Augusta — Turn back the clock? They turned back the sundial at Augusta National on Thursday. There was a surge of youth in the air, and Chad Campbell virtually ran the table, as they say, and by the time twilight fell over the 75th Masters, this grand old golf course was withering under the assault.
But, get this: Beginning with 73-year-old Gary Player, who shot 78, all the former champions broke 80. Bernhard Langer shot 70, Sandy Lyle 72, Fred Couples 73, and on they charged. High number was the 79 of Fuzzy Zoeller, playing in his 30th and last Masters.
But we turn now to the fascinating revival of the dramatic conclusion to the Masters of 1987, when Larry Mize, a native Augustan, pitched in off the green, birdied the 11th hole and shot down Greg Norman in a playoff. Another dagger crashing into the green jacket hopes of the Australian. Three times Norman had the championship on target, and three times he found a way to lose.
Now, 54, Norman was finishing his interview session with the visiting media while Mize was holing out an 18-foot putt for par, the finishing touch to a round of 67. (That’s a 6 and a 7, ladies and gentlemen.) Mize has never been a threat since his championship run, has made only one cut since 2000. He has turned his attention to the Champions Tour at the age of 50, and there still pursues his first victory.
“I’m working,” he said. “I started a new regimen in November aimed at getting my game in shape. I don’t know that I expected anything like this. The course is hard, but I like the way it played.”
Hard, perhaps, in some eyes, but to the naked eye, it appeared soft and recipient, perfect in every way, and in the view of Tim Clark, an early finisher, “it wasn’t playing to its full length.”
Last year, the average score for the first round was 74 strokes. An early calculation Thursday indicated the average would settle around 72.
Oft overlooked is that there was a third party in that playoff in 1987. Sevy Ballesteros was tied with Mize and Norman, but bogeyed the first playoff hole and was eliminated. I can never forget the depressing sight of the Spaniard trudging back up the hill on the 10th fairway with his caddie. He had won the Masters twice, but he would never be a factor again.
Yet, 22 years later, while Ballesteros is in a fight for his life in Spain, the two old combatants, Mize and Norman are striking for the green jacket again.