When Severiano Ballesteros stalked off the 14th tee of Augusta national today, the young Spaniard was angry and he was deeply worried.
But he was not scared.
"I say to myself, 'Seve, you are so stupid. You were comfortable. Now you are in big trouble. You must try very hard, you must fight like little Gary Player two years ago, or you are going to lose," Ballesteros recalled.
Seldom has any golfer come so close to an enormous -- almost an unbelievable -- collapse, then righted himself with such dignity and bravery as Ballesteros did today in becoming the youngest Masters champion in history.
Ballesteros led by 10 shots with nine holes to play, saw that astromical advantage shrink to the near-nothing of two strokes as he played the 15th hole, then finally prevailed by four over Jack Newton and Gibby Gilbert for the $55,000 first prize.
Ballesteros' raw numbers -- 66-69-98-72--275 -- and his apparently safe margin of victory tell nothing about what he endured this long, gray, threatening afternoon among the sweet smells and the serpentine tortures of Augusta's back nine.
"After what happened to me today," said the 23-year-old scrambler, "I think I must have a very big heart. I played with Gary Player (the only other foreigner ever to win here) in '78, when he shot 64 the last day. That day, I learned a great deal by watching."
The pivotal point of this 44th Masters -- the depth of Ballesteros' loss of self-faith and the beginning of his redemption -- came at the 14th hole today. He came to that juncture a throughly unnerved young master of his game.
Augusta National unveiled all her nastiest psychological tricks this Sunday the 13th. First, she lulled Ballesteros into overconfidence as he shot three-under-par 33 on the front nine, reaching 16 under for the four days -- just one shot off the Masters record.
"One minute, I think about record," Balesteros said sheeplishly. "The next minute, I think I may lose."
The Amen Corner, that notorious stretch beginning the back nine, worked that diabolical transformation as it grabbed Ballesterous by the throat in classic fashion.
At the 10th hole, a two-foot putt lipped out of the hole and he took a three-putt bogey. At the 12th, a gust of wind blew his tentatively struck six-iron shot into Rae's Creek, resulting in double bogey. "Wheeew, this is some day," thought Ballesteros.
At the 13th, the unraveling leader, trying to get home in two shots on the 485-yard par 5, struck an easy (for him) three-iron so embarrassingly fat that it bounced twice before diving into that same snake of a creek for another penalty stroke. Another bogey.
"I hit so far behind that shot that I still do not understand," Ballesteros said. What he did grasp was that his lead had dwindled from 10 shots to three, and that his playing partner Newton had just gained five strokes in two holes and was on a birdie-birdie-birdie streak.
When Ballesteros' hooking drive at 14 ricocheted deep into trees, his wheels were undeniably off.
"What I say to myself?" related Ballesteros, so mad marching down that fairway that the veins stood out on his neck ". . . you better start playing golf."
"He's choking. I love it," said a young fan breathlessly as he raced beside the fairway toward the errant drive.
This was the visceral moment of panic of rich unpredictable expectation, which makes sport so dramatically, cruelly and papably moving.
Just an hour before, after Ballesteros had birdied the first, third and fifth holes, the crowd was cooing his praise. "That boy can break both legs and use a (pool) cue stick from here on in," said one Dodge sheriff lookalike fan. "Reckon we're gonna be lookin' at a lot of him for the next 10 years."
Yet, in the woods at 14, Ballesteros had the blank stare of the accident victim still in shock. He looked a bit like Hubert Green in 1978 (three shots ahead) and Ed Sneed last year (five in front) as they discovered purgatory in the midst of this azalea and dogwood heaven.
Trouble, however, is Ballesteros' second home. "The more you go into the trees, the more practice you get," he offered with a grin. "Lee Trevino would not know how to play those shots because he has never seen them."
"Walking from the 14th tee, Seve's mind looked in a quandary," said Newton, his good friend. "Until then, I had given no thought to winning. On the front nine, Houdini couldn't have beaten him. Had he bogeyed 14 as well, it might have undone him. But Seve is a great player, and has the courage to recover from anywhere."
Ballesteros' recovery was sudden and simple. It took only three consecutive shots to put him back in irrevocable command.
First, from a decent lie, he slashed a high, fading six-iron shot through a gap in the branches and around three trees onto the 14th green.
Many players could have hit a similar shot, but few would have had the instinct and touch to throw the ball all the way back to the farthest tier of the green where the pin was tucked.
"Most would have left the ball safely in the front, then three-putted," Newton ventured.
Instead of another bogey. Ballesteros barely missed a birdie putt from 20 feet, then tapped in for a par that lifted his spirits. His drive at the 15th, a 520-yard par 5, was a typical 300-yard boomer.
Nevertheless, the champion's last, and perhaps most crucial, test of nerve lay ahead.
Gilbert had just made a short birdie at the 16th -- his fourth straight -- to go 10 under par, just two shots behind Ballesteros and one ahead of Newton.
"Jack (Newton) tells me that the shot at 14 was most important," said Ballesteros. "Maybe so. I think maybe second shot at 15th more important, because if I put the ball in the water again, then . . ."
Ballesteros rolled his eyes at the recollection and gave a vivid sense of how simply and honestly he relates to his game and how willing he is to share his golfing emotions.
Newton's second shot was already safely on the green with a 25-foot try at eagle forthcoming. Ballesteros, whose three-iron had splashed at the 13th, drew out his four-iron and planted it five feet inside Newton's ball.
So much for this Masters.
Newton three-putted. Ballesteros, getting a useful read on the course's slickest green, lagged down for a two-putt birdie and a three-shot lead with three to play. Gilbert bogeyed the 18th after seeing Ballesteros' birdie posted, and the dashing Spaniard simply parred into the barn.
Behind Gilbert, who shot one of the day's six 67s, and Newton, who had 68, came Green, whose final 67 put him at 280. David Graham, at 281, completed the prestigious top five.
This Masters, however, was entirely Ballesteros' showcase as, five days after his birthday, he won the second straight major championship in which he was entered. After winning the '79 British Open, he did not play in the United States PGA.
"This is the highest of all tournaments to win," Ballesteros said. "The pressure was very big. This was the hardest week to get my head clear that I have ever had and maybe ever will have."
What Ballesteros demonstrated here, and what distinguishes his game most, is heart: the quality that no other current young golfer seems able to show in such quantity.
Ballesteros understands that his sport is part theater and that a certain few tournaments have far greater significance than others.Like all great athletes, his game rises to the event.
The most obvious comparison is that, at 23, Ballesteros has a Masters and a British Open crown, while Tom Watson, at 29 and with $1.8 million in prize money, has won one Masters and two British Opens.
The one relishes pressure, talks about his fears, faces the pitiless thought of grand failure. The other hides behind a mask of technical perfection and does everything possible to disguise his emotions and his disappointments.
Inevitably today, Ballesteros was asked if he liked to be compared to Arnold Palmer, the golfer whose style his most resembles. "That is nice," said Ballesteros. "But I think he was more exciting than me."
Ballesteros' words were modest, but in his eye was a familiar sparkle. There were words in reply that he very much wished to hear.
These are the words -- and someday very soon they may be true: "No, no, Seve. You are just as exciting as Palmer."