This story first appeared in the April 18, 1960, issue of Sports Illustrated.
John G. Zimmerman/SI
Ever since the second Masters in 1935, when Gene Sarazen unfurled his famous double eagle, the annual tournament in Augusta has produced a high number of fabulous finishes. In recent years Billy Joe Patton, Jack Burke and Art Wall have performed perfect prodigies on the final day, and last Sunday Arnold Palmer furnished another climax that for sheer melodrama makes a Hitchcock plot sound like A Child's Garden of Verses.
As every old Masters hand knows, the 13th and 15th are the most likely holes for picking up strokes on par on the severe back nine of the Augusta National. These two par-5s are filled with danger but, 475 and 520 yards long respectively, they can be reached in two shots, particularly by a golfer who can hit the ball as far as Arnold Palmer. On the fourth and final round of the 24th Masters, Palmer came to these two holes needing to pick up a birdie on either of them to draw even with Ken Venturi and Dow Finsterwald who, paired together, were playing some four holes ahead of him, steadily matching par down the stretch in a tense head-to-head duel.
Palmer failed to get his birdie on the 13th. He carried the creek before the green with his second shot, a three-wood, but the ball bounded over the green into a trap and he took three to get down. He also failed to pick up his birdie on the 15th. Here his drive down the left side of the fairway left him stymied by a tall pine, and he was forced to play an intentional hook with his one-iron which didn't quite come off. By this time Venturi and Finsterwald had finished. On the 18th Dow had missed the tough eight-foot sidehiller he needed for his par 4, but Ken had made his par and at the time he seemed a fairly certain winner. Palmer's best chances to pick up that all-important birdie were now behind him and the holes were running out fast.
Besides being a superb technician who hits beautifully pure golf shots, Arnold Palmer is known for his broad-backed stamina and his courage, and in this tight corner he proceeded to give a demonstration of those qualities that will draw gasps of awe and admiration, and countless times his finish will be recounted in the future. On the short 16th, he made his par 3, but there was a moment when it looked like he had his birdie. Putting uphill from 35 feet away, he left the flagstick in and his bold putt hit it and glanced off. Had the pin been out, the ball might have dropped, but it might also have run seven feet past it was moving that fast.
Only two holes left now. On the 17th, a par-4, 400 yards downwind, the pin was set in the center well to the back of the green on a mild up-slope. After a good drive, Arnold played an eight-iron pitch that hit the middle of the green and sat down quickly, much more quickly than he had bargained it would. It left him about 27 feet below the cup. Twice he walked away from the putt, distracted by spectators behind the green, directly in his line, who were moving back and forth. Over the ball a third time he tapped it firmly. It was on the line but did it have enough legs? The ball hesitated at the lip of the cup and then toppled in. As it disappeared, Palmer leaped into the air in a crazy dance step. He had gotten that birdie after all.
On to the 18th, a par-4 420 yards long, most of them uphill, and the wind against Palmer. As Palmer later related, his first concern was to make sure of his par and a tie with Venturi. He kept his drive away from the right and had a fine straightaway shot at the pin set on the lower deck, a bit to the right. He won the tournament with his approach shot, a six-iron punched a shade to keep it low into the wind. The ball struck two feet to the right of the stick, almost hit it as the terrific stuff on it sent it spinning to the left and subsided five feet to the left of the flag and slightly below it. Arnold did not fuss much with the putt "I just tried to remember what my old friend George Low says, 'Keep your head down and stay still.' " He played it on a line just outside the left corner of the cup, and it dropped.
It took Arnold a moment to realize that it was all over, all won. He retrieved his ball and walked a normal stride when he suddenly started jumping all over the place.
How the Masters almost annually contrives such incredible finishes is something no one can explain, not even Mr. Clifford Roberts, the tournament chairman, but come they do and they leave you limp and staggering. Long before Palmer's 11th hour heroics, from the tournament's very outset, in fact, this was an exceptionally exciting Masters. Played on a course which invited attacking play the late spring had made the greens slow and holding it was hotly fought and punctuated with sudden turns of fortune of such unusual character that the four days were something of an emotional experience.
On the first day there were two unforgettable rounds, an almost errorless 67 by Palmer that put him out in front by two shots, and a 73 by Venturi. Out in a record-tying 31 and playing like a machine, Ken wobbled a little on the 11th green which he three-putted. On the short 12th he pulled his tee shot badly into the bank of rough over the green, and when he proceeded to change his stance at least a dozen times in a minute, he gave the impression of being extremely flustered. Everyone began to wonder if this were to be a re-enactment of his tragic coming-apart on the last round in the 1956 Masters. Events confirmed the fears. He took a double bogey on that 12th, missed the cup from two feet on the 14th and, unable to pull himself together, three-putted the 15th and mis-hit his chip shots on the 17th and 18th for a 42 ina nightmare of a 42. I don't think anyone, not even Ken's closest friends, expected that he could come back from that echoing disaster, but there is a good deal of iron in this young man. He was back the very next day with a 69 that laid the ghost to rest right then and there. That was something to admire, wholeheartedly, as was his continued gallant play on the last two rounds that seemed to have won the tournament for him. "Ken," Bob Jones said to him at the presentation ceremonies, "it is a very great pleasure to present to you the runner-up medal, and Lord knows it ought to be a lot more."