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The 1983 Masters was noteworthy for a number of reasons.
For one, it was the first year that players were allowed to use their own caddies and not specifically those from Augusta National (although 12 players continued to use caddies from the club, including five-time champion Jack Nicklaus).
It also saw the first female caddie in tournament history, with the 1969 champion George Archer electing to have his 19-year-old daughter Elizabeth on the bag.
Another former champion, three-time winner Sam Snead, made his 118th and final major start. The Virginian withdrew after carding a 79 in the opening round.
At the age of 53 and playing in his 29th Masters, four-time champion Arnold Palmer made the cut in the tournament for the final time.
On top of all that, inclement conditions forced the first Monday finish in the opening men’s major of the season for a decade.
Some things, however, were reassuringly familiar, not least the flair and élan of Seve Ballesteros.
After winning his first Green Jacket in 1980, the Spaniard missed the cut in his title defence but bounced back the following year to finish in a tie for third, just a shot outside the playoff contested by Dan Pohl and eventual winner Craig Stadler.
Consequently, he was justifiably one of the pre-tournament favourites when he returned to Georgia in April 1983. He repaid that faith by opening with a four-under 68 in torrential rain. Only Raymond Floyd, Gil Morgan and Jack Renner, each of whom shot 67, scored better.
The heavy downpours continued into Friday, completing washing out the second day’s play and raising the distinct possibility that the tournament would not end with somebody receiving a green jacket. “I kind of have a gut feeling that we should not have a Masters champion at less than 72 holes,” said Augusta chairman Hord Hardin. “We’ll leave the options open. But would be declare the leader after 36 or 54 holes a winner? We might say, in the most disastrous situation, that there is no champion for 1983.”
Fortunately, such a ‘worst case scenario’ wouldn’t be required. Despite more bad weather, play resumed on Saturday with the postponed second round. By the time it was finally concluded early on the Sunday morning, Seve remained a shot off the lead, now held solely by Morgan.
He stumbled to a one-over 73 in the third round but was far from the only one to struggle. On a treacherous penultimate day, the field average among those who made the cut was almost four shots higher than it had been in the opening round.
Morgan lost his lead after a error-strewn 76. Nick Faldo signed for the same number. Payne Stewart carded a 78, whilst six of the 49 players who made the cut failed to break 80.
In the bigger picture of the tournament, then, Ballesteros’ 73 – which included three three-putts – did him no great harm. On the contrary, it left him just a shot off the lead for the third straight round, with only 18 holes to play.
Leading the way were 1976 champion Ray Floyd and defending champion Craig Stadler, the latter looking to emulate Jack Nicklaus as the only player to win The Masters in back-to-back years. A ‘best of the day’ 69 in round three left him perfectly placed to do just that.
By his own admission, Seve hadn’t played well in the opening three rounds, and certainly nowhere near as well as he had three years earlier. Yet he arrived for Monday’s rain-delayed final round with a renewed conviction.
“I told myself, ‘Seve, you’re not at the top of your game but if you put your heart and mental strength into it, you can show the Americans your true form,’” he later recalled. “I was feeling good and the adrenaline was flowing.”
It showed from the get-go. A birdie at the first propelled him into a share of the lead. An eagle at the second saw him take it outright. Another birdie at the fourth put clear daylight between he and his closest challengers. As he and playing partner Tom Watson reached the turn – Seve having played the opening nine holes in just 31 blows – his lead was three. By the 14th, it was four.
“While we were in our Chevrolets,” another Tom – Tom Kite – would later remark, “Seve was in his Ferrari.”
With Stadler and Floyd having engaged the reverse gear and nobody else able to apply any real kind of pressure, the Spaniard cruised home, chipping in at the last after air-mailing the green to win by four from runners-up Kite and Ben Crenshaw.
A week that began with rain threatening to wash out the competition ended with Seve laying waste to the field for the second time in four years.
“He’s a natural,” said Crenshaw generously. “He’s the most imaginative player in golf. He knows how to invent shots because he grew up that way. He’s never in trouble. We see him in the trees quite a lot, but that looks normal to him.”
Others were less kind, insinuating that much of Seve’s success could be attributed to dumb fortune. Not that he cared.
“If people say I’m lucky,” he remarked, his arms tucked into the sleeves of his second green jacket, “then I want to be a lucky golfer for many years.”
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