In the clubhouse, Johnny Miller watched Tom Watson fly a wedge shot into the front bunker at the 17th green, got up off the couch and walked toward his locker.

"Maybe," he said hopefully, "I should put my golf shoes on again."

Then Miller saw where Watson's shot was resting. It was on the upslope of the trap but entirely in sight, an impossible shot for you and me to get near the hole but the sort of difficult test a master of golf ought to execute if he is going to win the Masters. Miller's possibility of a playoff suddenly had all but vanished.

"The odds of hitting a wedge in there and not having it end up buried are 20 to 1, at the very least," Miller said. "It's an extremely good break. Almost amazing. I don't know if he realizes that."

Watson did.

"I expected it to disappear," he admitted. "I was lucky."

Gouging out an almost hidden ball not far from the lip of the trap, Watson might have made double bogey for the second day in a row at 17 -- and been tied with Miller and Jack Nicklaus for the lead in the Masters. Scooping a dimpled darling practically begging for escape was infinitely less trying, if hardly a pleasure.

With a two-shot cushion, Watson flipped the ball five feet from the hole and willed in yet another putt for par. And Miller, working furiously, had cleared out his locker, packed and started for an appearance at the awards ceremony before Watson finished his final hole.

Miller's 68 was one of the few final rounds that had touches of obvious brilliance. Watson won his second Masters, his fifth major title, by doing little more than what was required: keeping his composure and sinking those devilish, twisting putts into holes seemingly set on the sides of glass ravines.

That is the rarest golf gift of all, to absolutely refuse to accept losing, to fight on every shot regardless of how hope less the ultimate outcome seems. Nicklaus suggested only he and Watson have that quality. Miller agrees.

"Lee's not that way," Nicklaus said, referring to Lee Travino. "Neither is Johnny Miller. I could be wrong about that."

Miller said no.

"Lanny (Wadkins, another enormous talent with just one victory in a major tournament) and I are a lot alike," Miller said. "We figure the ball's there, so hit as hard as you can. There are times when it's better to be short.

"And we get so mad at the game. But what can you do about it? Nothing. That's what Jack's taught me. He's always in control of himself. And so incredibly positive. If something bad happens early, he's convinced that somewhere along the way something great will come along. He's taught me never to get down. Never."

Nicklaus played as courageous a round today as we might see in years. He had no notion where some of his shots were going. He had the swing and green-side touch of an 80-shooter today. He would not allow himself to shoot more than even par. He made spectacular saves when he must have realized he did not have the game necessary to catch Watson today.

"I'm missing a lot of putts (at age 41) that I used to make," he said.

But he made so many to avoid bogey today.

"I had no other choice," he said. "That's the way I look at it."

Watson has that same quality, of being able to carry plodding almost to the ultimate. Miller alluded to this when he bemoaned his own fate with the putter, saying of one stroke: "Like Nicklaus says, it went in the hole; it didn't drop, that's all."

The progression of men's golfing lives is one of the fascinations of the Masters and the other majors, to see the very special players learn from adversity and grow and others fall just short of the final plateau. Watson endured choke charges that would have finished others. Now he sees to relish going head to head with Nicklaus.

Once anyone with privy to Watson the night before or the morning of the final round of a major tournament in which he had the lead simply assumed he would wilt. Anyone who saw Watson's manner after he gained a one-shot lead in the third round here, in contrast to Nicklaus, would have bet serious money on him today.

Beyond the obvious players, who touched us the most this Masters? Who was most humbled today but might use that humility as a springboard either to an Open title or a Masters coat? Who showed us a bit of Watson?

John Cook.

Let him tell you about the worst moment of his golfing life, that horrid seven at the 11th hole, and how he kept himself together when he realized his last chance for glory here this year had drowned. Twice.

"I had just made bird at 10 to get one under (for the tournament)," he said. "Then I hit one of the longest drives of my life, 30 yards beyond (Ben) Crenshaw. I had a downhill lie and was 180 yards away, not sure whether to hit a five or six into the green.

"I hit the five. Normal. Not fat or thin. But when it got about halfway there a gust of wind took it, up and up and then short, into the pond. I dropped -- and the ball kicked into a divot.I hit that one into the water, too. I dropped again, made sure I cleared the water and hit it into the back trap. I sank the sand shot."

Unnerved, Cook was even unluckier on the 12th tee. His five-iron shot landed on the green and kicked high into the back bunker. No more dejected golfer ever walked down a fairway. Cook held the club against his face, as though about to cry. Every mother in the crowd wanted to dash out and grab this 23-year-old and hug him.

From where he was and in his mental dither, Cook could have shot something astronomical at 12, made that seven seem lovely. Instead, he hit one of the best shots of the Masters, a feathery pitch that landed three feet from the hole. He made par.

"My second Master," he said. "I learned."

He learned that at the Masters sometimes the wind kills the best of shots and that sometimes the worst of shots end up in nice places in the sand -- and that anyone who quits over even one shot will have to buy the green coat for his wardrobe.