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SPORTS EXTRA / FOCUS ON GOLF: The Masters | CHARGING
HARD

No One Has Done It Quite Like Arnie

April 08, 1999|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He won 73 times worldwide--six of the victories in majors and four of those in the Masters--and Arnold Palmer figures that, oh, in about 72 of them he came from behind to win.

The words "Arnie" and "charge" were used in the same sentence virtually every week in the late 1950s and 1960s when he and, later, Jack Nicklaus ruled golf.

Palmer hasn't forgotten.

"That's what everyone dubbed it . . . 'Arnie making a charge,' " Palmer said. "You know, I always liked winning. I didn't care much if it was from behind. I never worried about how I got there, just that I did."

Maybe, but Palmer made a career of, and earned a reputation for, coming from behind to snatch victory from somebody else.

It was almost routine, and he set the standard for other chargers who followed.

Palmer's reputation as a charger was built largely on two major triumphs, the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Denver, where he closed with a 65, and the 1960 Masters, where he birdied the last two holes and beat Ken Venturi by a shot.

Palmer said he enjoyed being known as the guy most likely to run you down from behind. But he wasn't the only one.

"The people liked it," he said. "They liked to see that happening. It was sort of exciting, I guess. They were calling for it every time I played."

Palmer said Raymond Floyd and Nicklaus were also great chargers and he reminded himself that on at least one famous occasion, he was the one who got run down from behind.

That was in the 1973 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Pa., almost in Palmer's back yard. Palmer began the last day tied for the lead, but could only watch as Johnny Miller, starting six strokes off the lead, fired a 63.

Miller hit every green in regulation, needed only 29 putts and three-putted only once. Palmer, flustered, finished with a 72 and tied for fourth.

The charger had become the charged.

"That one was really a big one," Palmer said.

Miller said what made Palmer a great charger was also what hurt him.

"Arnie was such a gambler," Miller said. "Everything was always 'Go!' for him. Somebody forgot to teach him anything else. It was always 'Go, Arnie, go!' The words 'lay up' were not in his vocabulary."

Miller said his final round of 63 at Oakmont was more than a number in a comeback round of golf.

"You know, it wasn't just a 63 at the U.S. Open to take the lead. It was to win. It had some special ingredients.

"Winning from behind is not as pressure-packed as it is when you're in the face of things. That's the best way to win. But I won't turn down a win coming from behind, either."

Then there is the case of Mark O'Meara, who waited 17 years to win his first major, then won two of them in three months . . . both of them with late charges.

At the Masters, O'Meara birdied three of the last four holes and beat David Duval and Fred Couples by a shot. At the British Open at Royal Birkdale, O'Meara finished with a 68, coming from two shots back to catch Brian Watts, then won in four-hole playoff.

Even before his victory over a collapsing Greg Norman in 1996, Nick Faldo was a great closer at Augusta. He won his first Masters in 1989 when he closed with a 65, then beat Scott Hoch in a two-hole playoff--thanks to Hoch's miss of a two-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole.

It was more of the same in 1990 when Faldo went 66-69 on the weekend, came from four shots down with six holes to go to catch Floyd and then beat him in a two-hole playoff.

There's something about a charge, according to the player who pretty much invented it.

"I never really minded being out in front and winning, but coming from behind to win, that's really satisfying," Palmer said. "And that's an understatement."

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