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The GOAT: Woods and Miller get testy, Palmer and Norman get a shot at revenge as match play begins

The first round of match play in our mythical tournament features some old foes squaring off once again
March 21, 2019

Editor’s note: In the April issue, in the last story Dan Jenkins did for Golf Digest before his death at 90, he introduced our Greatest of All Time Invitational—The GOAT. The top 32 in the mythical event advanced from stroke-play qualifying at Augusta National to match play at venues around the world. In the May issue and online daily from March 20 through April 3, Senior Writer Guy Yocom is documenting the 30 match-play results leading to the final at Pebble Beach. Who will become the champion? The winner will be revealed online April 4 and in the June issue. Screenwriter Mark Frost, whose books have included The Greatest Game Ever Played and The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever, will write two versions of the final with different winners.


Ben Hogan vs. Brooks Koepka
Seminole G.C., Juno Beach, Fla.


To the surprise of no one, Hogan’s first act upon arriving at the tee was to fix his withering “blue blades” glare upon Koepka, hoping—expecting—Koepka to slink away, intimidated. But Koepka, blithely unaware of Hogan history and a tough guy himself, offered a handshake and the words, “If you wouldn’t mind keeping your cigarette smoke downwind, I’d appreciate it.” Hogan, indignant, bogeyed two of the first five holes, giving Koepka a 2-up lead. But Hogan being Hogan and Seminole being his favorite course in the world, the Hawk rallied.

Wordless save for a quiet exchange with his old friend and Seminole member, George Coleman, Hogan birdied the fifth through seventh, displaying a palette of knockdowns, wind-riding fades, high floaters—not easy for him—and dead-handed straight balls. At the par-5 ninth, playing into a strong wind coming off the Atlantic Ocean, Hogan played his best shot of the day, a 3-wood second to 15 feet that drew “oohs” from the Palm Beach cognoscenti. He holed the eagle putt, and as he fetched the ball from the hole, Koepka leaned close and whispered, “Mr. Hogan, a guy who hits it that good can smoke anywhere he wants.” Hogan, 2 up at the turn, smiled, albeit tightly.

On the back nine, Koepka, conservative in the early going, now defied Seminole’s tight, sand-strewn fairways, ripping his tee shots past Hogan, rarely leaving himself more than a pitching wedge to the greens. A Koepka birdie at the par-5 15th pulled the match back to even, and a substantial part of the gallery—Koepka grew up just south, in West Palm Beach—roared so boisterously that the match referee, Seminole doyen Jimmy Dunne, stepped in and issued a reminder on gallery decorum.

Order restored, Hogan carved a 5-iron stiff for birdie at the par-4 16th, then followed with another 5-iron to six feet at the par-3 17th. When Hogan’s putt for a match-winning birdie fell, he removed his hat and offered his hand to Koepka. “To heck with that,” said Koepka, and he wrapped Hogan in a bro hug for the ages.

Hogan def. Koepka, 2 & 1

Bernhard Langer vs. Byron Nelson
Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio

Local bookmakers installed Lord Byron as a big 3-1 favorite, and even at those prohibitive odds, the smart money flowed toward Nelson, the line eventually moving to 4-1 at match time.

Early on, it appeared Nelson would make short work of Langer, moving to a 4-up lead through nine holes. Wise bettors noted that this was a home game for Nelson: He’d served as head pro at Inverness from 1940-’44. They noted also that Inverness’ small greens played into the strength of Nelson’s game, his incomparable iron play. On four of the first 12 holes, he hit his approaches so close that Langer conceded them for birdies, and Nelson’s straight driving was a weapon, too.

Langer somehow seemed unperturbed, and eventually it became evident why he was a key part of 10 European Ryder Cup teams. The man affectionately known to his fellows as Fritz would not go away. Despite being 5 down through 12, Langer made three consecutive birdies—two of them with twisting putts made with his long putter—to trim the margin to 2 down. On the tee of the par-4 16th, a newspaper reporter overheard Nelson murmur to his caddie, “I’m glad Bernhard likes putting with that thing, but I’d sooner sell my whole coop of chickens than use something like that.”

