Friday started with a bulletin and a breeze, and both meant trouble. The first, News Bulletin No. 12, was signed by R. T. Jones Jr. and Clifford Roberts and said, in part: "The world's finest golfers responded splendidly to the most ideal course and weather conditions we have ever been privileged to offer. Our golf course officials will follow our established procedure with respect to pin locations and tee markers. We anticipate and hope for more low scoring today." Oh, sure. And Rome hoped Hannibal wouldn't mind the Alps. What the golf course officials did was move the tee markers back and put the pins in some fanciful positions. The effect of their effort was abetted by the wind, which is especially nasty at Augusta because it cuts and swirls through the giant pines in unpredictable patterns. Now subtle skills were needed, and the Masters was for masters once again.
Defending Champion Palmer, the tournament's only four-time winner, took command. His opening-round 70 had looked anemic alongside Player's 65 and all the 67s and 68s that filled the scoreboard. Already the Palmer-doubters were beginning to write him off. But Arnold had actually played quite well. His driving was excellent and he was hitting his irons firmly. Only his putting had lacked authority. He had two three-putt greens but, more important, he had at least two good birdie putts that he seemed to hit lamely off to the low side of the hole.
On the Monday before the tournament started he had received five new Arnold Palmer putters from his company in Chattanooga, though they could not be told from his famous old one because the manufacturer is now dipping this model putter into copper sulphate to give it a rusted look. But not even instant rust could help Arnold's confidence. He had been fussing about his putting for weeks. "He has to get his confidence back," his wife Winnie said. "Last night Arnie was certain that he was the worst putter who ever stepped onto a golf course. Just try and convince him he is wrong. The big difference between Jack and Arnie right now is confidence. It does not occur to Jack that he can miss a putt. It is when you get older that you realize you can miss them."
Arnie began his Friday round in a nine-way tie for 12th place, with a different putter in his bag and, almost surely, a slighted feeling because his name was not on the leader's scoreboard. On the first green he sank a perilous 18-footer for a birdie 3. On the second, he two-putted from just off the back edge of the green for a birdie 4. Quickly his name reappeared on the scoreboards, one of which noted him as A. Palmer (is there a B. Palmer?). On the third hole he sank a 40-foot chip shot for a birdie, and now he was within two strokes of Player.
By the time he got to the 13th Arnie's Army was in full cry, and he was ready to gamble. To shouts of, "Go for it, Arnie," he hit a nervy three-wood out of a nasty lie against a strong wind. It carried the water and reached the green, where he two-putted for a birdie. The same choice of club was later to cost Nicklaus a bogey when his ball just barely cleared the creek and then rolled back into the water. But Arnold's tremendous shot landed well on, and the Army loved it.
Palmer got his birdie at the 13th and another at the par-5 15th after an equally daring wood shot that was hit into the gallery — very likely on purpose, but soldiers in any Army must be prepared to suffer. He coasted in from there with a 68 that might easily have been three or four strokes better. It was the best score of the day by two strokes and, considering the conditions, probably the best round of the tournament so far. The only other subpar rounds among those who survived the cut were Ken Nagle's 70 and 71s by Nicklaus and Bobby Nichols. Player, who came in with a rather dicey 73, was now locked in a three-way tie for the lead with Palmer and Nicklaus at 138. Where a few hours earlier Ben Hogan's tournament record had seemed in serious jeopardy, now it appeared safe again for years to come.
What had happened to so drastically change the character of Augusta National? It was agreed that, as Palmer put it, "The course played almost as hard today as it played easy yesterday. The pin placements were as difficult as I've ever seen for a day like today. My guess is that they had a little thing in the back of their minds about some 30 or more scores under par yesterday. They didn't want to see that again."
"You could drop a bag of balls on some of the fairways and not hit one of them closer than 10 feet to the hole," said Player. Tony Lema thought the course played "six strokes tougher," which was the difference between his scores on Thursday and Friday.
On Saturday everyone settled down to watch the contest between the leaders — Palmer, Player and Nicklaus — and if the situation had a decided similarity to a television series called Big Three Golf, well, that's show biz.
