The subject had been Masters' mystique, and one of the worshipers had asked Jack Nicklaus about coping with "all those dangerous pin placements in those strange places."

"Strange?" Nicklaus said, "they're always in the same place the last day." And, 15 hours before today's final round began - and nearly 12 hours before the fossils who set them even left for the task - Nicklaus forecast the first few settings.

At one it'll be medium left," he said, "and at two it'll be back left. At three, it might be left or in the crotch of the green. At four, it'll be (just) over the bunker. And we'll use the front tee."

He had made his point, and today he was unerring about all but the first hole. Later, he helped another exquisite golfer, Tom Watson, obliterate that unfiar choker's image. Shot after shot down the stretch Nicklaus pushed Watson - and instead of melting into jelly near the end Watson won the 41st Masters in style.

Stylish is what Watson had in mind long before hitting his first shot today. He told friends he chose an ensemble of mostly orange "because it's a good contrast with green. That green jacket will look good with it.

Which it did. And Nicklaus helped it feel even sweeter by pushing Watson with a six-under-par 66 and allowing him to charge to victory with a 20-foot bird on No. 17 that finally removed him from so many challengers.

Watson began the round tied for the lead, but was not the favorite in the minds of many. The coleader, Ben Crenshaw, had assumed that role for reasons that included Watson's history and Crenshaw's odd circumstances during the earlier three rounds.

It was thought Crenshaw might be destiny's small blond darling, that perhaps somewhere Bobby Jones - or some unseen hand - was guiding him to his first major title. That seven-under-par score did not seem entirely his own doing.

For instance, there was the less-than-sensational second shot on the par-five second hole in Friday's second round, the one headed toward the front trap. Incredibly, it bounced right through the sand and Crenshaw ended with an eagle. Later that day, and through the sixth hole Saturday, Crenshaw escaped disaster, mainly with his putter.

"I have never in my life seen so many six-to-eight-foot putts drop in," said Hale Irwin. "And lots of them were for pars. If ever a course was suited for Ben, this is it, because he can spray his drives and get away with it."

But not today, after his playing partner, Nicklaus, pulled off a wonderful escape of his own - from the ninth fairway - and proceeded to birdie the first hole, followed by a birdie on No. 2. By the seventh hole, Crenshaw was all but eliminated, and he ended with a four-over 76.

So an anticipated cavalry charge was reduced to a three-golfer race rather quickly - and two of them, Watson and playing partner Rik Massengale, were being largely ignored by a crowd bent on a Nicklaus charge to overcome a three-shot deficit.

The herd moved ahead of Watson, and because of it, missed a fine craftsman at work, a 27-year-old with a major title, the British Open, already in hand and more official dollars to his credit than anyone on the tour this year. And a determination to make a solid game even better.

"Me, that's the big person I have to overcome," Watson had said just before teeing off. "And judgment is the most important thing here, to be able to get on just the right part of the green for birdie chances."

While many of the customers were walking away, Watson made birdie at the underrated fifth hole, the sixth, the short seventh and the par-five eighth that even the amateurs were finding ripe for the taking on this windless day.

From seven under, Watson suddenly was 11 under - and the Nicklaus charge was going nowhere. Three under on the front nine, Nicklaus actually lost a stroke to Watson and Massengale, who everyone but blood kin had ignored earlier in the day.

But there he was, also young and blond, and perhaps capable of bringing off an Eastern message. He is one of the leaders of the Bible school on the PGA tour each week, although his putter also is a major reason for $61,283 in pre-Masters winnings.

By the 15th hole, through, Massengale had visited too much sand and missed to many greens. And he and another hot stroker - Tom Kite - had left the final drama to Nicklaus and Watson.

Watson was up to it. He is a bright fellow, and generally reserved with a press that has tended to emphasize his backing toward the pack in the final rounds. In fact, it was Nicklaus who was unable to come up with the one last shot that was needed today - a six-iron try from the 18th fairway.

Quietly, Watson has endured the barbs, although he probably was unaware of the latest fantasy making the rounds this week, the make-believe sequel to the tire commercial now on television.

In that ad, Watson makes a fist and says his favorite tire "Grrrrre-rips the road." In the minds of some, that commercial should have had Watson, just before the punch line, grrrrrrrr-ipping his throat in the universal choke sign. With a memorable putt on 17 today, Watson signaled a fadeout for such scenes.