In the end, not even Langer’s putting could save him. Nelson clanged his 7-iron approach to the 16th off the flagstick to match a Langer birdie, and a routine par for a win at the 17th gave Nelson a 3-and-1 victory. His Inverness supporters were ecstatic—and so were Toledo bettors, who made their biggest killing since Jack Dempsey whipped Jess Willard in their heavyweight fight near Maumee Bay in 1919.

Nelson def. Langer, 3 & 1

Billy Casper vs. Arnold Palmer
The Olympic Club (Lake), San Francisco

Palmer’s irritability before the match—he’d bristled when a reporter asked if it would be a repeat 1966 U.S. Open, in which Casper made up seven strokes on Palmer with only nine holes to play in regulation, then beat him in an 18-hole playoff—subsided when the two men teed off.

With fog blanketing the eucalyptus and cypress trees, Arnold started out strong, playing the front nine in three under to take a 2-up lead. But the final round and playoff of the 1966 Open began in this fashion, too, and as happened in ’66, the momentum shifted in Casper’s favor. Billy, nerveless as always, holed putts of 15, 12 and 25 feet to begin the back nine—all of them for winning birdies—to take a 1-up lead. When Casper holed a downhill, left-to-right curler from 10 feet for par and a halve at the 15th, Arnold was overheard telling his caddie, Creamy Carolan, “I’ve had about enough of Bill making every putt he looks at.” Palmer’s manager and friend, IMG legend Mark McCormack, overheard the remark. “Hey, Arnold,” he said, “did they pass a law in San Francisco saying you can’t hole a couple yourself?” Palmer glared, then responded.

The par-5 16th is unreachable in two, but Arnold smashed a driver anyway and eventually halved the hole. Palmer hammered his drive again at the par-5 17th, and this time bombed a 3-wood onto the green, 20 feet from the jar. Casper, his wristy stroke as effective as ever, holed for birdie from 25 feet, but Arnold, hitching his pants and assuming his pigeon-toed putting stance, drilled the eagle putt to square the match. “Good thing you chose to leave the flagstick in,” said Casper, wryly.

At the short, uphill, par-4 18th, Palmer smartly hit a 1-iron from the tee; Buffalo Billy, without hesitation, hit driver, shaping a lovely fade to the narrow fairway. Palmer hit a 9-iron to 20 feet, and Casper answered with a wedge to four feet. Palmer slammed the 20-footer for birdie home, and sudden death appeared imminent. But then fate—and perhaps providence—intervened. Casper’s putt for a halve started on line and true, but the ball slid by the edge. Palmer fell to his knees in relief, redemption earned by a 1-up margin.

Palmer def. Casper, 1 up

Mickey Wright vs. Bobby Locke
Sea Island G.C., St. Simons Island, Ga.

When the participation of a female golfer was announced, one old-timer in the field huffed, “A woman has no place here.” Ben Hogan gave the man a bemused look and said, “Really? She hits it better than you ever did.”

Wright proceeded to demonstrate that she not only deserved a spot, but might go deep in the match play. On a blustery day, Wright established a pattern of grinding consistency, hitting the first 12 greens in regulation for a 1-up lead. Locke performed well, his huge draw—make that, his hook—well-suited to the bouncy, sand-based Sea Island turf. From the 13th hole on it was the South African’s putting that perversely did him in. The jowly legend nicknamed Muffin Face placed his approach at No. 13 at the base of a hog-back and three-putted to fall to 2 down, and after a winning birdie at the 14th had to putt sideways across a tier at the 15th, from where he three-putted again.

Wright had insisted on playing the same tees as Locke, and at the par-4 16th showed why no quarter was necessary. Facing a 2-iron shot to a hole cut just beyond a greenside bunker, she shaped a fade to within six feet. Locke, shackled with a one-dimensional draw, bounded 30 feet past the flag, and his putting again failed to save him. The hole was halved, and a routine par for Wright at the 17th gave her a 2-and-1 victory. Before repairing to the bar, Locke took Wright by the hand, bowed deeply and said, “Miss Wright, if you decided to play with we men full-time, I would leave the profession and seek an easier way to make a living.”

