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Posted February 3, 2012, 5:14 pm |

The 1970s

Masters History
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    Gary Player's 15-foot birdie on No. 18 in the final round of 1978 was one of seven birdies on the final 10 holes.

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    Jack Nicklaus blows sand off his putter during a practice round in 1972. The Golden Bear took a wire-to-wire victory that year for his fourth Masters win.

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    Nicklaus and his caddie celebrate his 40-foot birdie on the 16th hole, a memorable part of his fifth Masters victory.

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    Charles Coody beat Jack Nicklaus in 1971 for his only victory in a major.

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    1978 Masters Champion Gary Player is congratulated by members at the National. Just to the right of Player is Arnold Palmer and then Augusta National Chairman Bill Lane.

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    Dan (left) and Charlie Yates have ties to the Masters that go back to the event's start.

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    Lee Elder, the Masters' first black competitor, walks with Chairman Clifford Roberts. Elder played six times, and his top finish was a tie for 17th in 1979.

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    Player gets a congratulatory kiss from daughter Jennifer and son Wayne.

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    Billy Casper (left) is congratulated by Gene Littler after winning an 18-hole playoff at the 1970 Masters. It was the last such playoff at the National.

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    Charlie Yates (right) stands with Henry Picard before the 1937 Masters.


Gary Player's final victory at Augusta National Golf Club was his least likely and most spectacular. 

The South African found himself trailing Hubert Green by seven shots going into the final day of the 1978 Masters. But seven birdies over the final 10 holes - including a clutch 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th - gave Player a closing 64 and a one-stroke victory.

"One of the things I am is an eternal optimist," Player said. "I was playing excellent golf, and I hadn't made any putts. But you have to keep on aiming at them."

Playing well ahead of Green and a slew of other contenders, Player posted his 277 total and then had to sweat it out as Green, Tom Watson and Rod Funseth played the final holes.

"It was agony, sheer agony," he said.

Green had the best shot at forcing a playoff after hitting his approach about four feet from the pin, but he missed the sidehill birdie putt, falling into a tie for second with Watson and Funseth.

Player's final-round 64 matched the course record at the time and made him the oldest winner at 42, a mark eclipsed by Jack Nicklaus in 1986.


The Golden Bear won more Masters in the 1960s and charged to an improbable victory at Augusta National in 1986. But he dominated the tournament in the 1970s like no golfer before him. With a little luck, Jack Nicklaus could have added a few more green jackets to his collection. 

From 1970-79, he won twice, finished second twice and never finished worse than eighth.

In 1972, Nicklaus led wire-to-wire to win his fourth Masters title even though his scores became worse each day.

In 1975, Nicklaus won a memorable duel Sunday afternoon against Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller.

The three jockeyed for position in the final round until Nicklaus pulled ahead with two clutch birdies.

The first, at the par-5 15th, was a routine two-putt after Nicklaus had lashed a 1-iron about 15 feet from the pin. 

The one at No. 16 was a shocker, though: Nicklaus holed from 40 feet and broke into a celebratory trot around the green.

Shaken, Weiskopf made bogey at No. 16 to fall one behind Nicklaus. Miller made birdie at the 17th to pull within one. On the 18th, both men had chances to send the tournament to a playoff, but each missed from 10 feet, securing a record fifth green jacket for Nicklaus.

Even Nicklaus, who had seen his share of memorable golf, knew he had just been part of something special.

"In all the time I have played golf, I thought this was the most exciting display I had ever seen," he said.


Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947. Twenty-eight years later, Lee Elder entered the history books as the first black golfer to play at the Masters.

Elder qualified by winning the 1974 Monsanto Open, defeating current CBS announcer Peter Oosterhuis in a playoff. Elder's victory put an end to any disputes over the qualification criteria for the Masters.

Though much was made of his 1975 appearance, Elder tried to treat the occasion as a normal event. But like most first-timers, he didn't make the cut, shooting rounds of 74 and 78.

"It was suspected that Elder would play poorly at Augusta because he was unfamiliar with the course, which turned out to be the case," Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated .

Elder returned to play in five consecutive Masters from 1977 to 1981. His best finish was a tie for 17th in 1979.

