Arnold Palmer didn’t often lose on the final hole.
But at the 1961 Masters Tournament, he did just that when he made a double bogey on the final hole. South Africa’s Gary Player became the tournament’s first international champion.
A year later, Palmer and Player were at it again. Leading after 54 holes, Palmer struggled to 39 on the front nine in the final round and needed birdies at Nos. 16 and 17 to force a three-way playoff with Player and Dow Finsterwald.
In the Monday playoff, Player got off to a good start with 34 on the front nine. Palmer struggled to 37, and Finsterwald was well on his way to 77.
But Palmer was not going to go down without a fight, and the 10th hole would be the turning point. He rammed in a 30-foot downhill putt for birdie, and Player missed a short putt for par.
Palmer made four more birdies (on Nos. 12, 13, 14 and 16) to take the lead.
“There was no question about the fact that 10 was the big lift,” he said.
Palmer shot 5-under-par 31 on the back nine and had only one bogey on the day, which came at No. 7 after a “bad chip and a bad putt.” He finished with 68.
Player, looking to become the first repeat Masters winner, posted a respectable 71 but was no match for Palmer’s strong finish.
No one should have been surprised by Palmer’s back-nine charge. After all, he played the final nine in 17-under for the tournament. On the front nine, he was a combined 5-over.
Palmer’s caddie, Nathaniel “Iron Man” Avery, could see the charge coming.
“He just jerks at his glove, tugs at his trouser belt and starts walking fast,” he said after the round. “When Mr. Arnold does that, everybody better watch out. He’s going to stampede anything in his way.”
Palmer gave reporters partial credit for his victory.
“Maybe it helped me that everybody kept asking me how I made six at the last hole last year,” he said.