into a tie with practically everybody. Mize was expected to make bogeys in such circumstances. What was not expected was that he would hit a perfect three-wood, a perfect nine-iron and a perfect six-foot putt for a perfect birdie on the 72nd hole of a tournament he was not supposed to figure in, much less win, to give him a share of the lead again.
Playing in the group behind Mize was Ballesteros, whose second shot at 18, an eight-iron from the middle of the fairway, caught the bunker to the right of the green. For anyone else a bunker shot onto the dangerous 18th green with a third Masters victory hanging in the balance would have been unsettling, to say the least. But Seve in sand is like Brer Rabbit in a brier patch: He's home. Long before he ever played a real golf course, Ballesteros was hitting sand shots on the beach at Pedrena, the village on the shore of the Bay of Santander in the north of Spain that is still his home. The bunker shot stopped six feet away, the putt rolled dead into the heart of the cup, and Ballesteros's share of the three-way tie was safe, for the moment.
The only player with a chance to spoil things was Norman, who tore into his tee shot at the 18th as if he intended to drive the green. The two-part bunker on the left side of the fairway, near the top of a long hill, was built in 1966 to discourage players, Nicklaus in particular, from driving to a plateau left of the fairway, about 280 yards off the tee (something only Nicklaus could do in those days), from where he would have an easy wedge shot to the green. On Sunday, Norman, who can hit a drive farther than Nicklaus could in his prime, merely gauged the distance to the far side of the bunker 285 yards and told his caddie, "I know we can hit over it."
Norman did, and from there he had 91 yards to the green. On his previous Sunday at Augusta, a year ago, Norman was in the middle of the fairway and needed only to make a routine par to force a playoff with Nicklaus. But he flew his approach well into the crowd on the right and made a bogey. This time he hit a sand wedge to the green, leaving himself a 20-foot putt for a birdie that would win the tournament.
"I still don't know how the putt stayed out," Norman said an hour or so after he had watched his ball trickle over the left lip of the cup. "When it was about a foot, foot and a half out, I said to myself, Don't say a word, because it's going in. I just couldn't believe it missed, nor could my caddie, Pete (Bender). He was just as taken aback as I was. But it was a good tournament, I suppose. We made it exciting again this year."
Mize, who stirred the galleries to the verge of frenzy through the last regulation holes and the two holes of the playoff, was born in Augusta and played his junior golf on the course of Augusta National's next-door neighbor, the Augusta Country Club. His father, a retired telephone company executive, took up golf at 35 and led his three children, of whom Larry is the youngest, into the game. "He was 13 when he first beat me," says Charles Mize. "I shot 75 and he shot 74, and I haven't beaten him since." For Mize, golf was it. "Larry never had to mow the grass because he might get a blister that would affect his golf," says Mize's sister, Lisa, who was in his gallery Sunday, along with Larry's wife, Bonnie, and their year-old son, David.