This story first appeared in the April 21, 1975, issue of Sports Illustrated.
Yeah, but Manny, we want Bob Red-ford for all three leading men. Okay, Jimmy Caan for Weiskopf, but Red-ford's got to play those two blond guys, Nicklaus and Miller. We call it The Greatest Golf Tournament Ever Played. So people argue. Who'll know? One blond guy makes a putt from here to Encino, and then the other two guys miss putts on the 18th from so close the hole looks as big as Coldwater Canyon. Now the blond guy who wins, Nicklaus, who is already the best there ever was, he marries his one-iron and takes his putter for a mistress. Cut and print. Ciao, baby.
There was something about the 1975 Masters that was cinematic from the beginning. The setup was perfect, all of the world's best golfers coming into the thing primed, poised, inspired, eager. And sure enough it began to unfold toward what promised to be a historic climax, one way or another. But no one could possibly imagine that in the final hours it would become so excruciatingly exciting and monumentally meaningful in terms of the characters involved.
Honestly, if someone had said to one of those brilliant screenwriters, do me a script where the year's first major tournament comes along and on the last day, Sunday, April 13, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf go out there and undergo the most unbearable of sporting pressure and provide the most inconceivable of thrills, hole after hole, until the whole business is ultimately decided by the vagaries of the game itself, what would have been written was precisely what happened last week in Augusta, Ga.
This was the 39th annual Masters, but you can take all of your double eagles and your playoffs and your Arnold Palmers and Ben Hogans and Byron Nelsons, and nothing has ever equaled what happened when Nicklaus bagged his fifth Masters and his 15th major championship. The record will show that Nicklaus stood up to, outgutted, outmiracled whatever a Johnny Miller who stung the Augusta National with closing rounds of 65 and 66 and a Tom Weiskopf who rushed home with 66 and 70. The cold print will reveal that Nicklaus managed it by starting swifter, with opening rounds of 68 and 67, which gave him a six-stroke lead on Weiskopf and an 11-stroke lead on Miller through 36 holes.
But then things started to get confusing, as they invariably do at Augusta, and after some fairly hysterical occurrences on Saturday, when Miller and Weiskopf stormed forward while Nicklaus was agonizing through a round of 73, the scene was all set for something goshawful to happen on Sunday.
To appreciate the unraveling of nerves over the last nine holes, with all three of them playing in one another's shadows, you ought to know how they blistered their way over the front nine through all of the Augusta evils that CBS-TV has yet to get on camera. Here was the situation: Weiskopf was leading after 54 holes by one shot over Nicklaus and by four over Miller. No one else was in serious contention, although so many legendary names had played reasonably well Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper among them that this Masters had seemed to be something of a Hall of Fame club championship.
Nicklaus was paired with Tom Watson, one of the young stars, in the next to last twosome of the day. And right behind them were Weiskopf and Miller. They would be able to see one another on practically every shot, and when they could not, there would certainly be those thunderous roars and prolonged groans from the Augusta crowds to keep them informed of what the others were doing.
This then is how it went on the early holes as Nicklaus gouged out the 68 and 276 that gave him victory, as Miller streaked to his 66 and the 277 that left him in second for the second time, and as Weiskopf carved out a 70 and the 277 that made him a runner-up for a heart-wrenching fourth time. Like this: Nicklaus bogeys the 1st hole; they par. Nicklaus and Miller birdie the 2nd; Weiskopf pars. Weiskopf and Nicklaus birdie the 3rd; Miller bogeys. Nicklaus and Weiskopf par the 4th; Miller birdies. Nicklaus birdies the 5th with an iron shot that swallows the flag. Through five holes: Nicklaus and Weiskopf tied, Miller four back.
Onward, drama lovers. Miller and Weiskopf birdie the 6th; Jack pars. Everybody pars 7. Miller birdies 8. Into the 9th, the turn, where Nicklaus and Miller both nail the flag and get their putts for birdies while Weiskopf pars. Miller is out in four under, Jack in three under and Tom in two under. Nicklaus and Weiskopf are tied, Miller two back. Can anyone really stand the back nine?
On Sunday night Nicklaus would try to describe what this sort of situation is like. "Fun," he would call it. "To be out there in the middle of something like that is fun," he would insist. "You're inspired, you're eager, you're excited. You almost want to break into a dead run when you hit a good shot. It's what you've prepared yourself for, what you wait a year for. To know you can look back some day and know you were a part of something like it, that's just great."
There is an old saying that the real Masters doesn't begin until the back nine on Sunday. It's a tiresome thing to point out, but it continues to be true. Amen Corner does it. Those holes with the water and shadows and swirling breezes and demon options. Plus the aquatic dangers of 15 and 16 and the last treacherous green where so many putts have ripped at the hearts of so many players.