Deep among the cathedral of pines at the Amen Corner, the wind whispered in the stark silhouetted tree tops at evening. The sun was nearly down, the Georgia air gathering its first nip of night chill.
Fuzzy Zoeller ambled down Augusta National's 11th fairway, sucking on a cigarette, humming to himself as he looked around at the growing sweetness of the Southern evening.
"Lord, this is such a pleasure," he later remembered thinking to himself. "Out here walking in the woods, got my fishing pole in the car . . . so many people would like to be doing what I'm doing right this minute. Why the hell shouldn't I be enjoying myself?"
Out ahead of him, precise, picture-perfect Tom Watson and ramrod-straight, introspective Ed Sneed marched purposefully toward their golf balls on this second sudden-death hole of the Masters.
"Let 'em go," thought Zoeller, shambling with the easy swaying grace of a big cat, a natural athlete, a long hitter. "My ball's way past theirs. Why should I hurry up and then wait for them to hit?"
Zoeller bumped shoulders with his young black caddie, Jerry Beard, then gave him a playful grab in the ribs.
"I've been like a blind man with a seeing-eye dog all week," Zoeller told the beaming caddie. "You sure enough got me here. Just read me one more putt."
"Jeez, man," said Zoeller, suddenly seeing a sea of nearly 20,000 people waiting for him just around the bend in the dogleg, "how many people they got at this damn golf tournament?"
Into golf's staid and proper Easter Parade today walked Frank Urban Zoeller Jr.-chain-smoking, longing for a beer, cussing innocently with every fifth word.
Sneed's quiet introspection and Watson's workaholic perfectionism-two of the hallmark temperaments of the PGA world-did golfing battle with Zoeller's flippant joie de vivre in the fabled Amen Corner today.
It was a great victory for What-the-Hell.
Zoeller, playing in his first Masters, never dreamed he might find himself in such a supposed caldron of nerves. On the first tee Thursday "I had trouble breathing, but I was paired with Lee Trevino and he had me laughing all the way around. I've been fine since."
Only once today did Zoeller act like a normal, harried man. When Sneed hung his final agonizing six-foot putt on the lip of the 72nd cup-to finish both the statistically worst and emotionally cruelest collapse in Masters history-Zoeller could not bear to watch.
"They had me a good post position to watch," said Zoeller, who grew up in Indiana, near Louisville, Ky., and horse country. "But I had to move away . . . I knew Ed had to play an awful bad round today to lose . . . and my caddie had told me, "He better hit that putt firm or he'll get bit again. But I just can't stand to watch golf when it gets that tough."
Zoeller only shies away from watching others suffer. As for himself, he loves tight spots. "On that first playoff hole, Watson and Sneed had the pin covered with their second shots, I couldn't see any room for my ball . . ."
So like a Robin Hood in his own private Sherwood Forest, Zoeller gunned a hooking eight-iron dead on the stick, but 15 feet short.
"I missed mine first, and I thought the party was over," he said. "Didn't think both of 'em could miss it."
Zoeller would never twist his guts over so inscrutable and fickle a thing as a six-foot putt. He spent too many bachelor years studying too many interesting women to fry his brain over unanswerable problems.
His approach to moments of crisis was perfectly demonstrated on that 11th fairway, on the 74th, which became the last hole.
"Just like always, I wrapped those white knuckles on an eight-iron and said, Where the hell's it going this time?'"
This time, Zoeller, a notoriously erratic iron player-"sometimes good, sometimes awful"-found himself dead to the stick, eight feet below the hole.
Where Watson might have run through a mental index of Byron Nelson's theories on eight-foot putts, where Sneed might have agonized over the memory of other missed shots with the devil's wand, Zoeller just asked Beard.
"He read every other putt for me," said Zoeller, "why not the last one?"
When the last shot of the Masters disappeared, "a million thoughts went through my mind," said Zoeller, "what little mind I have."
He fired his putter so high in the air that it caught the last rays of evening light, hanging like a brilliant sword blade 60 feet in the sky above the huge 11th-green scoreboard.
"Hell, that putter might have landed in the pond (by the green)," said Zoeller, suddenly remembering the trusty tool nearly two hours after it had done its work so well.
"I'll fish it out," he said. "That'll just teach old Betsy a lesson. You can't let a putter think it's indispensible. I keep another identical one-named No. 2-in the car trunk. I switch at least once a year just to prove to Betsy that she can be switched."
Sounds like a lesson learned in some other endeavor.
No Masters champ ever has enjoyed the first hours of his reign more than Zoeller.
His face aglow amidst the silver bowls and aristocratic silver hair in front of the Augusta clubhouse, Zoeller found just the right words. Well, by Fuzzy standards.
"Jesus, I wish I could tell you what this means to me," he blurted. "I'd like to thank . . . well, I'd like to thank Tom and Ed for missing all those putts . . .
If Zoeller, who has climbed up the money list-146, 56, 40, 20-and stood third with $101,720 this year before winning $50,000 today, can continue his streaking play, the tour may have another character whose mass appeal can approach Palmer of Trevino.
Zoeller touches many types. He grew up in New Albany Ind., next to a fairway at Valley View Country Club where his father was president. "He owned a veneer company," said Zoeller. "That's veneer, not manure."
Zoellr also has married into millions.
"I guess maybe our marriage was a little overdone," Zoeller said of a now legendary bash. "We invited a few people . . . well, 950. My father-in-law Mr. Thornton likes to do things right."
Can he afford to?, Zoeller was asked.
"Well," said Zoeller, not one to refuse a straight line, "he owns Thornton Oil."
On the other hand, Zoeller's taste in friends is extremely egalitarian. Mike's Tavern, The Old Pike Inn and Flaherty's in New Albany were happy places on Easter night.
"Yes," said Zoeller, "before I got married, I was in all of 'em. In one night."
When Zoeller's unorthodox crouched swing-"Some people say I look like I'm praying"-develops a problem, he does not go to a famous high-priced pro. He goes cross-town to Moe Demling at Shawnee Golf Course-a predominantly black public course. That's where Zoeller, a born hustler and tall-tale teller, feels at home.
Zoeller also knows he is accepted there. At the ritzier clubs, he hears "When are you going to win a tournament?"
"I'll tell ya, babe, I don't care for that at all," said Zoeller, whose first win came at San Diego earlier this year. "That comes from people who know nothing about the life out here.
"I wasn't at all tight in the playoff because I know what I believe. That win-win-win stuff doesn't cut it with me. If I finish second, that's a win for me. If I finish third, that's a win, too.And I'd have felt that way today.
"You don't come here and blow these guys' doors off. They're too good. And you can't hate yourself for finishing second.
"I play the game the way it gives me pleasure. If I've got a 50-50 chance to pull off a shot, I say, 'Hell, let's go for it.'" CAPTION: Picture 1, Fuzzy Zoeller jumps to celebrate victory in Masters tourney after running in a seven-foot birdie on second hole of sudden death. UPI; Picture 2, Dejected Ed Sneed walks off green as Fuzzy Zoeller and caddie celebrate winning birdie putt on second hole of three-way Masters playoff. Sneed bogeyed 18th hole to create the tie. UPI