He paved the way for other black golfers, such as Calvin Peete, Jim Thorpe and Tiger Woods, to play in Augusta. Elder returned in 1997 to witness Woods' first Masters victory, but he is not satisfied with the number of blacks making an impact in golf.

"Yes, it is (disappointing)," Elder said in 2000. "Because I would have thought that we would have had more on the tour playing and more that would have won golf tournaments by now."


Billy Casper, one of the game's best putters, changed his strategy for 1970 by taking advice from his caddie, a regular at Augusta National.

The move paid off as Casper earned a spot in an 18-hole playoff against Gene Littler. 

In the extra round -- the last playoff of its kind in Masters history -- Casper needed only one putt each on six of the first seven holes as he cruised to 69 and a five-shot victory. 

For the day, Casper had nine one-putts and just 27 putts on Augusta National's challenging greens.


Bill Lane, who was handpicked by Clifford Roberts to succeed him as chairman, served a brief tenure. The Houston businessman took over for Roberts in 1977 but relinquished his duties in 1979 when he was hospitalized.

Lane oversaw the Par-3 Course's conversion to bentgrass in preparation for installation on the main course and the patron badge waiting list being closed in 1978. Lane died in 1980.


Charles Coody had challenged for a green jacket in 1969 but squandered his chance in the final round. In 1971, Coody found himself tied with Jack Nicklaus after 54 holes.

Johnny Miller made a charge before falling back with bogeys at the 16th and 18th holes. 

With Nicklaus struggling to 72, Coody birdied the 15th and 16th holes to claim his only major victory.


Growing up in Gainesville, Ga., Tommy Aaron often dreamed of playing in the Masters. In 1973, he carried that dream one step further.

Trailing 54-hole leader Peter Oosterhuis by four shots, Aaron saved his best for the final round, which was pushed back to Monday because of rain. 

He shot 4-under 68 to beat J.C. Snead by a stroke and claim his only major victory.


Raymond Floyd used a hot putter and a new weapon -- a 5-wood -- to set several records in his 1976 win.

Floyd shot 65, 66 and 70 in the first three rounds, and he established marks for best start by a winner along with 36- and 54-hole scoring totals. When he closed with 70, he tied Jack Nicklaus for lowest 72-hole total and cruised to an 8-shot win.


Not many golfers got the best of Jack Nicklaus in their careers, but Tom Watson seemed to make a habit of it.

The trend began in the 1977 Masters, where Watson held off the Golden Bear for his first of two wins at Augusta National. Nicklaus trailed by three entering the final day and birdied seven of the first 15 holes to put a scare into the leader.

Watson responded with a 20-foot birdie on the 17th hole for some breathing room, and Nicklaus, playing in the group ahead, made bogey on the final hole to finish two shots behind.


First-time participants aren't supposed to contend at the Masters, let alone win.

Fuzzy Zoeller did just that in 1979, surviving against Ed Sneed and Tom Watson in the tournament's first sudden-death playoff. He joined Horton Smith and Gene Sarazen as the only men to win in their first try at Augusta National.

Zoeller got into the playoff when 54-hole leader Sneed let his five-shot lead evaporate. On the second playoff hole, the 11th, Zoeller buried his eight-foot birdie putt and flung his putter toward the sky.


The Yates brothers were a part of the Masters from the beginning. Charlie played in the first 11; he won the NCAA championship in 1934 while at Georgia Tech and the British Amateur in 1938. He played on two Walker Cup teams and was captain in 1953.

Charlie joined Augusta National in 1940, and Dan joined him in 1960. Together, the two ran the Masters press committee. Charlie served as chairman from 1971 to 1999.

Both are enshrined in the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Dan never played in the Masters, but he was a successful amateur and his son, Danny, has played twice. Dan watched his brother, and tournament co-founder Bobby Jones, play in the first Masters.

"It was exciting with Bob Jones coming out to play and getting some of his friends here, as he called it," Dan Yates said in 2001. "They were his old buddies. But Jones was the one everyone came out to see. He could play as well as ever, but his touch around the green was not what it had been."