Wright def. Locke, 2 & 1

Jimmy Demaret vs. Phil Mickelson
Champions G.C., Houston

The two three-time Masters champions elicited a large turnout even by golf-mad Houston standards, and the fans not surprisingly shaded toward Demaret, their home-bred hero. One of the few Mickelson supporters was host pro Jackie Burke, a Hall of Famer who recalled that Demaret had baby-sat him when he was a toddler. “Jimmy is like family,” Jackie said, “but I want Phil to win just to prove the putting lessons I gave him weren’t a waste of time.”

Demaret, his hallmark fade placing him in the epicenter of every fairway, grabbed a 2-up lead after seven holes. Mickelson had three-putted twice, then blew a three-footer for birdie at the par-3 eighth and had the temerity to laugh about it. Burke trotted onto the green and swatted Mickelson smartly upside the head. “I want you to feel pain when you miss a putt,” he said. Mickelson answered “Yes, sir,” and immediately holed a 20-footer for birdie at the ninth and a 14-footer at the 10th, both for wins.

Demaret, dressed in a colorful tam o’shanter hat, collarless shirt and gabardine trousers, regained the lead when the black-clad Mickelson muffed a flop shot at the 13th, but Mickelson then birdied the next three holes to take a 2-up lead. A thunderstorm interrupted play on the 17th tee, and the two legends repaired to Champions’ cavernous locker room, where they entertained members for half an hour, Mickelson performing card tricks while Demaret, a gifted singer, crooned 1940s ballads. When play resumed, a Mickelson drive at the 17th led to a bogey, his lead falling to 1 up, but a mammoth tee shot at the par-4 18th, followed by a 9-iron to four feet, gave him a 2-up victory.

Mickelson def. Demaret, 2 up

Walter Hagen vs. Cary Middlecoff
Oak Hill C.C., Rochester, N.Y.

When reminded that Hagen had won 45 PGA Tour events, including 11 majors, Dr. Cary Middlecoff replied drolly, “Beating Sir Walter is going to be like pulling teeth.” Middlecoff, an erstwhile Memphis dentist, was accustomed to dispensing pain in other ways, having won 40 tour events, including two U.S. Opens and a Masters. He also knew every dip and swale at Oak Hill, having won the 1956 U.S. Open there.

Hagen showed up four minutes late for their starting time, which meant an automatic loss-of-hole penalty. The rumor was that Sir Walter did it on purpose to get in Middlecoff’s head, but if that was the plan, it didn’t work. Middlecoff, whom golf writer Herbert Warren Wind referred to as “a happy refugee from subgingival curettage,” won the first four holes. He also took his time doing it, smoking two entire cigarettes while he planned a bunker shot at the third.

Hagen was not amused by the slow play, and at the fifth his carefree demeanor changed. He rallied and tied the match at the ninth, chipped in for a win at the 11th and recovered from a crooked drive at the par-5 13th to win the hole and take the lead. Middlecoff, a long, straight driver and superb putter, squared the match with a long putt for birdie at the 14th, but on the par-3 15th left his ball in the bunker to fall 1 down.

The GOAT has a way of exposing players’ weaknesses, and Doc, a notoriously poor sand player, left his ball in the bunker a second time, at the 16th, to go 2 down. From there, Hagen coasted in, halving the 17th to win the match, 2 and 1. “Dentists used to administer whiskey to their patients, but all Doc gave me was grief,” Hagen said. “That was the toughest first-round match I ever played.”

Hagen def. Middlecoff, 2 & 1

Nick Faldo vs. Greg Norman
Turnberry (Ailsa), Scotland

The Scottish gallery, astute readers of expression and character, anticipated Norman might exude an air of low confidence. Understandable, in view of his devastating loss to Faldo at the 1996 Masters and being overtaken by Sir Nick after sharing the lead of the 1990 Open Championship at St. Andrews. But Norman saw himself as the man who had blitzed Faldo at the 1986 Open on this course and who got the better of him at the 1993 Open at Royal St. George’s.

Norman birdied three of the first five holes for a 3-up lead. Faldo, playing a more conservative game, stayed close, and at the par-3 ninth, once a par 4 that would have favored Norman’s straight and monstrously long driving, made a birdie to close the gap. When Faldo birdied the 10th and 11th, the match returned to level. There it remained until the 14th, a par 5 that presented an advantage to Norman. Tension was high when he removed his sweater on the tee, so as to bomb away without restraint. When a wag in the gallery shouted, “Take your shirt off, too, Shark!” even Norman laughed, and the remark must have relaxed him, because his 340-yard drive brought the green within reach. Norman found the green with his 2-iron second, and a two-putt birdie gave him a 1-up lead.

