Duval has always been a deliberate player. He took even more time than usual looking at his eagle putt, knowing what making it would mean. Finally, he stood over the ball, took the putter back, and watched the ball roll right at the hole. "Halfway there," he said, "I thought I'd made it." So did everyone else. The crowd began to stand in anticipation of the ball dropping. "Three feet out, I was sure I'd made it," Duval said.
But nothing is certain on the greens at Augusta until the ball actually disappears into the hole. This time, at the last instant, the ball took a tiny turn left, just enough to leave it an inch from the left edge of the cup. Duval stared in disbelief for a couple of seconds as the crowd oohed in shared dismay. Again, the sunglasses hid his emotions. He walked up and tapped in for the birdie.
Furyk had made a bogey six after his trip to the water and was now at five under. Duval was nine under. He had a three-stroke lead on Couples and O'Meara as he walked to the 16th tee. "That's what I kept telling myself," he said later. "I still had a three-shot lead. I knew Fred and Mark still had 15 to play, so you had to figure they would at least get to seven [under] there. But I was thinking if I made three pars, the absolute worst-case scenario was a playoff."
Which is why he played his six-iron shot conservatively at the par-three 16th to the right side of the green, away from the water. If he had been tied for the lead or a shot behind, he would have aimed at the flag, located, as it always was on Sunday, on the left side of the green where the water could come into play. Leading by three, Duval wasn't about to mess with the water. His shot landed safe and dry on the right side, but instead of funneling toward the hole, as shots often do on that green, it came to a halt, 40 feet to the right of the flag. "That meant, no matter what I did with my first putt, I was going to have an eight-to-ten-foot putt for par," Duval said. It was an eight-footer, and it stopped rolling inches shy of the cup. Bogey. The lead was two.
Duval parred 17 and parred 18, missing a 20-foot putt for birdie at 18 that started out left and stayed left, ending up two feet below the hole. When he walked off the green, Couples and O'Meara were playing the 17th hole. Couples had bounced back from the disaster at 13 to eagle the 15th, meaning that he and Duval were now tied. O'Meara had birdied 15 and just missed his birdie putt at 16. He was one shot back of the two leaders.
Duval carefully went through his scorecard in the scorer's tent, signed his card, and was greeted coming out of the tent by several members of Augusta National. Since a playoff was a very real possibility, they wanted to sequester him someplace where he could have privacy, away from the media, away from the crowds. The spot offered was the cabin named for tournament and club cofounder Bobby Jones that sits to the left of the 10th tee. Duval and his girlfriend, Julie McArthur, along with his caddy, Mitch Knox, and his agent, Charlie Moore, were shepherded to the Jones Cabin. There Jackson Stephens, the chairman of the club, was waiting. He congratulated Duval on his play and offered him a seat in front of the television set.
Couples and O'Meara were on the 18th fairway. Couples was in the fairway bunker on the left side. Once, in 1988, Sandy Lyle had made birdie from that bunker to win the Masters. But that had been a near miracle. Realistically, Couples would have to work to make par. O'Meara was safely in the fairway, but, since he was one shot back, Duval quickly figured that the worst he could do was play off, and since a bogey for Couples wasn't out of the question, he might win the tournament without hitting another shot.
Couples played his shot from the bunker, and as soon as he hit it, Duval knew his chances of winning had improved considerably. Couples didn't even bother to watch the ball come down, turning from it in disgust almost as soon as it left his club. His assessment was right. The ball flew into the front right bunker up by the green. Couples would have to get up and down to tie.
© 1999 by John Feinstein
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