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Palmer rules Open in record comeback

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 25, 1999


When Arnold Palmer won the Masters at Augusta National in April, he set his sights on the United States Open. Two months and three rounds later, at Denver's Cherry Hill Country Club, it seemed more like wishful thinking. He was in 15th place, trailing Mike Souchak by seven strokes, going into the final round.

That was when Palmer brought a new word to golf's lexicon: Charge!

Seated with several writers at lunch before the final round, Palmer mused: "What if I shoot 65? Two-eighty always wins the Open. What would that do?"

Bob Drum, a reporter and friend from Pittsburgh, replied: "Two-eighty won't do you one damn bit of good. You're too far back."

"Oh, yeah?" Palmer said. "Watch and see."

And on June19, 1960, with an ever-growing following that eventually would become known as Arnie's Army, the 30-year-old Palmer shot an extraordinary 6-under 65 for a 72-hole 280, still the greatest comeback in the history of the tournament, one better than Gene Sarazen's 66 in 1932. Palmer's winning purse was $14,400.

Souchak, leader in the first three rounds, shot 75 in the final round to finish in a six-way tie for third at 283, and Ben Hogan was in a threesome at 284.

Jack Nicklaus, a 20-year-old junior from Ohio State, shot par 71 to wind up second, two strokes back at 282, the lowest score by an amateur in the U.S. Open.

Palmer began his charge right at the start, blasting his tee shot to the edge of the green on the 318-yard par-4 first hole and birdied it -- and the next three holes as well. Then he birdied Nos. 6 and 7 and took his only bogey at No. 8, where he two-putted out of a sand trap. He finished the front nine with 30, equaling the U.S. Open record, and added a seventh birdie (he'd had 13 in the first three rounds) to finish the back nine in 65.

"I never lost my desire to win here, but you must have the breaks, too," said Palmer, who earlier in the year had rung up his second Masters victory in three years.

Hogan, shooting for an unprecedented fifth Open victory, was paired with Nicklaus for the final round, and each had a chance to catch Palmer until the final two holes.

At No. 17, a par 5 guarded by water, Hogan's third shot landed at the edge of the moat. He removed his right shoe and sock, stood in the water and hit within 18 feet of the pin, then two-putted for bogey. And at No. 18 he hooked his tee shot into a lake, eventually taking triple-bogey 7. Nicklaus sliced his tee shot into the rough on the right and took bogey 5.

Palmer would win four Masters and two British Opens. This was his only U.S. Open triumph.


-- Information from the New York Times and Golfweek was used in this report.

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