There matters stood until they arrived at the par-4 18th. Norman, adhering to his aggressive style, hit driver and blocked it to the right, into precisely the difficult spot where Jack Nicklaus’ drive had come to rest during his Duel in the Sun against Tom Watson in 1977. Faldo was straight down the middle and followed with a commanding 7-iron to eight feet. The pressure now was on Norman, and with his ball in a poor lie near the edge of a gorse bush, he made a ferocious swing that launched the ball to within two feet of the flagstick. When Faldo’s putt for birdie burned the edge, he conceded the hole and the match.

Norman removed his hat, delivered a handshake and with sincerity uttered the same remark Faldo made to him in 1996 at Augusta: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Norman def. Faldo, 2 up

Tiger Woods vs. Johnny Miller
Riviera C.C., Pacific Palisades, Calif.


A Woods trait was to privately manufacture contempt for his rivals, a tactic that motivated him. Miller’s occasional TV criticisms of Tiger clearly overshadowed the frequent praise, and Woods arrived at the first tee determined to not merely defeat Miller, but humiliate him. It didn’t go as planned.

Woods snap-hooked his opening tee shot out-of-bounds, Miller birdied the second and third holes, and just like that, Tiger was 3 down. Woods holed for birdie from the bunker in the center of the sixth green and made another winning birdie after driving the green at the par-4 10th. Miller’s 1-up lead disappeared when he three-putted the 12th hole, but the real turning point occurred at the par-3 14th. After stiffing a 5-iron to 18 inches, Miller blithely asked Woods, “Is this putt good?” Woods retorted with an icy, “No.” Miller, taken aback, promptly missed. Woods now was 1 up, and although Miller made nice putts for halves at the next two holes—he putted with his eyes closed at the 15th and while looking at the hole on the 16th—the 1-up margin somehow seemed insurmountable.

Woods very nearly reached the par-5 17th in two, but Miller uncharacteristically thinned his third over the green, and when Woods chipped his third to within a foot, Miller conceded the hole and the match, 2 and 1.

“I won the L.A. Open here, and I thought I had a good chance today,” Miller said while striding back to Riviera’s majestic clubhouse. “But Tiger was just too good. If he and Jack Nicklaus wind up in the final, I’ll come out of retirement to call it on TV.”

Woods def. Miller, 2 & 1

Jack Nicklaus vs. Harry Vardon
Royal St. George’s G.C., Sandwich, England


The two immortals, deeply respectful of each other, exchanged ceremonial gifts on the first tee, Vardon presenting Nicklaus with a dozen Vardon Flyer gutta percha golf balls, Jack pressing into Vardon’s hand three Ohio buckeye nuts. “Starting today,” Nicklaus said, “they’ll never fail to bring you luck.”

On one of the toughest championship tests in golf, on which Vardon won two of his record six Open Championships, the men started with caution, halving the first eight holes. Vardon took a 1-up lead with a birdie at the par-4 ninth, but one of his hallmarks—a smooth, unbroken swing rhythm—had the unfortunate (for him) consequence of rubbing off on Nicklaus. At the 242-yard, par-3 11th, the prevailing wind switched abruptly into the players’ faces. Nicklaus nailed a 1-iron to four feet, the birdie putt bringing the match to level. Vardon, unperturbed, took the lead again with a birdie at the shortish, par-4 12th.

The wind picked up, blowing so fiercely it prevented Vardon from lighting his pipe, and Nicklaus, detecting his discomfiture, began playing more boldly. His drive at the par-5 14th stopped only a few feet short of the menacing Suez Canal, and from there he made birdie. He outdrove Vardon by 30 yards at the par-4 15th for another birdie that gave him the lead for the first time. After matching par 3s at the 16th, Nicklaus hit a cruncher at the 17th, leaving him only a short iron to the green. Vardon, in an effort to match the drive, dramatically removed his suit jacket to free up his swing. It was his undoing, as he flared his drive to the right into the deepest rough on the course. The bogey that resulted gave Nicklaus the victory, 2 and 1.

