1975 Masters finale was a triple crown of excitement

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 27, 2014, 7:31 pm


When the leaders approached the final nine holes of the 39th Masters 39 years ago, no one could have predicted how significant the next two hours would be to their careers, the tournament, and golf itself. 

In his new book, The Magnificent Masters: Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf and the 1975 Cliffhanger at Augusta (Da Capo Press, available everywhere books are sold), Golf Channel and NBC Sports' Gil Capps recounts the protagonists and setting that produced one of the most memorable Masters ever. Here is an excerpt.

“Five, Four, Three,” Frank Chirkinian counted down, “Two, One … Sing, Vinny.” That was the guidance Vin Scully received before CBS came on the air. “It always seemed to lift me, make me rise to the occasion,” says Scully of the Chirkinian command. 

Before the days of the internet and mobile devices and all-sports cable stations, CBS television and radio was the nation’s lone connection to up-to-date play at the Masters. The first time the nation saw Augusta that Sunday came just before 4:00 p.m., as CBS gave an update into the NBA playoff game that preceded the golf. “The Augusta National Golf Club has seen some marvelous finishing rounds, and this fourth and final round of the 1975 Masters might very well be a story that will live for many years to come,” were the first words out of Scully’s mouth. Chirkinian showed Nicklaus’s second shot on the 9th on tape and then his seven-foot birdie putt from behind the hole to tie for the lead before sending it back to Brent Musburger. 

Scully couldn’t believe his fortune. The storyline at the beginning of the week remained the storyline late Sunday afternoon. “The three men that I was thinking about the most are all locked in on Sunday,” says Scully. There were no cameras on holes 1–8, but he didn’t need sight to figure out what was happening. 

“I’ll never forget the sounds of Augusta,” says Scully who took in the scene from his tower at the top of the hill, just to the golfer’s left of the 18th green. “You would sit at 18 with that large gallery around the green and all of a sudden, like cannon-fire, you’d hear a roar, sometimes a muffled kind of a sound, but always a roar. Immediately everyone would look over at the leaderboard, and then they would change a number. 

“Well on Sunday, you started to hear the roars, and you started to see that this was going to be Nicklaus, Weiskopf, and Miller. I couldn’t believe that the storyline held up all the way through, but it did. There they were: the big three. And it was amazing.” 

Indeed, the game’s best three players — each at the top of his game going to the final nine holes — all with a chance on the closing holes was rare. In major championships, there had been plenty of two-man duels. Jones-Hagen. Snead-Hogan. Nicklaus-Palmer. Nicklaus-Trevino. But never the top three. 

In the 16th tower, Henry Longhurst had just taken the single red rose out of the glass that cameraman George Drago left him before every broadcast. Then, he made haste of the glass’s remnants — gin. About 150 yards away, Ben Wright was in his position just behind the right corner of the 15th green. With nothing but the years of Masters winners jotted down on a pairing sheet, he summoned the advice Longhurst gave him several years earlier: “We are nothing but caption writers in the picture business. If you can’t improve the quality of the pictures with your words, then keep your damned mouth shut.” Like Scully, they didn’t want to screw this up — not only for fear of their boss — but because they were the soundtrack to golf’s greatest moments. 

It’s not known when or who coined the phrase, “the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday,” and whether or not it was widely acknowledged before or after 1975. Of course, that was the case at most any tournament when the nerves were ratcheted and pressure heightened on the closing holes. But that Masters myth certainly gained traction following this day with an epic finish that would earn the tournament much of its reputation. 

In the heat of battle on the finishing holes was where Jack Nicklaus was most confident at this stage in his career. “I was a good closer,” he said years later. “In part, it was because I had a lot of opportunities; in part it was probably a function of my temperament. I’m sure some players have a counterproductive personality or temperament for handling pressure and finishing off a tournament. Good golf requires a lot of self-knowledge.” 

Nicklaus continued to think about completing his backswing. He played the percentages and made pars on the first three holes of the second nine. Meanwhile, the final twosome ran into difficulties on the two downhill holes, 10 and 11. 

As soon as he was just two shots back — the closest he’d been all week — Miller’s pesky putter reappeared. He missed an eight-foot birdie putt at the 10th, leaving it a few inches short, right in the heart. At the 11th, his birdie attempt from thirty feet just missed on the high side and ran by two feet. When he hit the comebacker, the ball caught the right side of the hole and spun out to the left. “I didn’t hit a bad putt, it just broke more than I thought,” says Miller, who stared at the ball for five seconds. “That was a huge, huge putt for me, though, to stop a little momentum.” 

Weiskopf parred the 10th hole after a simple chip from the front of the green to tap-in range. He found himself at a perfect angle on the left side of the fairway at the 11th. “It was kind of a hairy lie,” he says of the ball in the fairway, a lie you could get at Augusta National in spots where the overseed hadn’t come in. 

“When you are really good at what you do — and I was good at what I did —with every club I was within two steps one way or the other of that distance,” says Weiskopf. “Now the wind comes into it, now the excitement, the nerves, the pressure of the shot, the choice of the shot, the lie — good or bad. That’s what makes it difficult — it’s not the yardage.”

