The camera shifted to O'Meara, perfectly positioned in the fairway in almost the same position Duval had occupied 20 minutes earlier. As O'Meara stood over his ball, CBS put a font on the screen that said, "O'Meara, 28." Duval gagged. "Isn't he minus seven?" he asked.
"He birdied seventeen," Jack Stephens said.
Duval hadn't known that. He had assumed that both players had parred 17. Since he had narrowly missed a birdie from the spot where O'Meara now stood, Duval knew that O'Meara could birdie from there and the tournament would be over. O'Meara's second shot flew onto the green and stopped in almost the exact same place from which Duval had putted 20 minutes earlier. Duval breathed a small sigh of relief. At least O'Meara hadn't knocked the flag down. The putt would be 20 feet with a wicked right-to-left break. Certainly makable for a great putter like O'Meara, but not easy by any means.
O'Meara and Couples walked to the green, the applause raining down on them. This wasn't the kind of victory walk Tiger Woods had experienced a year earlier with a 12-shot lead, but the applause was warm and generous for two talented and popular players. Couples, now hoping for a playoff, played a fine bunker shot to about six feet. A three-way playoff seemed possible, even likely.
Perhaps the only person not thinking in those terms was O'Meara. "As I was lining the putt up, it occurred to me that if I wanted to win the Masters, I was going to have to make a putt someplace," he said. "I thought to myself, why not right now? Why go back down the 10th? Why not end this here?"
Unbeknownst to O'Meara, many in the crowd were already scrambling down the 10th fairway, trying to get into position for the playoff they were sure would begin there in a few minutes. It was just after 7 p.m. and the sun was slowly beginning to retreat into the Georgia pines, the warm day beginning to cool as dusk slowly moved in.
O'Meara and his caddy, Jerry Higginbotham, looked the putt over carefully. Both agreed it would probably break about "one or one and a half cups left," O'Meara said later. In other words, the break was about the width of the cup --- 4 1/4 inches --- he was aiming for and then about half that much again. But as he went to get over the putt, something in O'Meara's gut told him the putt would break just a little more than that. His experience on the greens at Augusta, built up over fourteen years of playing the golf course, told him that there is always a little more break in a putt than you think you see. And he knew, just knew that the final Sunday hole location at Augusta would be in a tricky spot.
Jack Stephens knew too. He had played the golf course a lot more than O'Meara and had putted to that hole location often. As O'Meara got up over the putt, he looked at Duval and said, "Don't worry about a thing, David. Nobody makes this putt."
Duval knew he had missed it. So had Furyk, who had been on almost the same line, just a couple of feet farther away. He took a deep breath.
So did O'Meara, who had long ago put aside any notion that this was just another tournament. He knew now that this moment, right here, right now, was what he had played golf for all his life. All the money, all the other victories, the huge house he had built for his family in Florida, were distant memories. This was a putt for history, the putt of his life.
"As soon as it left the club, I knew I had hit a good putt," he said. "I could see it tracking toward the hole, but I could also see it was starting to die to the left."
If he had believed his eyes rather than his gut, the putt would have followed the same path that Duval's and Furyk's had. But because he had played it just a little more to the right, the putt began to break an instant later than the others had. Behind the hole, many of the spectators began standing as the ball began to dive. O'Meara stood frozen, not wanting to think it might be in, not wanting to deal with the disappointment of thinking for a moment that he had won the Masters and then having to walk to the 10th tee for a playoff.
© 1999 by John Feinstein
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