Slowly, like the grass growing back to normal length on the slick Augusta National greens, the 42nd Masters began to come into historical focus today.

With the morning-after heaping up of records, anecdotes and dramatic details, it became clear that this Masters ranked with the best.

Gary Player's final-round 64 undeniably was the most spectacular closing show by any Masters champ. The old record for best last-day score by the winner was 66.

Player's 30 for the back nine tied the Masters mark and his nine birdies for the day also equaled the best ever.

The 150-pound South African with the fire in his stomach did not pick on Augusta's easy holes, either. He had birdies at the brutal par-4 ninth (440 yards) and 10 (485) holes, as well as the two treacherous, water-guarded par 3s on the back - the 12th and 16th.

Naturally, the winning stroke was a long, downhill 8 birdie putt on the famous 420-yard 18th hole where the pin was practically stuck in the front bunker.

For overall low scoring by the contenders, no Masters could match this one. Never before had four players broken 280 here. And only once before (1969) had four players finished within one shot of the lead.

As an added fillip, Player admitted to his true age (42) afterward so that he could snatch the distinction of oldest Master away from Sam Snead by a few months.

The requisites for exceptional golf drama are magnificient shots and magnificent blunders. This Masters had both.

Player's seven birdies in the last 10 holes, overcoming a seven-stroke deficit to start the day, provided an unmatched come-from-behind charge in this lore-lade event. Player even maintains that his score should have been lower; he missed four putts inside 10 feet.

Nevertheless, it was the defeated trio, bunched a stroke behind at 278, who gave this tournament its extra dimension.

"Bobby Jones always said, 'It's the runner-up who makes the tournament,'" pointed out Masters chairman Bill Lane. "This time we had three fine ones."

The quality of the losers adds glory for the winner. While Player was tying Ben Hogan's total of nine major championships, the winners of three of last year's majors - Tom Watson and Hubert Green - were on his trail.

The presence of what-am-I-doing-here Rod Funseth, the man who said, "If I won, they wouldn't have a jacket to fit me," merely added piquancy.

Seldom has a Masters seen such painful choking as Wastson and Green had to endure on a bluebird day when conditions were perfect for scoring.

Watson three-putted from five feet (by his own reckoning) on the 14th hole. The Huck Finn of long drivers also bogeyed the 72nd hole when he needed par to get into a playoff with a man who had lost 17 sudden-death affairs.

Green, however, suffered most. After starting the day with a three-stroke lead, he helped give away a green jacket with his struggling 72. "Hubert didn't play very well," said Funseth. "He let us all get back in. Par wasn't 72 the way the course played today."

If ever a golfer struggled with himself for four hours it was Green. Every Masters was a winner, but this one had a definite loser.

On the practice tee, Green Watson and Funseth bashed practice balls for half an hour. Green was, by far, striking the ball best. Watson looked wild, Funseth shaky. But on the practice putting green, Green could not sink a thing. The expression on his face changed from pumped-up confidence to open worry.

At the first tee, Green, after 100 straight-as-a-string warmup balls, hooked his first drive into the ninth fairway. His personal circus included a ball in the water, on 11, and a tee shot on the par-3 12th that almost rolled up to the 13th tee.

However, it was not the Amen Corner that undid Green. Like Watson, he saved his worst for last. At the 16th, Green three-putted from 15 feet.

At the 18th he missed a three-foot birdie putt that will remembered with sympathy by hackers as long as Player's 64 is recalled with awe. The most glorious closing rush in Masters history, and the most disastrous flub on the final stroke go together inevitably.

That Green packed off his three-footer - or was it really more like two feet - to quiet down CBS radio announcer Jim Kelly will only give golfers in 19th holes all over the world one more subject for debate. Should Green have hit it the first crack anyway?

Green, with an undeniable sense of theatrics, returned to the final green to try the putt again at sundown. He refused to let photographers snap him as he restudied the little character-destroyer, saying, "I'd rather not have anything staged."

In the aftermath of the Masters, the somber site of Jack Nicklaus being followed by state troopers will recede quickly. "I suppose crank death threats are now a fad," said a Masters official. Nevertheless, it would be a shame to see an element of tension introduced between golfers and galleries. In no sport are players and fans so close, both physically and psychically, since many a spectator is also a player himself.

One one player in this year's Masters field could not bear to leave Augusta on Sunday night. That player was Player.

At 8 a.m. today he was back on the Augusta National tee, starting another round. "I did my exercises last night, you can bet on that," said the physical-fitness buff. "I've got a big match with a scratch player."

Player's opponent was his strapping 15-year-old son Wayne, who had flown 33 hours to see his father win his first tournament in America since 1974.

"Don't anyone mention him," instructed the teasing Player. "He hasn't done anything to earn it . . . yet. but it wouldn't suprise me if he wore a green jacket some day."

"I'm going to cry," the younger Player said with a grin, "but I wouldn't mind being one-tenth of what my dad it."