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Nicklaus Conjures Up Some Old Jack Magic : He Shoots a 30 on Back Nine, Wins the Masters by a Stroke

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The 50th Masters championship may have been the most exciting golf tournament ever played.

Actually, when you hear that Jack Nicklaus won it Sunday by a stroke after shooting a 30 on the back nine at Augusta National and beating a lot of golfers with names with which you are familiar, fellows such as Greg Norman, Tom Kite, Seve Ballesteros and Tom Watson, you’ll know it was even better than that.

This was not your basic PGA tournament. What a story. Jack William Nicklaus, at 46 an aging champion considered by some people to be washed up and more concerned about his business empire than birdies and pars, won his sixth Masters, saving the first major championship of the year from the clutches of a band of internationalists who had dominated the tournament for 3 1/2 rounds.

Nicklaus turned the tournament around for the United States with a charge reminiscent of the ones that made Arnold Palmer famous here a quarter of a century ago. Four strokes off the lead to start the memorable day, Nicklaus shot a seven-under-par 65 to finish the 72 holes with a score of 279. Twenty years ago, he won the tournament with a score of 288.

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His round, shot on a gorgeous, hot and windless day, included seven birdies and an eagle, and in one nine-hole stretch, from the 9th through the 17th, he was seven under par. The 30 on the back side tied the nine-hole Masters record.

Nicklaus has now won 20 major championships and 89 tournaments, including 71 in the United States.

Both Norman and Ballesteros held the lead several times during the exciting shootout, and at one time Kite had a share of it. Watson, Nick Price and Corey Pavin got within two strokes of the leaders as late as the 15th hole, and defending champion Bernhard Langer was tied for the lead early in the day. Jay Haas and Payne Stewart also made mild charges.

With so many good players fighting it out, the shootout surpassed the excitement of the 1975 tournament when Nicklaus beat Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller by one stroke. That was the last Masters Nicklaus had won.

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Kite shot a four-under-par 68 and Norman a 70 to tie for second place at 280. Ballesteros, who lost two strokes to par on the last four holes, also shot 70 for a 281. Price finished with a 71 and 282, and Haas and Watson tied at 283. Haas shot a 67, Watson a 71. Larry Mize tied Nicklaus for the lowest score of the day, but he started the day too far back to worry anybody.

As Nicklaus caught fire, starting on the 9th hole, so did the enormous crowd. At times the noise made by his gallery became so loud, “You could hardly hear yourself think,” Kite said. Nicklaus, an emotional fellow playing in an emotional tournament, got teary-eyed and had to warn himself, “Hey, you’ve got a lot of golf to play.”

When the spectators got excited, he said, “They charged me up.”

Playing down the stretch against such stars as Ballesteros, Watson, Kite and Norman also charged him up. “Anytime I am playing guys like that, I have more incentive; I get more excited,” he said. “I’d rather play them than guys I haven’t met yet.”

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“Everybody was watching Jack and Seve,” Norman said. “Poor Nicky (Price) and I were back there with about 50 people. This made playing at Winged Foot (where he lost the U. S. Open to Fuzzy Zoeller in a playoff in 1984) look like playing through a graveyard. There’s more emotion here than any course I’ve ever played. Jack owns it.”

They say here that the Masters is usually won on the back nine on Sunday. That’s what happened this time, of course. As well as Nicklaus played, the tournament went down to the 72nd hole with Norman having a shot at winning it.

After making a birdie at No. 17, the Australian tied Nicklaus for the lead at nine under par. He drove into the center of the 18th fairway about 200 yards from the hole, which was cut on the back of the long green. Using a 4-iron for his second shot, he tried to hit it too high and too hard and “spun off the shot. I fell back and the club face stayed open.” The result: The ball sailed into the gallery on the right side of the green.

From a poor lie, he tried a bump-and-run shot with an 8-iron, hoping to keep the ball below the hole. He didn’t make it. The ball stayed above the hole, stopping 15 feet away. Needing to make the treacherous putt to force Nicklaus into a playoff, he rolled the ball 3 1/2 feet past the hole and made bogey.

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Afterward, Norman did not appear to be upset over his loss. “Do you want me to cry?” he asked. “I gave it 101% today. That’s golf. You just take the good with the bad.”

Norman, in fact, was proud of the way he played after making a double-bogey 6 at No. 10 to fall out of a tie with Ballesteros. It was his second 6 on the hole; he four-putted it Friday. This time he hit into some trees, the gallery next to the green and then a bunker.

“Some people would have just said ‘let’s finish,’ ” he said. “I still thought I could win the golf tournament.”

Norman shot four straight birdies, starting at the 14th hole. And his birdie at No. 17 gave him a share of the lead.

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On his poor second shot at No. 18, he said, “My style of play is to play to win. I didn’t want to play negative and hit it 60 feet short and try to two-putt.”

Nicklaus’ round wasn’t going anywhere until he sank a 10-foot birdie putt at No. 9. He followed that birdie with two more at the 10th and 11th holes, but the hole that got him started, he said, was No. 12. Oddly, he bogeyed that one when he missed the green with a 7-iron.

