Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
AUGUSTA — The Masters began Thursday with a cautious eye on the weather for an already-challenging golf course that doesn’t really need any more water.
Intermittent rains — which began Wednesday, causing a suspension of play in the par 3 tournament — were a reminder that the excitement of the Masters has to do with identifying the player who can best manage his game on and around the greens. Challenging greens under competitive conditions on Sunday afternoon have traditionally brought about close and exciting finishes at the Augusta National — something of a tradition.
Interestingly, the player who dons the Green Jacket on Sunday often gains an advantage if he plays well on the par 5 holes. Although four par fives are ranked on the basis of scoring historically as the easiest holes on the course — No. 8 is ranked the 15th-toughest; No. 2, 16th; No. 13, 17th; and No. 15, 18th — there has often been a lot of drama on these holes, especially the two par fives on the backside with water coming into play. Under tough tournament conditions, there are many players who will remind you those holes are not so easy, no matter what the statistics suggest.
Seldom has a player played the par fives more masterfully than Ray Floyd did in 1976 when he tied Jack Nicklaus’ cumulative total of 271 (which was later broken by Tiger woods with a 270 in 1997). Floyd played the four par 5 holes in a sensational 14-under par, which means birdied a par 5 hole every time but twice during the tournament.
The key to Floyd’s victory was a 5 wood, which he used to great advantage on the par fives. The club — a custom Raymond Floyd model made by J. D. Clubs in Hollywood, Fla. — enabled Floyd to get more loft on approach shots.
“I never used it in a tournament previously,” Floyd said later. “I practiced with it from the fall right on up through the tournament, but I never used it in another tour event.”
You can find it displayed on the wall of the trophy room today.
In his prime years on the tour, Floyd was recognized as a tough competitor. In his era, he competed with the biggest names of the modern era: Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino — winning 22 tour events, the U. S. Open in 1986, the PGA (69, 82) and the Masters.
He had the reputation of being the guy you would want in the fox hole with you and also the one you could rely on if you had to have a crucial putt. His image as the toughest of competitors was well known in locker rooms around the PGA tour.
In 1990, it appeared late in the final day Sunday that he might win a second Masters title when he approached the 17th green with a one-stroke lead. His approach shot missed its mark, and he could not get up and down for par. That bogey forced him into a sudden death playoff with Englishman Nick Faldo.
For those familiar with the two competitors, there was the view that in that situation the man to bet on would have been the seasoned Floyd, but after halving the first extra playoff hole (No. 10), the action moved to No. 11. After a tee shot that landed in the fairway, Floyd uncharacteristically hit his approach shot in the pond, which fronts the left side of the green, enabling Faldo to win his second Green Jacket.
Although Floyd came back to contend in 1992, finishing second to Fred Couples, the loss to Faldo was bitter. A year after the disappointing loss, Floyd expressed his feelings to media guys under the big oak outside the clubhouse.
“I know,” he began, “that the record book says that Nick Faldo won the tournament, but that’s not really correct. I gave it to him.”