With strong gusty winds blowing in off the Pacific sending most scores soaring, Gene Sarazen posted a final round 4-under par 67 to win the initial event on the Hogan to Hagen Tour played at the Pebble Beach Golf Links on the fashionable Monterey Peninsula.
With seven majors to his credit, and one of only a handful of golfers to have accomplished a Career Grand Slam, Sarazen began the day one shot behind another legend, Bobby Jones, who had taken the third-round lead with a brilliant 7-under 64, the best of the tournament. Altogether there were no less than seven golfers within three strokes of the lead as the final day began.
Playing with Jones in the last twosome, Sarazen wasted no time, birdieing the first hole after his tee shot had left him but inches away from a deep bunker. But his 8-iron approach was lovely, and his 10′ putt dead centre; and so the pair were tied – and by the time he and Jones walked away from the 4th green, Sarazen had wrested away the lead – and he was not about to give it back.
His birdie at the fourth hole had been a near carbon-copy of the one that had opened the round. Once again, the normally straight-hitting Sarzazen had sliced his drive into heavy rough – and with the ocean cliffs hard by his right, he was contemplating a tricky appraoch, one that could easily turn wet. But keeping the wedge shot low but still maintaining enough backspin, Sarazen stopped his the ball only 8′ past the cup. Another birdie and he had taken the lead.
The New York native, son of Italian immigrants, then put the tournament away before he and Jones had made the turn. While Jones was struggling with his irons, and barely managing to play par golf, Sarazen was making the tournament his own, with four consecutive birdies. The first one of the string, at the par-5 6th, was nothing to get excited about; it had played all week as Pebble’s easiest, yielding 8 eagles and twice as many birdies as pars.
But the next three holes were indeed something to yell about, and the gallery did just that as they watched Sarazen sink putts of 35, 24, and 33 feet. As the pair took a short respite before turning for home, Sarazen’s lead had risen to five shots; no one was closer than Jones, as one by one all those other potential challengers had been blown out of contention:
Harry “Light Horse” Cooper had begun the final day even with Sarazen, but had run into trouble immediately, losing battle after battle with the trees that line the opening fairways. Cooper’s 6-5-5- start, four-over par, was just the beginning of his horrendous day. He finished with an 79, tied for 15th place.
The colourful Dutch Harrison, was only three shots behind Jones when he began his round, but this noted “money player” did Cooper even one shot better and skied to an 80. “The Arkansas Traveler” was still within hailing distancece of the leaders when he made the turn, but then encountered Pebble’s most demanding venue, the breathtakingly scenic – but notoriously difficult par-4 10th hole; 446 yards of trouble. Harrison sliced his first two drives into the Pacific, and barely missed another penalty stroke on his approach. A flubbed wedge and two putts all added up to a “9”, and finished his chances for a lofty place on the leaderboard.
As to the other four close contenders: Ben Hogan had won the 1949 Bing Crosby Pro-Am played here, and was thought to have the best chance of overtaking Jones, trailing by a mere two shots starting the day. But his short game betrayed him right from the start, and, like Cooper, he did not par any of the first three holes. “Bantam Ben” never threatened and finished with a 74.
Two long-hitters, Craig Wood and Jimmy Thomson, were both three shots off the lead at the outset, but the high winds cut into their distances off the tee, and the rest of their games couldn’t compensate. Wood finishing with a 74, joint fifth with Hogan. Thomson’s 77 left him down with Harrison.
The shortest hitter on the Tour, Paul Runyan, had also started the last round three shots back, on the strength of a second round 66. That day, on the 515 yards, par-5 6th hole, Runyan, had hit a 300 yard wind-aided drive, and then astonishingly holed out with a two iron, scoring an exceedingly rare double eagle. Coincidentally, one of Sarazen’s claims to fame is a final round double eagle that had won him the 1935 Masters over Wood.
But the man who had been rated the top touring pro in the late 1930’s before the advent of Byron Nelson, did birdie the first hole today, but it was not a harbinger of things to come. Two bogies soon followed, as the gusts blowing in his face kept him from reaching several of the par-4’s in regulation. But his troubles were just beginning. On the perilous 10th hole, Runyan tried to get too much into his tee shot, and hooked it into a bunker. He then hacked his sand shot and watched as his ball rolled down the cliff, taking his chances with it. It was far from a lucky “7” that was marked on his card.
The daunting Number 10 had already given Sarazen lots of trouble. In both the first and third rounds he had followed up good tee shots with aggressive approaches – and had found the water – and a bogey each time. Now protecting his 5-shot lead, Sarazen turned cautious, too cautious as it turned out. He played his approach away from the lateral hazard -and the flag – with hopes of chipping close and sinking the putt for par. But for the first time in 5 holes he missed the putt. His lead was down to four shots as Jones made a routine par. There were now murmurings in the large gallery about a possible comeback by the popular son of the South.
Those murmurings grew louder when Sarazen hooked his drive into the sand on the par-4 13th, and missed the 12′ par putt. The lead was down to three – and counting. Because after Jones sank a 22′ birdie putt on the par-5 14th while his stumbling opponent had to content himself with par, the margin had been reduced to a mere two strokes.
With four holes left, Sarazen seemed to be on the ropes, losing some of his poise along with what had been a comfortable advantage. Maybe, just maybe, Jones was gearing up for a remarkarkable finish.
On the very next hole, a short par-4, Sarazen countered with a 19-foot birdie putt for while Jones was missing one of the same distance. He had restored his lead to three shots with the same number of holes left to play.
In desperate straits, Jones, with the wind at his back, went full out and belted his tee shot 332 yards on the 406-yard Number 16 in the hopes of setting up a short chip and sinking the putt for a three. But he had struck it too well, and the ball kept rolling, coming to rest under a tree. He was forced to pitch back into the fairway rather than onto the green. His hopes of a birdie vanished – and when he then three-putted for the first time in the tournament , any thought of a comeback was dashed.
The dashing Walter Hagen, the tour’s other namesake had opened the event with bogey, double-bogey, and had shot an opening round 76. He followed that up with an uninspiring 73. But his spotless 5-under 66 on the last round may have served notice that he will be in the thick of things when the Tour takes a short limousine ride to its second stop, the Cypess Point Club, another of the Monterey Peninsula’s iconic courses.