Nicklaus def. Vardon, 2 & 1

Rory McIlroy vs. Gene Sarazen
Portmarnock G.C., Dublin, Ireland

Although Sarazen couldn’t recall ever having played in Ireland, the course and setting never suited him better. Portmarnock’s firm fairways matched his low-trajectory style perfectly, and time and again he gauged his run-up approaches in a manner that held McIlroy spellbound. And the Irish galleries loved Sarazen’s wit. When he lofted a bunker shot close to the flagstick on the sixth hole, McIlroy said, “You’re pretty good with that sand wedge.” Retorted the Squire: “I ought to be—I invented it.”

Early on in their back-and-forth duel, it became apparent that Portmarnock favored McIlroy’s playing style as well. Rory’s towering iron shots had a piercing quality that defied the chilly, constant breeze that swept the exposed seaside course, and he had little difficulty making his ball settle quickly on the greens. A back-and-forth match ensued, with halves on only two of the first 12 holes. McIlroy earned a 1-up lead with a birdie on the 13th, Sarazen brought the match back to level with par on the 14th, and it appeared either man could win.

McIlroy regained the lead with a 6-iron to five feet and birdie at the 204-yard 15th. Then came the telling point of the match. At the par-5 16th, McIlroy went on the offensive again, hitting a 2-iron second to four feet. Sarazen said, “Looks like a good time to make a double eagle, like I did at the 1935 Masters.” Replied McIlroy, “You mean, ‘albatross.’ ” Sarazen responded sharply, “I hate the word ‘albatross’ and never used it, but thanks just the same.” The Squire’s caddie, Skip Daniels, nodded in agreement and then handed Sarazen his Turf Rider 4-wood, which he spanked onto the green. McIlroy made eagle and Sarazen didn’t, making Rory dormie. And when the Northern Irishman won the 17th, he advanced, 3 and 1.

McIlroy def. Sarazen, 3 & 1

Jordan Spieth vs. Bobby Jones
Merion G.C. (East), Ardmore, Pa.


The immortal Bobby had seen good short games before, but nothing compared with the wizardry Spieth brought at Merion. On a short, tight course made even more confining with 20-yard-wide fairways and juicy, four-inch rough—not the setup Jones experienced in his U.S. Amateur victories there in 1924 and 1930—Spieth repeatedly performed up-and-downs. Even hitting hybrids off many of the tees, the Texan more often than not found the gunch, then missed the greens, too. But on nine of the first 10 holes he gouged, flopped and excavated his way to hole-saving pars, and miraculously stood only 1 down coming to the par-4 11th hole.

“Young Jordan is playing a game with which I am not familiar,” said an admiring Jones, who had hit every fairway with his driver, which he affectionately nicknamed Jeanie Deans. He responded by playing even more boldly, creasing his drive at the 11th, then hitting his approach stiff for another winning birdie. After Jones added one more birdie, Spieth, who’d finally found his long game, found himself 3 down.

Jones again drove perfectly at the 16th, the famous Quarry Hole, and after drilling his approach shot over the chasm to 30 feet, banged home the putt for a 4-and-2 victory—the widest margin of victory in The GOAT so far. Spieth’s disappointment was palpable, but Jones, ever the sportsman, consoled him with a parting gift of corn whiskey and a suggestion that Jordan sip it while soaking in a warm bath.

Jones def. Spieth, 4 & 2

Gary Player vs. Ernie Els
The Links at Fancourt, George, South Africa


Player never was one to conduct psychological warfare, but at a media conference the week before the match, he performed 100 sit-ups, drank a 20-ounce protein shake and said to Els, “Let’s see you match that.” Els, expressionless, lifted the table off the floor with one hand, guzzled a 32-ounce beer with the other and said to his countryman, “Match that.” Els figuratively was 1-up before they set a tee in the ground, and when the match arrived, the gallery shaded in his corner.

Els immediately put all of his raw power on display, consistently outdriving Player and recovering from Fancourt’s considerable rough with thick-wristed ease. At the turn, he led, 2 up. But Player, as he had his entire career, hung in, holing several four-footers for par to prevent the match from getting away. Midway through the back nine, Player began exerting the skills than won him nine major championships. An 8-iron to five feet and a birdie at the par-4 14th cut Els’ margin to one, and after a beautiful draw from the tee of the signature par-4 15th—Gary’s step-over swing was so aggressive he nearly stumbled—he hit a 5-iron to six feet and made another birdie to draw even.