Nicklaus was the first of the trio to leave the tee, and after a routine par on the first hole he came up with a remarkable birdie on 2, a 555-yard par-5. His tee shot was of epic proportions and could have resulted in epic trouble. It started to the right, began to fade even more and was last visible over a pine forest and headed in the general direction of Atlanta. The trees eventually slowed the ball, and it fell in a bed of pine needles about 25 yards deep in the woods. When Jack walked up his face was a mask of concern. Then he looked toward the green and discovered a wide-open path for his shot. He raised his eyes to heaven, his face broke into a wide grin and from that moment on he was never in danger of losing the 1965 Masters. He hit a three-iron out of the woods, put a wedge on the green and stood over a 22-foot putt with a slightly different stance than the one he had used the day before. It was wider and more open, and it worked, for the ball went in.
With that, the deluge was on. Par, birdie, par, birdie, birdie, birdie, par for an outgoing 31. At each tee he was greeted with thundering applause. ("I hope it doesn't wake him up," said his wife Barbara on the 9th hole.)
Though Jack did not know it, it was his birdie on the 7th hole that caused his biggest foe double trouble, for it came as Arnold Palmer was about to hit a pitch shot to the 2nd green. Palmer already knew that Jack had suddenly gotten three strokes ahead. Now came the roar from 7, which adjoins the 2nd hole. "It shook me," said Arnold later. "I started pressing. It was the turning point."
When Jack sank an eight-foot putt on the 16th hole for his eighth birdie of the afternoon, he needed only two pars to tie the 64 that Lloyd Mangrum shot in 1940. He was now 14 strokes under par for the tournament, which quite obviously put Hogan's record within easy reach. At that point, his nearest pursuer, Player, was seven strokes to the rear. Palmer, who was still struggling with his balky putter, was back even farther.
As it turned out, Nicklaus tucked away his final two pars to equal the 18-hole record, and Player, thanks to birdies on the two par-5 holes on the back nine, pulled to within five strokes of him with an excellent 69. Palmer's shaky 72 left him trailing by eight strokes and out of contention.
Strangely enough, Nicklaus was not at the very top of his form during this monumental round of golf. He hit five drives that he rated as "bad," but the rest of his game was so sharp and his putting touch was so delicate that he demonstrated the single most depressing fact that the touring pros have to contemplate in their spare time: even when he is not at his absolute peak, Nicklaus can shoot the kind of scores that others can achieve only on a day of miracles. Bob Jones was not talking idly when he recently described Nicklaus as "the greatest golfer who ever lived."
It took a bit of prodding from the press before Nicklaus would eventually concede that his 64 was "as fine a round as I've ever had." Even then he felt obliged to qualify the statement by adding, "except for my bad drives; but as far as knowing what I was doing with the ball." He refused to speculate on what the next day might bring. "I just want to finish one stroke ahead of the field," he insisted. "I'll just go out there and try to play it the way I did today." When he realized what he had said, he broke out laughing.
Sunday was strictly for laughs, and whatever the scalpers were getting for tickets they should have been ashamed to be selling entry to a sporting event that was already over. Before Nicklaus could even tee off, the rest of the contenders — if that's what they could be called — were having more troubles. Nicklaus never did have any, and though he later said he did not relax until he was past the dangerous 12th hole, his 69 had a commanding, effortless air about it. Without a doubt he had taken possession of the Augusta National course as well as seizing a host of its records. When his last putt fell he snatched the ball out of the hole and joyously threw it into the crowd. Within minutes he was accepting the traditional green coat and the big trophy, and Masters officials can be excused if they were keeping a close eye on the Eisenhower cottage. It was about the only thing around that Nicklaus had not taken as his own.
"I have an aversion to superlatives," Bobby Jones told Jack Nicklaus at the presentation ceremonies, "but this was the greatest performance in all golfing history."
And then, moments later and before a much smaller audience, the man who founded the Masters added another thought. "Palmer and Player played superbly," he said. "Nicklaus plays a game with which I am not familiar."