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Arnold Palmer Gets A Big Revenge

Arnold Palmer at Augusta National, 1962
AP Photo
Palmer playing a bunker shot in Monday's playoff.

This article first appeared in the April 16, 1962 issue of Sports Illustrated.

The golf duel of the year was settled in an extraordinary playoff of a three-way tie on Monday as indomitable Arnold Palmer, performing in that high-tension, high-rolling fashion that electrifies (one could almost say electrocutes) his galleries, won his third Masters championship in five years. In so doing he grandly evened the score against those two foes who had combined to dramatically defeat him a year ago: Gary Player and the Augusta National's 18th hole. In victory Palmer displayed, stunningly, the interior texture of his remarkable game. It is a game composed of human failings that let him fall seemingly hopelessly far behind and of superhuman resources that enable him to come fighting back as no golfer ever has before. Ahead on Sunday, he gave his lead away with woeful play, then—at the equivalent of five minutes to midnight—got two birdies to struggle into the playoff against Dow Finsterwald and Gary Player. On Monday he played nine dismal holes again, falling three strokes behind Player. Then, like a counter-puncher who revels in temporary adversity, he struck back. He birdied the long 10th hole and the difficult par-3 12th. He smashed a daring shot to the green and two-putted for a birdie on the treacherous 13th, then sank a 16-footer to birdie the 14th. Galleries call it "charging," and it's a word they reserve just for Palmer. In five holes he went from three strokes down to four up. He finished with a 68 to Player's 71 and Finsterwald's 77. For Alfred Wright's story on the events that produced the closest Masters ever, turn the page.

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE...

Anywhere else it would have been a sporting fantasy too absurd to believe. But when the 72 holes of the 26th Masters Golf Tournament ended in an unprecedented three-way tie last Sunday afternoon, and when the three players concerned turned out to be about the most dramatic combination of personalities there, it was hard even to be surprised. The finish of the Masters has become, year after year, a piece of fiction—characters by Saki, plot by Hitchcock—and the 1962 event enlarged but did not alter the pattern.

The estimated 40,000 spectators, the largest crowd in the many long years of golf who surged and roared their way across the rolling terrain of the Augusta National course, saw Arnold Palmer blow a two-stroke lead by hitting golf shots that would have sent a duffer scurrying to his pro for help, and then, typically, come crushing back with two last-gasp birdies just when he had seemed utterly defeated. They saw Gary Player, Palmer's arch-antagonist and the man who snatched the title when Arnold all but had it won last year, miss a 12-inch putt and alternate strangely between displays of rare caution and ill-starred boldness. And finally they saw Dow Finsterwald, who epitomizes golfing conservatism as Palmer does gambling rashness, carefully and quietly become the big third man in what everyone had assumed was going to be a two-man battle. As the crowd drifted away in the Augusta dusk the huge numbers on the scoreboard told the exciting and exasperating plot with which the Masters was torturing the nerves of its followers this year:

Palmer: 280

Player: 280

Finsterwald: 280

The fabric of a Masters tournament, particularly one as eventful as last week's, can be formed by a sequence of events as episodic as the pageant on an Aubusson tapestry. Before play started, for instance, there was the arrival of a herald from GHQ announcing that the 1962 army of competitors would total 110, considerably more than the previous high. (Grumblings heard from the tents of the commanders where past Masters champions are in session: "Too many lousy foreigners!")

Next come the scouts who have been swarming over the course on their practice rounds. "It is playing a little longer this year," they report, the same as they have been reporting every spring since 1934.

And then the opening day appears under skies as murky as Mississippi silt. The masters of other times are there—Hogan, Snead, Demaret, Nelson—but the conspicuous figure on Thursday was Defending Champion Gary Player. Prematurely discounted in much of the early speculation, he shot a 67. Gary had played on the winter pro tour this year before flying home to his new house, two children and expectant wife in Johannesburg, South Africa. In recent years the Masters has gone to one of the leading performers in the winter tournaments, and Gary's few showings had been disappointing.

"To be honest with you," Player kept insisting in his clipped British accent, "I've been hitting the ball far better than I did last year. I've hit many more greens this year than I did last year, but I've had a complete lapse in my putting."

"Today," Player said after coming in from the first round, leading the tournament by two strokes over Julius Boros, "I played as well as I ever have, and I putted very well. I went back to the putting style I used last year when I won here. Until today I'd used a different putting style every day for the last three days, but that's not unusual for me. I never do use the same putting action for more than two weeks in a row."

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