His reasoning: “It got me going because I bogeyed it. I birdied it Saturday and I got defensive. This time I got aggressive.”

He made another birdie at No. 13, reaching the green with a 3-iron shot and two-putting. On No. 15, he hit a 202-yard 4-iron second shot 12 feet from the hole and sank the eagle putt. He was now only one shot back of Ballesteros and Kite.

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At the 16th hole, he almost sank his tee shot from 179 yards with a 5-iron, the ball missing the cup by an inch or so and stopping three feet away. The birdie putt dropped and he was tied for the lead with Norman, Ballesteros and Kite.

He made the winning birdie at No. 17, hitting the green from 125 yards with a pitching wedge and sinking a 10-foot putt. He just missed another birdie at No. 18 when his 40-foot uphill putt stopped four inches short of the center of the hole. Then all he had to do was wait.

First, Kite took a run at a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 18 which would have tied him for the lead. It was close. In fact, Kite said, “I made that putt; it just didn’t go in.”

Then it was Norman’s turn to miss and Nicklaus had his prize.

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He said he didn’t like to win a tournament on someone else’s mistakes, but he was happy to take this one because of what Watson did to him at Pebble Beach in the 1982 U. S. Open. Watson, you may recall, chipped into the hole for a birdie on No. 17 when it appeared Nicklaus had the tournament won.

This may come as a surprise to the fellows he beat here Sunday but Nicklaus said, “I’m not as good as I was 10 or 15 years ago.” One reason is, of course, he doesn’t play as much golf.

“I’m not going to quit playing golf playing the way I am now,” he said. “I’ve played too well, too long. I’m not retiring, guys. I love playing golf, but I’m not going to play a lot.”

Kite and Ballesteros, who were playing partners, had roles in a rare drama on the eighth hole. They each pitched their third shots from the fairway into the cup for eagles. Kite’s shot was from 81 yards and Ballesteros made his from about 50 yards.

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Kite said he was “as calm a I could be under the circumstances out there today. You don’t control your opponents. There were a lot of name players up there and you have to be foolish to count Jack out.”

Ballesteros went downhill fast after taking a two-stroke lead at nine under par with an eagle 3 on the 13th hole. At No. 15, another sure birdie hole for him, he knocked his second shot into the water hazard in front of the green and made a bogey 6. And for the second day in a row, he three-putted No. 17 for a bogey and lost his last chance to catch Nicklaus. Nicklaus had just putted out on the 18th hole and the roar that followed probably affected Ballesteros’ concentration.

Ballesteros had 3 of the 20 eagles here this week. Sam Randolph, the U. S. Amateur champion from USC, again was the low amateur, finishing with a 73 for a total of 293. He was the only amateur to make the cut.

Augusta National is a young man’s course, Nicklaus said. “The greens are glass-fast. They put the pins behind knobs. There are no straight putts. There is a lot of emotion. It’s a hard tournament.”

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Yes, and it was won Sunday by an old man.

JACK NICKLAUS’ ROUND

The scorecard of Jack Nicklaus who shot a 65 in the final round to win the Masters Sunday.

PAR OUT. . . .454 343 454--36NICKLAUS OUT 444 443 453--35PAR IN. . . . 443 545 344--36--72

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NICKLAUS IN. .334 443 234--30--65

NICKLAUS AT MASTERS

1959--(Amateur) Missed cut; 76-74

1960--(Amateur) Tied 13th; 75-71-72-75--293

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1961--(Amateur) Tied 7th; 70-75-70-72--287

1962--Tied 15th; 74-75-70-72--291; $1,160

1963--Won; 74-66-74-72--286; $20,000

1964--Tied 2nd; 71-73-71-67--282; $10,100

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1965--Won; 67-71-64-69--271; $20,000

1966--Won; 68-76-72-72--288; $20,000

1967--Missed cut; 72-79; $1,000

1968--Tied 5th; 69-71-74-67--281; $5,500

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1969--Tie 24th; 68-75-72-76--291; $1,800

1970--8th; 71-75-69-69--284; $4,500

1971--Tied 2nd; 70-71-68-72--281; $17,500

1972--Won; 68-71-73-74--286; $25,000

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1973--Tied 3rd; 69-77-73-66--285; $12,500

1974--Tied 4th; 69-71-72-69--281; $10,833

1975--Won; 68-67-73-68--276; $40,000

1976--Tied 3rd; 67-69-73-73--282; $16,250

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1977--2nd; 72-70-70-66--278; $30,000

1978--7th; 72-73-69-67--281; $10,000

1979--4th; 69-71-72-69--281; $15,000

1980--Tied 33rd; 74-71-73-73--291; $1,860

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1981--Tied 2nd; 70-65-75-72--282; $30,500

1982--Tied 15th; 69-77-71-75--292; $5,850

1983--Withdrew with back injury.

1984--Tied 18th; 73-73-70-70--286; $8,400

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1985--Tie 6th; 71-74-72-69--286; $22,663

1986--Won; 74-71-69-65--279; $144,000


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