They arrived at the par-5 18th level. A glorious third shot to five feet from Player and an even better third from Els to four feet reduced the matter to a putting contest. Player, using the blade putter he’d retrieved from a golf-shop barrel in Japan for $5, nervelessly rapped his putt home. Could Els match him, as he had matched Tiger Woods on the same final green during their sudden-death playoff at the 2003 Presidents Cup? He could indeed, and they headed to the first hole for The GOAT’s first sudden-death playoff.

This time, Gary would not be denied. After Els two-putted for par from 30 feet, Player, using a helping read from caddie Alfred (Rabbit) Dyer, made yet another five-footer, this time for birdie and victory. After the gallery swarmed the green and sang the South African national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika,” Player and Els recounted it as one of the most moving moments of their lives in golf.

Player def. Els, 1 up

Seve Ballesteros vs. Hale Irwin
Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, S.C.

It was not lost on reporters that Ballesteros arrived at the first tee with the blue and gold European Ryder Cup emblem emblazoned on his bag, and Irwin came attired in red sweater, blue pants and white shoes. The Kiawah venue stirred memories of the Ryder Cup “War by the Shore” in 1991, and both men uttered nary a word when shaking hands. Seve birdied the first hole and held a 1-up lead through six holes despite some wild driving. Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open champion, brought the match back to level with a birdie at the eighth and took a 1-up lead with a par at the par-4 10th.

It appeared that Irwin’s calculating style might wear Seve down, but an incident at the par-3 14th hole turned the match in the Spaniard’s favor. After making a hole-tying par, Irwin was asked by Ballesteros if he hadn’t inadvertently whiffed his tap-in putt before knocking it in. Irwin took it as a veiled reference to his carelessly whiffing a six-inch putt during the third round of the 1983 Open at Birkdale, where he lost by a stroke to Tom Watson. Irwin replied emphatically, “I did not make a stroke,” and Seve accepted him at his word. Still, the query—and the motive behind it—appeared to rattle Irwin.

Hale bogeyed the 15th to return the match to all square, and at the 221-yard, par-3 17th, he dunked a 3-iron shot into the water. At the 18th, Irwin made a gutsy 10-footer for par, and it was up to Seve to hole his par putt to secure victory. The putt was six feet and on the same line that Seve’s former Ryder Cup teammate Bernhard Langer faced in 1991. Ballesteros’ caddie, Billy Foster, whispered to Seve a reminder that Langer’s putt had broken ever so slightly to the right and that this putt would do the same. Seve trusted Foster’s read implicitly, and he stroked the ball into the center of the cup to advance to the round of 16.

Ballesteros def. Irwin, 1 up

Lee Trevino vs. Raymond Floyd
Horizon City (Texas) G.C.

Floyd popped the trunk of his courtesy SUV outside El Paso and was about to retrieve his clubs, only to find Trevino with them already on his shoulder. “You playing today, mister?” cackled Trevino, who’d done this exact thing in the exact place when Floyd arrived to play their famous money match in 1965. “Not you again,” laughed Floyd, who financially had barely survived the showdown with the then-unknown Trevino.

The two Hall of Famers tore into Horizon—one of the easiest tracks in The GOAT lineup—as if it were a pitch-and-putt, combining for 13 birdies and two eagles in the first 12 holes. Trevino emerged from the early part of this West Texas dust-up with a 1-up lead, but Floyd wandered into The Zone, reeling off three consecutive birdies, two with chip-ins. Floyd now led, 1 up, and Trevino noticed the eerie change in Raymond’s demeanor. On the tee of the par-3 16th, Trevino asked Floyd, “Why have your eyes suddenly gotten so big?” Replied Floyd: “It’s called my ‘Stare.’ I’ve won without it, but I’ve never lost with it.” Lee Buck retorted, “There’s a first time for everything” and drilled a wind-cheating 9-iron to two feet.

The match now was even, and after two pars at the 17th, everything rode on the outcome of the par-5 18th. Both players creased their drives, their balls stopping only a yard apart. As they each selected fairway woods to have a go at the green, they engaged in brief conversation, only one fragment of which was discernible, Trevino saying, “Let’s make that $50,000.” An enormous side bet apparently had been riding all along.

