The Masters golf tournament proved last Monday what it can do to the strongest men and the staunchest nerves .
Gary Player , the small , trim South African , was the eventual winner , but in all his 25 years he never spent a more harrowing afternoon as he waited for the victory to drop in his lap .
Arnold Palmer , the defending champion , lost his title on the 72nd hole after a few minutes of misfortune that left even his fellow pros gaping in disbelief .
`` Just when you think you have it licked , this golf course can get up and bite you '' , Player had said one afternoon midway through the tournament .
And that is just what happened on the last few holes .
The Augusta National Golf Club Course got up and bit both Player and Palmer .
Player was the first to feel its teeth .
After playing a splendid first nine holes in 34 -- two strokes under par -- on this fifth and final day of the tournament ( Sunday's fourth round had been washed out by a violent rainstorm when it was only half completed ) , Player's game rapidly fell to pieces .
He bogeyed the 10th .
After a journey through woods and stream he double-bogeyed the 13th .
He bogeyed the 15th by missing a short putt and finally scrambled through the last three holes without further mishap for a 2-over-par 74 and a 72-hole total of 280 .
As he signed his scorecard and walked off the course , Player was almost in tears .
He could read on the nearby scoreboard that Palmer , by then playing the 15th hole , was leading him by a stroke .
Palmer had started the round four strokes behind Player , and at one point in the afternoon had trailed by as many as six strokes .
Now all he had to do was finish in even par to collect the trophy and the biggest single paycheck in golf .
When Palmer hit a good straight drive up the fairway on the 72nd hole , he seemed to have the championship won .
But the seven-iron shot he used to approach the green strayed into a bunker and lodged in a slight depression .
In trying to hit it out with a sand wedge Palmer bounced the ball over the green , past spectators and down the slope toward a TV tower .
Afterwards , Palmer told Charlie Coe , his last-round partner , that he simply played the hole too fast .
He did seem hasty on his second and third shots , but then there was an agonizing wait of several minutes while Coe graciously putted out , giving Palmer a chance to recover his composure , which he had quite visibly lost .
When the shaken Palmer finally did hit his fourth shot , he overshot the hole by 15 feet .
Palmer was now putting merely for a tie , and Player , who was sitting beside his wife and watching it all on television in Tournament Chairman Clifford Roberts' clubhouse apartment , stared in amazement when Palmer missed the putt .
Palmer's 281 for the four rounds at Augusta was a comfortable four strokes ahead of the next closest pro , but it was barely good enough for a second-place tie with Coe .
The lean and leathery Oklahoma amateur , who has been playing topnotch tournament golf for many years , refused to let the Masters jitters overtake him and closed the tournament with his second straight 69 .
End at seven
Until late last Saturday afternoon Palmer had played seven consecutive rounds of golf at the Masters -- four last year and three this -- without ever being out of first place .
As evening approached and Palmer finished his Saturday round with a disappointing one-over-par 73 , this remarkable record was still intact , thanks to his Thursday and Friday rounds of 68 and 69 .
His three-round total of 210 was three strokes better than the next best score , a 213 by Bill Collins , the tall and deliberate Baltimorean who had been playing very well all winter long .
But Palmer knew , as did everybody else at Augusta , that his streak was about to be broken .
Half an hour after he finished his round , Player holed out at the 18th green with a 69 and a three-round total of 206 , four strokes ahead of Palmer .
More than a streak had ended .
Long after the erratic climate and the washed-out final round on Sunday have become meteorological footnotes , the 1961 Masters will be remembered as the scene of the mano a mano between Arnold Palmer and Gary Player .
Unlike most such sports rivalries , it appeared to have developed almost spontaneously , although this was not exactly the case .
When the winter tour began at Los Angeles last January there was no one in sight to challenge Palmer's towering prestige .
As if to confirm his stature , he quickly won three of the first eight tournaments .
Player won only one .
But as the tour reached Pensacola a month ago , Player was leading Palmer in official winnings by a few hundred dollars , and the rest of the field was somewhere off in nowhere .
On the final round at Pensacola , the luck of the draw paired Palmer and Player in the same threesome and , although it was far from obvious at the time , the gallery was treated to the first chapter of what promises to be one of the most exciting duels in sport for a long time to come .
On that final Sunday at Pensacola neither Palmer nor Player was leading the tournament and , as it turned out , neither won it .
But whichever of these two finished ahead of the other would be the undisputed financial leader of the tour .
Player immediately proved he was not in the least awed by the dramatic proximity of Palmer .
He outplayed Palmer all around the course and finished with a tremendous 65 to Palmer's 71 .
Thereafter , until the Masters , Player gradually increased his lead over Palmer in winnings and added one more tournament victory at Miami .
When they reached Augusta last week , together they had won five of the 13 tournaments to date .
On Thursday , the first day of the Masters , the contest between Palmer and Player developed instantly .