With a 5-iron, he aimed away from the left-rear hole location tucked along the edge of the pond. It wasn’t far enough right. Weiskopf pulled the shot, and the ball hit on the bank and rolled back into the water. Because the ball had initially carried the hazard, he was able to drop on the other side between the hole and point of entry instead of a more difficult angle on the ball drop. He dropped the ball over his right shoulder—as was the rule then. Still, there was just ten feet of green between the water and the hole on the ninety-foot shot. “That shot’s impossible,” says Miller. 

“I took a chance,” Weiskopf says. “It’s either going to be a good choice or a bad choice. I was comfortable with that shot because I had a really good lie … I felt like I could get it eight or ten feet past the hole.” But Weiskopf didn’t hit it hard enough. His heart was in his throat for a split second before the ball barely cleared the bank and rolled up three feet from the hole. He made the putt to salvage a bogey. It was an important up-and-in, but it was his first dropped shot in twenty-seven holes. For the first time all day, he trailed. 

Jack Nicklaus now possessed the outright lead. At 11 under par, he led by one over Weiskopf and three over Miller. There were only seven holes to play. 

Miller stayed aggressive and fired right at the flag on the 12th but was a club short. It barely carried into the bunker (the only one to find that bunker on Sunday) — the same one he holed out from in 1971. Only this time with the new sand, it didn’t bury. He escaped to three feet and made par. Weiskopf hit a 7-iron to the left of the pin and two-putted from forty feet for his par. 

Standing in the fairway at the 13th, Nicklaus had been striking the ball as well as at any point during the week. He hadn’t missed a shot since the opening hole. On his second shot, however, he got too fast with his long-iron into the green. This time, it resulted in a pull to the left in between the first and second greenside bunkers. It settled just a few feet off the green but 100 feet away, Nicklaus chose to chip it to the back-right hole location. The ball barely got halfway to the hole, leaving him more than twenty-five feet for birdie. He couldn’t make it and had thrown away the first of two par-five opportunities coming home. 

Back on the tee, while Nicklaus and Miller remained in short-sleeved golf shirts, Weiskopf pulled his sweater out of the bag and put it on. His 3-wood off the tee didn’t turn over and went straight behind the pine trees, forcing him to lay up. He hit his wedge shot strong and mis-read his birdie putt coming back down the slope. 

The only one to take advantage of the easiest hole on the course was Miller. His drive around the corner of the dogleg left him a long iron to the middle of green. He two-putted for birdie to get back within two of Nicklaus. 

The 14th hole marked the halfway point of the second nine. Sandwiched between the more famous par fives, the 13th and 15th, the uphill, dogleg left hole never got any respect. It was the only hole on the course without a bunker — or any hazard for that matter — since a large fairway bunker on the right side was removed after the 1952 tournament. 

The hole, which awkwardly moved to the left while the terrain sloped to the right, had not been kind to Nicklaus since bogeying it in his very first practice round here sixteen years earlier. “I always had a hard time with 14,” he admits. In his career, he had played it in eight over par. Of all the holes at Augusta National, only the 18th had been tougher on him at 10 over. One year earlier, he bogeyed it from over the green in the final round when just one off the lead. 

In the fairway after a perfect drive, he had hit an 8-iron ten yards over the green on Saturday, and now thinking the wind was with him again, he chose a 9-iron. The green was the second largest on the course, but with a large rise from the front right to the back left. A third of the green was a false front, and the hole location was back right just over that incline. After he struck the 9-iron, the wind seemed to turn and the ball finished short and rolled back off the front. A frustrated Nicklaus tossed some leaves of grass into the air again after the shot. On his next shot, he used his putter but hit it too firm. It scooted just off the back of the green, sixteen feet past the hole. He left the comebacker a foot-and-a-half short. Nicklaus used his putter three times, but it was officially a one-putt green. Nicklaus felt like he’d let two shots slip away the last two holes. “I thought the tournament had gotten away from me on 13 and 14,” he admitted. 

The 14th hole had been tough on this day, yielding only two birdies when the final twosome came up. Miller exacerbated its difficulty by pulling his drive into the pine trees on the left. He had hit every green in regulation to this point and showed his anger at the mistake by slamming his right fist into his left palm walking off the tee. Taking a long iron, he unsuccessfully gambled on his second shot when his ball hit more tree limbs and failed to get out of trouble. After all those birdies and stellar play, Miller looked to be throwing away his chances on this one hole. For his third shot, Miller stepped off his own yardage and decided to hit a rope-hook 7-iron around the trees. The ball bounded up the green, hit the bottom of the flagstick, and almost went in. The anything-but-routine par drew a wry smile from Weiskopf. 

After a beautiful drawing 3-wood into the center of the fairway, Weiskopf hit an 8-iron that never left the flagstick to six feet in front of the hole. He rolled the putt right in and waved to the crowd as he regained the outright lead with four holes to play. To those watching, it looked like this would finally be Weiskopf’s Masters.


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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.