Nicklaus leads senior parade on Memory Lane

April 09, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A time capsule was opened at Augusta National Golf Club yesterday. Magnolia Lane turned into Memory Lane. It could have been 1966. Or '76. Or '86.

It began with Arnold Palmer making birdies on his first three holes. The roars filled the cool morning air and raised goose bumps on nearly everyone, including Jack Nicklaus.

"I got to the first tee and people were saying, 'Did you see what Arnold did?' " Nicklaus said. "When he birdied the first three holes, that sort of relaxed me. I said, 'Well, I can't let Arnold be low senior.' "

As things turned out, Nicklaus wasn't merely the low senior in the opening round of the 57th Masters. By the time he finished, the only six-time champion in the history of the tournament found himself tied for the lead.

A 5-under-par 67 -- his best score at Augusta since a final-round 65 helped him win the 1986 Masters -- gave Nicklaus a share of the lead with four others who probably became the most obscured first-round co-leaders here.

Even Larry Mize, whose 140-foot chip-in to beat Greg Norman to win the 1987 Masters is part of the tournament's lore, was overshadowed by Nicklaus, 53. The others who found themselves as first-day afterthoughts were Corey Pavin, Lee Janzen and Tom Lehman.

"It's terrific to see the names up there of all us old guys," said Raymond Floyd, 50.

Floyd was up there, too, right behind Nicklaus and those other guys. The 1976 champion and a perennial Masters contender, who lost a late lead and then was beaten in sudden death by Nick Faldo three years ago, is one shot back at 4-under 68. He is tied with John Huston and Bernhard Langer, the 1985 champion.

Nicklaus and Floyd weren't the only seniors and soon-to-be seniors who found themselves in the hunt. Lanny Wadkins, 44, is once again in position with a 69. Three-time champion Gary Player, 57, is four shots behind after a 71. Two-time champion Tom Watson, 43, is at 71.

Among the prominent young'ns in contention are former PGA champion John Daly (70), 1991 Masters champion Ian Woosnam (71) and two-time Masters champion Faldo (71). Defending champion Fred Couples is five shots behind at even-par 72. But all those big-name players were merely extras in golf's versionof "The Sunshine Boys."

"There's still a lot of life left in us old dogs," said Watson, who recovered from a disastrous triple-bogey 8 on the par-5 13th by birdieing his last five holes.

It was more than just a fluke, a collective blast from the past. If there's any course where it helps to know which way a tee shot is going to bounce or how fast a putt is going to roll, it's Augusta National. If there's any tournament where past success is just as significant as past failure, it's The Masters.

"I try to draw from a few of the positive things that have happened to me here over the years," said Floyd, who has finished second or tied for second three times in the past eight years. "I love the golf course. I've always said it's my favorite. It has to help you, the more rounds you play. You have to have a good memory."

This is the 35th straight Masters for Nicklaus, the 36th in the past 37 years for Player, the 29th for Floyd. Put it this way: Nicklaus has been coming here since before either Janzen, 28, or Pavin, 33, was born and before either Mize or Lehman, both 34, took their first steps, let alone their first swings.

And consider this: Nicklaus has won five more Masters than the rest of the co-leaders. He has won 20 majors, to one for the other four. He has won 70 professional tournaments, to 15 for the others. The only thing the others have won more of is prize money.

"He's a fair player," Mize joked about Nicklaus. "Really, it's fantastic. It's a great round. He tied me. He played really well."

So did Palmer -- for his first three holes and, after bogeying five of the next six holes, his last nine to finish with a respectable 74. Palmer, 63, playing in his 39th Masters, probably won't provide competition for Nicklaus and Floyd, but he certainly gave them some inspiration.

"I heard the roars, and I thought somebody had made a hole-in-one," said Floyd. "But it was Arnold making those birdies. It was so loud that the ground was shaking."

The ground shook later for Nicklaus. It was 1986 all over again, the year he came from back in the pack to become, at 46, the oldest winner in Masters history, 20 years after he became the first to win back-to-back titles. His eagle at the par-5 15th and his 16-footer for birdie at the par-4 17th were reminiscent of the charge he made on the back nine seven years ago.

"Yesterday, I wasn't sure I was supposed to be here, but today I think I should be legitimately here," he said.

When Lehman reached the interview room, Nicklaus was in the middle of his standing-room-only, post-round analysis. Lehman took a seat at the table and watched, almost mesmerized. Lehman must have sat there 20 minutes before Nicklaus was finished.

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