Fans get 2nd shot to say farewell to master of Augusta

Crowds roar with emotion seeing Palmer's last round

The Masters

April 14, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. - The coronation began here 44 years ago, when Arnold Palmer won the first of his four Masters titles and a Pittsburgh golf writer started calling him "The King." The appreciation lasted throughout Palmer's legendary career and reached a crescendo here yesterday morning at Augusta National.

Palmer finished what he had started before Friday's rainstorm postponed the completion of the second round of the 66th Masters.

Eight years after he took a similar walk at Oakmont in the 1994 U.S. Open, seven years after he did the same at St. Andrews in the British Open, Palmer took his final swings in the Masters - his 48th straight - as well as in a major.

With crowds lined eight-deep in places along his last six holes, and 50 deep by the 18th green, Palmer acknowledged many of the friends who had followed him for years and others who were there to get their last glimpse of golf's most popular champion.

"The Masters galleries, they are unbelievable, as you saw today," said Palmer, 72. "I marveled at the last few holes. I said to my son-in-law, `I've never seen anything quite like this.' I've seen big crowds and I've seen people, but this was unbelievable."

The roars grew louder with each hole, and each shot, until Palmer completed his round of 85 with a double-bogey 6 that was as meaningless as the moment was meaningful. The cheers were deserving for a player who had brought the game to the masses back in the late 1950s.

To show how much respect there is for Palmer among the game's current players, David Duval and Greg Norman stayed around to watch after they had finished their respective second rounds. Duval and Norman had been playing in the group ahead of Palmer.

"It was exciting to be in front of Arnie to watch and listen," said Duval, who missed the cut after shooting a pair of 74s.

Robert Hamilton, a 24-year-old amateur who played the first two rounds here with Palmer, had memories to last a lifetime.

"This is a great moment in my life, a story for my grandchildren," said Hamilton, who had his hat signed by Palmer after they finished yesterday. "I didn't mind coming back to spent one or two more hours with him, especially here, how much the people love him. ... I got goose bumps on a number of holes."

After saying Thursday that he intended to play in this year's Senior PGA Championship at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, in early June and at the U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley in Baltimore a couple of weeks later, Palmer backtracked yesterday.

"There's a number of things coming up that would be in my thinking, and would be nice to do," Palmer said. "That would be to play the Senior Open and the PGA at Akron. I won't play them if my game is not any better than it is now, and I mean that."

Palmer kept his emotions in check a little better than he had on Thursday, or during his other farewells at Oakmont - the place he considered his home course, having grown up in nearby Latrobe, Pa. - or St. Andrews. But he admitted that "the last couple of days, maybe [there was] a little heavy emotion within myself [that] was not always noticeable."

He could not help but poke fun at himself one more time, as he often did in becoming the people's choice.

Asked if he was excited to come back yesterday after Friday's rains postponed the inevitable, Palmer said, "I have a smart response for you. I was very excited because I had not played [at Augusta] on Saturday for a long time."

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