AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) _ On Sunday at Augusta National, 18 holes will decide the Masters. And there are memories wrapped in just about every tee, every fairway, every green and every cup.
Twenty years ago, a piece of golf history was written in a most unlikely place - the scorer’s tent at No. 18, which sits in the shadow of Augusta National’s antebellum clubhouse. There, Roberto De Vicenzo signed away a birdie and the 1968 championship.
De Vicenzo opened the final round that year with an eagle and a birdie on the first two holes and he covered the first nine in 31 strokes. On No. 17, he got his third back nine birdie and finished the day with 277 for four rounds and an apparent playoff with Bob Goalby.
But Tommy Aaron mistakenly entered a par on his playing partner’s card at No. 17 and when De Vicenzo signed it, he automatically endorsed the higher score. It left him with 278, second place and the burden of one of the most embarrassing blunders in sports.
De Vicenzo was inconsolable. With tears in his eyes, he said sadly, ″I am stupid.″
Thirty years ago, Arnold Palmer won his first major title and the first of his four Masters jackets. It was a dramatic 1-stroke victory, sealed only when Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins, playing together, missed birdie putts of less than 12 feet at No. 18 which would have forced a playoff.
Palmer won again in 1960 - using birdies on No. 17 and 18 to erase Ken Venturi’s 1-stroke lead - in 1962, when he won the Masters’ first three-way playoff, and in 1964 when he was a runaway winner by 6 strokes.
It was also at Augusta that the legions of fans called Arnie’s Army first gathered and it was at Augusta that a young player named Jack Nicklaus punctuated his challenge to Palmer’s golf supremacy.
Nicklaus won the U.S. Open in 1962 and then, a year later, at ae 23, he became the youngest Masters champion. It was the first of six Augusta National triumphs for Nicklaus.
Besides Palmer’s victory in 1962, there have been three other three-way playoffs. In 1966, Nicklaus became the first Masters champion to successfully defend his title. In 1979, Fuzzy Zoeller won the first sudden-death playoff. And in 1987, Larry Mize won the title with one of the most memorable shots ever.
Mize finished 72 holes tied with with Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. Ballesteros was eliminated on the first extra hole, No. 10, with a bogey. Then, at No. 11, Mize holed a 140-foot chip shot for a birdie that made him the champion.
″I must have been asked about it four billion times,″ Mize said of the gently bouncing ball that dropped neatly in the cup.
He never gets tired of talking about it.
Zoeller’s 1979 win followed one of the worst last-round blowups at the Masters. Ed Sneed had a five-stroke lead as the final round began but he frittered it away, surrending the last bit of his edge with bogies on the final three holes.
None of Nicklaus’ championships was more emotional than the last one, two years ago, the 50th anniversary Masters.
As he marched triumphantly down the final fairway, his caddie son at his side, Nicklaus was putting the finishing touches on one of Augusta National’s best comeback victories.
He shot a 30 on the back nine, a charge he began at No. 9 with a birdie when he was far off the pace.
With four holes to go, Nicklaus still trailed Ballesteros, the tournament leader, by four strokes. But he launched an eagle-birdie-birdie charge, every shot triggering roars from the crowd.
By the time Nicklaus finished with a par at No. 18, Ballesteros had disappeared in the water at No. 15. Greg Norman could have tied but he bogeyed the last hole. And when Tom Kite, needing a birdie for a tie, parred it, Nicklaus had another green jacket, perhaps, at age 46, the one he savors most.
In 1975, Nicklaus was at the top of his game, gunning for his fifth Masters. He finished 72 holes with a 1-stroke lead but it seemed as though it would not be enough. Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf had been on his trail all day and, playing together, reached No. 18 needing reasonable birdie putts to tie Nicklaus and force a playoff.
Both missed, although not by much, and Nicklaus was the champion again. For Weiskopf, it was the fourth time he had finished second in this event, a record for frustration that he shares with Ben Hogan.
Perhaps the most famous second-place Masters finish occurred in 1935, when Craig Wood lost a playoff to Gene Sarazen, a playoff he never expected to play.
Wood had lost the first tournament - in those days it was called the Augusta National Invitation - by one stroke. But he was in position to win in 1935, playing the last eight holes in 4-under par for 282. His only threat was Sarazen, who was three strokes behind with four holes left.
Wood was in the clubhouse, accepting congratulations, when Sarazen hit the most famous shot at Augusta, a 220-yard double eagle at No. 15.
When word of Sarazen’s 2 at No. 15 reached the clubhouse, Wood was skeptical.
″Don’t be silly,″ he said. ″Fifteen is a par 5.″
It still is a par 5 today, 53 years after Sarazen made it in 2 on a Sunday afternoon at Augusta National, where things like that sometimes happen.