It was a dismal , drizzly day but a good one on which to score over the Augusta National course .
The usually skiddy greens were moist and soft , so the golfers were able to strike their approach shots boldly at the flag-stick and putt firmly toward the hole without too much worry about the consequences .
Palmer's 4-under-par 68 got him off to an early lead , which he shared with Bob Rosburg .
But Player was only one stroke back , with a 69 .
Even so , it was still not clear to many in the enormous horde of spectators -- unquestionably the largest golf crowd ever -- that this tournament was to be , essentially , a match between Palmer and Player .
A lot of people were still thinking about Jack Nicklaus , the spectacular young amateur , who had a 70 ; ;
or Ken Venturi , who had a somewhat shaky 72 but was bound to do better ; ;
or Rosburg , whose accurate short game and supersensitive putter can overcome so many of Augusta's treacheries ; ;
or even old Byron Nelson , whose excellent 71 made one wonder if he had solved the geriatric aspects of golf .
( On Thursday nobody except Charlie Coe was thinking of Charlie Coe .
On Friday , a day as cloudless and lovely as Thursday had been gray and ugly , the plot of the tournament came clearly into focus .
Rosburg had started early in the day , and by the time Palmer and Player were on the course -- separated , as they were destined to be for the rest of the weekend , by about half an hour -- they could see on the numerous scoreboards spotted around the course that Rosburg , who ended with a 73 , was not having a good day .
As Player began his second round in a twosome with amateur Bill Hyndman , his share of the gallery was not conspicuously large for a contender .
Player began with a birdie on the first hole , added five straight pars and then another birdie at the 9th .
On the back nine he began to acquire the tidal wave of a gallery that stayed with him the rest of the tournament .
He birdied the 13th , the 15th and the 18th -- five birdies , one bogey and 12 pars for a 68 .
Starting half an hour behind Player in company with British Open Champion Kel Nagle , Palmer birdied the 2nd , the 9th , the 13th and the 16th -- four birdies , one bogey and 13 pars for a 69 .
The roar of Palmer's gallery as he sank a thrilling putt would roll out across the parklike landscape of Augusta , only to be answered moments later by the roar of Player's gallery for a similar triumph .
At one point late in the day , when Palmer was lining up a 25-foot putt on the 16th , a thunderous cheer from the direction of the 18th green unmistakably announced that Player had birdied the final hole .
Without so much as a grimace or a gesture to show that he had noticed ( although he later admitted that he had ) Palmer proceeded to sink his 25-footer , and his gallery sent its explosive vocalization rolling back along the intervening fairways in reply .
The boldness of champions
Anyone who now doubted that a personal duel was under way had only to watch how these exceptionally gifted golfers were playing this most difficult golf course .
It is almost axiomatic that golfers who dominate the game of golf for any period of time attack their shots with a vehemence bordering on violence .
The bad luck that can so often mar a well-played round of golf is simply overpowered and obliterated by the contemptuous boldness of these champions .
Bob Jones played that way .
Byron Nelson did , Hogan did .
And last week at the Masters Palmer and Player did .
As the third round of the tournament began on Saturday and the duel was resumed in earnest , it was Player's superior aggressiveness that carried him into the lead .
This day Palmer had started first .
As Player stepped on the first tee he knew that Palmer had birdied the first two holes and already was 2 under par for the day .
Player immediately proceeded to follow suit .
In fact , he went on to birdie the 6th and 8th as well , to go 4 under par for the first eight holes .
But Player's real test came on the ninth hole , a downhill dogleg to the left measuring 420 yards .
He hit a poor tee shot , pulling it off into the pine woods separating the 9th and first fairways .
Having hit one of the trees , the ball came to rest not more than 160 yards out .
Player then had the choice of punching the ball safely out of the woods to the 9th fairway and settling for a bogey 5 , or gambling .
The latter involved hitting a full four-wood out to the first fairway and toward the clubhouse , hoping to slice it back to the deeply bunkered 9th green .
`` I was hitting the ball well '' , Player said later , `` and I felt strong .
When you're playing like that you'd better attack '' .
Player attacked with his four-wood and hit a shot that few who saw it will ever forget .
It struck the 9th green on the fly and stopped just off the edge .
From there he chipped back and sank his putt for a par 4 .
Palmer , meanwhile , had been having his troubles .
They started on the 4th hole , a 220-yard par-3 .
On this day the wind had switched 180-degrees from the northwest to the southeast , and nearly every shot on the course was different from the previous few days .
At the 4th tee Palmer chose to hit a one-iron when a three-wood was the proper club , so he put the ball in a bunker in front of the green .
His bogey 4 on this hole and subsequent bogeys at 5 and 7 along with a birdie at 8 brought him back to even par .
Starting the second nine , Palmer was already four strokes behind Player and knew it .