Floyd’s persimmon 5-wood, which he’d used to devastating effect in winning the 1976 Masters, proved useful again, delivering a shot 35 feet from the hole. Trevino, using his prized Bert Dargie model fairway wood, bounded his shot a mere four feet from the flagstick. The El Paso faithful roared, but a withering look from Floyd made them go silent. Moments later, Raymond’s long eagle putt grazed the edge, and it was left to Trevino. As he settled over the ball, he said, “I’m not gonna give myself time to choke,” and without hesitation, he rapped the four-footer home. As the two legends shook hands, Trevino said, “Raymond, if I had to play you every day, I’d quit golf and rejoin the Marines.”

Trevino def. Floyd, 1 up

Dustin Johnson vs. Sam Snead
Oakmont (Pa.) C.C.


Sam rarely looked across the first tee and saw an opponent who was his athletic equal, but in Johnson he saw an extension of himself. When Sam, loosening up, pressed his palms on the ground while standing upright—without bending at the knees—Johnson smiled and did the same. But though Oakmont would require all of the players’ power, its roller-coaster greens, hundreds of bunkers and remorseless greenside rough would test every other facet of their games.

Johnson, perhaps more on edge than his casual saunter revealed, drove into the Church Pews bunkers at the third, and Snead took a 1-up lead. Sam, who won the 1951 PGA Championship on this course, reached the par-5 fourth with two massive wallops and quickly increased his lead to 2 up. Dustin appeared to get untracked at the 288-yard eighth when he smashed a 3-wood to 15 feet, but his putt for birdie on the slick green was too bold and, as sometimes happens at Oakmont, drifted 20 feet past the hole. He missed the par putt and now was 3 down.

Snead, his putting a career-long question mark, was rolling the ball beautifully, and the two players parred the next six holes. Johnson, who won the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, showed his hidden fire at the tough par-4 15th, making an elusive birdie there, and a par at the 16th to Snead’s bogey trimmed Sam’s margin to 1 up. But Snead, who was a far better closer than he sometimes was given credit for, displayed his considerable killer instinct at the par-4 17th. On one of the great drivable par 4s in golf—and one of the most dangerous—Snead unleashed a towering cut driver to six feet, and the birdie that followed gave him a 2-and-1 victory.

Snead def. Johnson, 2 & 1

Peter Thomson vs. Tom Watson
Royal Birkdale G.C., Southport, England

Thomson and Watson won five Open Championship titles apiece, second only to Harry Vardon. They both had captured claret jugs at Royal Birkdale, a test as honest and straightforward as the players. No venue could be more fitting, and the two players coincidentally showed up dressed almost exactly alike, in Hogan-style driving caps, tan-cashmere sweaters, pleated wool trousers and brown-leather brogan shoes. “One of us needs to at least change sweaters,” laughed Thomson, donning a black cardigan.

The early holes indicated why the Ladbrokes betting parlor in Southport had set the line at even-money. On a blustery day, the course playing firm and fast with small clouds of dust kicking up on every iron shot, the players put on a shotmaking clinic. Watson drove to the front of the green at the par-4 fifth and made birdie to go 1 up, but Thomson got back to even when he pitched to within a foot for a winning par at the par-3 seventh.

Mistakes were made: Thomson fatted a pitch at the 13th and lost the hole, and Watson gave it right back after pushing his drive badly at the 14th. It was anybody’s game until the par-4 16th. There, Watson did a very Watson thing, chipping in for birdie and a 1-up lead. Two excellent shots from Thomson at the par-5 17th set up a simple third shot and a birdie, but Watson matched him. At the 18th, Thomson received a terrible break, his drive coming to rest in the bottom of a deep, unrepaired divot hole. “Tommo” played a masterful recovery to 20 feet, but the par that resulted only matched Watson’s. Thomson was asked if he had immediate plans going forward. Tapping his wristwatch, he said, “Tom and I are going in for a late breakfast, which is possible because we played 18 holes in under three hours.”

That match completed the round of 32, setting up eight more matches to determine the quarterfinalists.

Watson def. Thomson, 1 up

Here is the bracket heading into the Round of 16: