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Palmer's finale at the Masters

Colleagues and fans pay their compliments to Arnold Palmer.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2002

Colleagues and fans pay their compliments to Arnold Palmer.

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The numbers are not what mattered to the thousands of fans who sloshed about Augusta National early Saturday morning to watch Arnold Palmer play his final few holes in the Masters.

By the time Palmer made it to 18, his score no longer was being posted, and the fans who came to say goodbye didn't care. Palmer waved, and shook as many hands as he could. For the four-time Masters winner who is finding it too difficult to play Augusta National under tournament conditions, it was an emotional farewell.

"There's a lot of things that came to mind," said Palmer, who finished at 30-over-par 174. "The tournaments that I won. Some I lost. And as all of you know, there were both sides of it. The last couple days, there's been some heavy emotion within myself, not always noticeable, but feeling."

Palmer said Friday he never had felt such adulation, and that is saying something for a man who has been revered for decades.

Fellow competitors also were quick to offer praise. David Duval, who missed the cut Saturday morning, waited for Palmer to finish and took a spot among spectators behind the 18th green.

"It was exciting to be in front of Arnie, to watch and listen," Duval said. "We waited on many occasions and watched as he approached the tees and greens."

"I saw him and told him that the tournament will never be the same," Ben Crenshaw said. "Fuzzy (Zoeller) and I had a cup of coffee with him this morning. We told him that everything we have achieved has been for the opportunity he gave us. We wanted him to know that. It won't be the same without him."

"I think that every player from the modern players like Tiger Woods and Charles Howell to the old guys like me should just take their hats off to Arnold," Greg Norman said. "He is what golf is all about. He brought the corporate money, the charisma, the fans to the game. ... He will be dearly missed."

For years, Palmer, 72, has returned, showing up for another Masters, 48 in a row. Not even prostate cancer surgery could keep him away. Not even scores that soared into the 80s. He even considered playing 50 in a row.

"It just seemed like this is appropriate this year, since I had decided not to play a number of events," Palmer said. "The only hinge on it was that if I played pretty well, I would maybe then consider another year or two. But my game is really not good.

"I'm like most people in this room. I hit a couple of shots that I got encouraged about and I can't wait to get to the practice tee and see if I can hit a few and see if I can make it work a little bit better. That's part of what keeps me going, the love of the game."

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