AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – The friendly rivalry of two Texas boys began in youth golf under the tutelage of venerable teacher Harvey Penick, entered the national spotlight while teammates at the University of Texas, then blossomed on the PGA Tour after Tom Kite turned pro in 1972 and Ben Crenshaw followed him a year later. It was only fitting that the rivalry would reach a crescendo on golf’s biggest stage.
A year after they finished tied for second, four strokes behind Seve Ballesteros, Crenshaw (-11) outlasted Kite in an epic duel under miserable weather conditions, ending in a playoff to earn his first Green Jacket in the 1984 Masters replay.
Needing only a par on the 72nd hole to win, Kite sliced his drive into the silent pines, leading to a playoff-forcing bogey, then bogeyed the first playoff hole to give Crenshaw the title. It was a heart-wrenching moment for all present and “Gentle” Ben was quick to console his former Longhorn teammate after tapping in the winning par putt.
The 48th Masters will be remembered as much for the weather as the conduct of the players. A torrential thunderstorm early evening Saturday suspended play with the final pairing of Kite and Mark Lye having just teed off on the par-3 12th and Crenshaw with Aussie David Graham in the 13th fairway. When play restarted, it was as though the tournament had moved to a different course. Augusta National’s softened-up fairways no longer yielded long rolls, its normally benign rough became punitive for all stray shots, but the greens – feared for their slickness and difficulty in holding – became steady like dartboards as approach shots hit and stuck.
Play resumed at 8 a.m. under a steel-gray sky with a shotgun start and 19 players still on the course finishing the third round, including two-time champion Tom Watson. The morning air was crisp but remained calm. When the third round officially ended around 9:45 a.m., Kite (-9) had a one-shot lead over Lye and two ahead of Crenshaw, Graham, and Englishman Nick Faldo.
The change in conditions greatly affected Kite in the final round as he only managed to hit three of seven fairways off the tee and just three greens in regulation on the front nine. Yet his putter and pitching wedge kept him atop the leaderboard by one as he constantly scrambled, successfully saving par on five of six opportunities. While shaky, Kite managed to convert the key shots when they mattered – holing out a 14-foot par putt on the 1st, lagging a 78-foot putt within tap-in range on the 3rd, and twice chipping within inches after missing the greens on the 7th and 8th en route to a 36 at the turn.
Meanwhile, Crenshaw, playing a hole ahead, started hot with a pair of birdies on the first three holes, pulling into a momentary tie for lead. Despite a bogey on the 5th that dropped him back one, he continued to attack the pins and narrowly missed birdie putts on the next three holes. An 8-foot par-saving putt on the 9th closed out the front nine with a 35 and kept the pressure on Kite.
Graham, the 1981 U.S. Open champion, struggled all day, carding a 38 on the front side. His fading tournament hopes were crushed with a triple-bogey on the 12th after splashing into Rae’s Creek, then missing the green on his second tee shot. He would ultimately end with a 75 (-4) and finish in 10th place.
Lye, a heralded up-and-coming talent, briefly held a one-stroke lead (-10) after the third hole, but a double-bogey/bogey follow-up on the next two holes knocked him out of the running and he never fully recovered. Lye ended with a round of even par (-8), one shot behind Watson in a three-way tie for fourth with David Edwards and Dr. Gil Morgan.
Kite reached his high-water mark with a birdie on the 10th, extending the lead to two over Crenshaw. An opportunity to possibly put away his rival was lost on the next hole when a 7-foot birdie putt lipped out. Visibly frustrated, Kite nearly ran into disaster on the 12th after missing yet another green but saved par by sinking a 20-foot putt.
It became apparent that Crenshaw was dictating the pace on the final nine as he would hit six of seven fairways and eight of nine greens in regulation. It only seemed a matter of time before he would make a charge. After five straight pars, Crenshaw went on a tear down the stretch, birdieing three of the final four holes to cut the deficit to one.
To all present, it seemed the last four holes were a horserace and the question loomed whether Kite could somehow hold on down the stretch. Although ahead by two, his lead seemed tenuous. From the 15th fairway, he heard the roar of the gallery as Crenshaw knocked in a 9-foot birdie putt, then proceeded to match it with an approach to 5 feet and a birdie on his own.
The turning point came on the par-3 16th. When Crenshaw birdied after nearly acing the hole, Kite felt compelled to shoot for the pin. The shot went a bit long, teetered on the reverse slope, then gradually rolled down the softened green to 27 feet away. He misread the break and left the first putt 11 feet short but somehow summoned up the fortitude to save par and stay one ahead.
From the 17th tee, another audible roar was heard in the distance as Crenshaw hit a crisp 7-iron to within five feet, then drained the putt to momentarily share the lead. Once again, Kite rose to the challenge, playing his approach to within three feet and regaining the lead.
With Crenshaw managing par on the 72nd hole for a total of 68, Kite, whose nerves had been stretched to the breaking point by a competitor who wouldn’t back down, had victory almost in his grasp, needing just a par to clinch the tournament. It was after an awful pause addressing his tee shot that fate would have him hit his poorest shot of the tournament at the most inopportune time – a sharp slice that bounded deep into the pine trees.
After chipping out and hitting a wedge to about 19 feet, the tournament had come down to one putt. With Crenshaw grimly looking on, Kite studied his line then stroked a putt that seemed to last an eternity as it approached the hole … then veered off to the left at the last moment after hitting a spike mark. The tension was broken by a collective gasp from the gallery and a dejected Kite sank to his knees in despair before tapping in for bogey and a final round of 70. Crenshaw seemed stunned that he was now in a playoff. Twenty-five holes had been played on the final day, and still, a champion had not yet been decided.
After an electrifying finish over the final four holes, the playoff on the 10th seemed anticlimactic. Although Crenshaw left an opening by slicing into the rough, an emotionally spent Kite hit his further right into a poor lie, then missed the green right on his approach. Crenshaw played safely to the center of green and waited patiently as Kite chipped on and two-putted from 24 feet.
When his three-foot par putt dropped, Crenshaw slumped forward, hands on his knees, like an exhausted runner, seemingly more relieved than exuberant at the moment of triumph. Amid bittersweet applause that was as much a salute to the vanquished as well as the victor, Crenshaw shared a congratulatory hug with caddy Carl Jackson, then turned to Kite. He spent a long moment speaking words of encouragement directly into the ear of his distraught Longhorn teammate who nodded, visibly moved by the gesture. The pair walked off the green to more cheers, Crenshaw’s arm draped around Kite’s shoulders.
For Kite, the frustration of defeat to Crenshaw transcends this venue. They had been spirited competitors coming up through the amateur ranks. Their collegiate careers overlapped three seasons, with Crenshaw winning the NCAA championship outright in 1971 and 1973, and sharing top honors with Kite in 1972. Coming into the 1984 Masters, Crenshaw had nine professional wins to Kite’s six. Being the first of the pair to claim a major title gives Crenshaw additional bragging rights, although given his character, he will probably remain humble.
In terms of sheer drama, the 48th Masters replay goes into the alternate history records book as one of the best played in recent memory. It is defined as much by the rivalry and competitive spirit of two Texans who brought out the best in each other as it is for the way the tournament was lost and won. They tell tall tales in Texas, but it won’t get any better than this.
1 Crenshaw (-11)* $108,000
2 Kite (-11) $64,800
3 Watson (-9) $40,800
T4 Lye (-8) $24,800
T4 Edwards (-8) $24,800
T4 Morgan (-8) $24,800
7 Nelson (-7) $20,100
8 Black (-6) $18,600
9 Couples (-5) $17,400
10 Graham (-4) $16,200
*Playoff win on first hole.