Today: 40th anniversary – Gary Player wins third Masters
It was hot, with summer-like temperatures, in Augusta on April 9, 1978. However, nothing was hotter than Gary Player that day.
The South African stood in 10th place entering the final round, seven strokes behind leader Hubert Green who was 10-under par. At 42, and 17 years after his first Masters victory, he was an afterthought in the golf tournament.
However, Player shot a final-round course-record 64, an 8-under par round that included nine birdies and one bogey, to overcome the deficit and finish at 11-under par. He posted a 30 on the back nine with six birdies, with only pars on Nos. 11, 14 and 17.
Player defeated Green, Tom Watson and Rod Funseth by a stroke with what is considered as one of the greatest rounds in Masters history.
The win matched the largest comeback in Masters history, tying the 8-stroke rally by Jack Burke in the final round in 1958.
Player was the oldest Masters champion at the time, until Jack Nicklaus won at the age of 46 in 1986.
Player has long relayed the story from before the final round that his son, Wayne, urged that he could win with a final round of 65 provided he putted better than he had in the first three rounds.
It was the final of nine major victories for Player in his illustrious career that included wins in the other three majors and 165 tournaments worldwide. He was elected to the Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 – four years before the improbable win.
Player shot lower in major competition. He carded a record 63 during the second round of the 1984 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek. Best round of his career? No.
“Anytime you shoot a score like that on a great course like Shoal Creek, you have to be proud,” Player said in an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But to me, the 64 I shot in the last round of the Masters in 1978 is much more meaningful.
“That round of 64 had to be a greater thrill because it came when it did. Today, I just put myself in a position to win. In 1978, I had to shoot a 64 to win, and I did. To play those final nine holes at Augusta National in 30 strokes was quite amazing.”
Starting the final round so far behind the leaders, Player had to wait more than an hour to see if his posted score would hold. He described the slow lapse of time as “sheer agony.”
Green had a three foot birdie putt on the 18th to force a tie and playoff. He backed away after being distracted by a radio broadcaster to ask for quiet. He missed the putt.
Green recounted the moment years later in an interview with Golf Digest.
“I got reset and pushed the putt,” he said. “End of story. People are amazed that I wasn’t distracted, but after I got reset it truly was like hitting the putt the first time. Pros know how to handle that stuff. Only an amateur would have been put off by the interruption or would try to make excuses about it.”
Article courtesy of The AJC