- The Augusta Chronicle - Sunday, April 6, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. — When Arnold Palmer reached the 18th tee in the final round of the 1964 Masters Tournament, he turned to playing partner Dave Marr and asked a simple question.

“Is there anything I can do to help you?” remembers Palmer, who had his fourth Masters victory firmly in his grip. “We were very close (friends), and he said, ‘Yeah, you can make 12.’ That was kind of funny.”

Palmer didn’t make 12 — he actually made birdie — and won by six strokes over Marr and Jack Nicklaus.

No one would have predicted it would be Palmer’s final victory in a major championship.

After a meteoric run through golf’s biggest events — including four wins at Augusta in a seven-year span — Palmer’s number of major championships would end with seven.

Palmer was still golf’s main attraction, and he would continue to win regularly on the PGA Tour for nearly another decade. But Arnie’s Army would never celebrate another major title.

EVEN WITH NICKLAUS as the defending champion, Palmer came into the 1964 Masters as the co-favorite despite a mini-slump. He had not won in six months, and he didn’t win any majors the previous year. He was in the prime of his career, at age 34, and sports writers saw no reason for him to not continue his mastery of Augusta National.

Palmer earned a share of the first-round lead with 69, and he took the lead for good with 68 in the second round.

A 69 in the third round gave him a five-shot lead going into the final round, and it also gave him a shot at making history.

Palmer was in reach of Ben Hogan’s then 72-hole record of 274 and had a shot at becoming the first player to score all four rounds in the 60s.

He toured the front nine in 1-under 35 and headed to the second nine comfortably ahead. Bo­geys at Nos. 10 and 17 were offset by birdies at 14 and 15, and he came to the final hole six shots clear of the field.

A birdie on the final hole capped a round of 70, but Palmer’s bid for the scoring records came up short. Still, he was the Masters’ first four-time champion.

“This is the most singularly exciting tournament for me ever,” Palmer said after slipping on his green jacket. “For once in my life, I planned to do something and did what I wanted.”

After nail-biting drama in his first three wins at Augusta, Palmer enjoyed a relaxing walk up the final hole.

“Well, of course you never think you’re going to be at your last stop, but it was great,” he said recently on a conference call to promote the upcoming Golf Channel series Arnie. “I suppose that psychologically I had accomplished maybe more than I even realized by winning the Masters and walking up the 18th hole comfortably.

“That was something that was truly great for me, and it was a thing that I always thought about and wasn’t sure that it would ever happen.”

PALMER FINISHED NO WORSE than fourth the next three Masters, but after 1967 he never seriously challenged again at Augusta Na­tion­al.

He had other close calls in majors. He squandered a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play at the 1966 U.S. Open and lost in a playoff to Billy Casper. He also tied for second at the PGA Championship, the one major to elude him, in 1968 and 1970.

“I don’t really know why it was the last,” Palmer said of 1964. “I hope it wasn’t the satisfaction of winning the Masters.”

Palmer won 19 more times after the 1964 Masters, so it wasn’t complacency. One theory popular among the media back then was that Palmer had quit smoking.

“That was the year there was a lot of question about my game,” Palmer said. “The press was on me a little bit about quitting smoking. They thought it was (detrimental). I probably played the best Masters I ever played.”

Palmer’s off-course interests, though, were growing each year.

He was a spokesman for a variety of products and, thanks to his alliance with Mark McCormack and International Management Group, Palmer had created a business empire that made him the undisputed king of golf, if not the entire sporting world.

Like all superstars, Palmer gradually began to ease off the pedal.

“For as long as I played, I entered a tournament with the thought of playing and winning,” Pal­mer said last month at his annual PGA Tour event at Bay Hill. “But I have to say that after a few years of winning consistently, it isn’t as driving, or for me it wasn’t as driving. I played a little less. And when you start playing a little less that kind of gets to the point of, well, how important is it to win and to be out there playing?”

Palmer said he always showed up thinking he had a chance, even at Augusta.

“I never entered a golf tournament in my life that I didn’t have the personal thought that I could win that tournament,” he said. “And when that happened, it happened probably in the ’70s or ’80s because I went in to play on the Senior Tour and I felt like for many, many years that I could win a tournament if I really went into it with the thought of winning it, and that’s the way I played it.”

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