Though Severiano Ballesteros spends his life hopping among the continents, the Augusta National Golf Club is his favorite place to put a peg in the ground and show the world his greatness.
Here, he can draw the driver back and unleash all his power without being inhibited by visions of ankle-deep rough. Here, when he occasionally strays into the trees, he can find his ball on the smooth pine-needle beds and use his amazing collection of escape shots to dazzle his foes. Here, on the treacherous Georgia undulations that unnerve so many others, Ballesteros can show his love of adventure, his delight in hitting finesse shots that seem impossible.
All this Ballesteros did today as he won his second Masters. With a 31-38--69 for an eight-under-par total of 280, Ballesteros beat Tom Kite (69) and Ben Crenshaw (68) by four shots, his 1980 victory margin.
Those who compare Ballesteros with Arnold Palmer will have even more grist for discussion after this afternoon's front-nine charge by the 26-year-old Spaniard with the brooding look, the quick smile.
Ballesteros, who began the day in third place, one shot back, started his round with a birdie-eagle-par-birdie performance on the first four holes that left his only realistic pursuers--Tom Watson, Craig Stadler and Ray Floyd--in a confused funk. Before the field knew what hit it, Ballesteros had conquered the front nine with a 31--the second-best score on that difficult side in 47 Masters.
After that early eruption--which included a 10-foot eagle putt and a near hole in one--Ballesteros took a four-shot lead into the Amen Corner and the margin never shrank below three. Ballesteros closed his classy cakewalk with a 25-foot chip-in for par on the 72nd hole.
Ballesteros, who collected $90,000, called the first four holes "the most important of my life . . . after that, my confidence went straight up."
Ballesteros seemed to view his victory here as a sort of vindication--a partial answer to critics who say his woods are wild and his 29 international triumphs have been against soft competition. "If I listen to you, I never hit a good shot, but I won," said Ballesteros at his postvictory press conference. "Just another lucky win . . .
"One year, I will come over here (to America) to play full time, to see how good I am," he said, slyly. " . . . Maybe next year, who knows."
The second-place duo of Kite and Crenshaw never got a sniff of the lead. Kite said, "It was like a Chevrolet chasing a Ferrari."
Watson (73) and Floyd (75) tied for fourth at 285, one shot ahead of defending champion Stadler (76) and fast-closing Hale Irwin (69) at 286. None but Irwin can be happy with his day's work.
After an eagle at the 555-yard eighth hole, Watson was three under par for the day and just two shots behind Ballesteros, after starting the day one shot behind him. Watson bogeyed the ninth, 10th and 11th holes, then double bogeyed the 14th "to put the last nail in my coffin."
"You can't make those kind of mistakes against a guy who puts you on the canvas three times in the first round," said Watson, who was paired with Ballesteros. "He's an ebullient type . . . Like Arnold Palmer, he makes as many mistakes as he does good shots, normally. (But) when he plays well, he can shoot lights out."
Stadler and Floyd, who started the day tied for the lead, would have needed 70s to force a playoff with Ballesteros, but neither ever made a move. Floyd didn't get a birdie until the 17th hole while Stadler, who putted his ball entirely off the first green, came to grief in the Amen Corner, bogeying the 11th (splash), 12th, 14th and 15th holes.
Palmer, 53, who gave his aging army a nostalgic thrill with his first-round 68, couldn't keep it going. He struggled over the rolling hills, still wet from the rains that washed out Friday's play and disrupted the tournament schedule, in 78. He played the back in 41 and finished at 296.
Again this afternoon, Ballesteros re-established himself as perhaps the most exciting player in golf, and the most deliberately enigmatic.
His play on the first four holes, when he won this tournament in an hour, was the stuff of legend.
At the 400-yard first, he held a high draw seven-iron shot against a tough left-to-right crosswind and plopped the ball in the shadow of the stick for an eight-foot birdie putt.
At the 555-yard second hole, Ballesteros drilled a 305-yard drive into the wind; Watson then whistled his tee ball a few paces farther. Ballesteros used a four-wood--his favorite club since the days in Santander, Spain, when he played the town course at night--to fire the ball within three paces of the flag; it was a 250-yard shot that barely flew a trap and landed as softly as the proverbial butterfly with sore feet. Watson answered with an equally magnificent wood shot that flicked the flag and ended 10 feet behind the hole.
Both of the greats walked to the green grinning like excited kids. Watson's eagle putt lipped out; Ballesteros' putt found the heart on the last roll.
Watson had started his round par-birdie and had lost two shots.
After barely missing an 18-foot birdie putt at the third hole, Ballesteros hit perhaps his purest shot of the week. At the brutal 205-yard fourth, he smote a two-iron shot through a stiff wind; his ball landed six inches in front of the cup and rolled backward for a one-foot tap-in.
Watson finally rebutted at the 535-yard uphill eighth hole. After cranking up his driver twice, Watson slammed a 45-foot eagle putt into the back of the cup ("It would have gone 12 feet past"). Ballesteros was unfazed. He uncorked another 300-yard drive at the ninth and sank a 15-foot putt for birdie; Watson, trying to match Ballesteros' raw aggression, three-putted for bogey and began his slide from contention.
Watson addressed himself to the obvious questions about Ballesteros that interest all golf followers: his bad back, his decision to play only eight tournaments a year in the United States, his gambling and sometimes lucky style of play.
"I don't really know why he doesn't play here more," said Watson. "Part of it's monetary. He gets (guaranteed) appearance money in Europe. Maybe that's important to him because he has a bad back and I don't know how long his career's going to be. He does have a very bad back, I know . . . "
As for Ballesteros' good fortune--a common denominator of his three major victories (including the 1979 British Open), Watson said, "He had good luck in the corner, at the 11th, 12th and 13th."
At 11, Ballesteros' drive hit a tree, but ended in the fairway. At the 12th, he was so far up a bank behind the green that his ball could easily have been unplayable. But, instead, it trickled down to a gentle greenside lie. At the 13th, he hooked wildly into the woods and, again, could have had no shot. But he got a break and chipped through an opening back to the fairway and made a brave par.
These subjects nettled Ballesteros, who is too familiar with them all.
Was the check (for 11 million pesetas), his largest? "No," he said, "(but) for a little Spaniard, a big check."
What about his good fortune on the back nine? "Why you remember only the bad shots? In Spain, they think I am a very straight driver," said the barber's son who grew up with modest means.
How many languages does he speak? "Oh, many . . . Spanish, Cuban, Argentinian . . . Six or seven." He laughed.
Does his back bother him? "I have been a pro for 10 years, since I was 16 . . . I hope to play many more years. But you never know . . . I just want to be very lucky for many years . . . Mine (back) is very good. How is yours?"
Does he feel he's properly appreciated in America? "I am very happy with the gallery. I like them, they like me. I like you (reporters), too. I just make a few jokes."
Perhaps that is all. Certainly, Ballesteros was radiant at sundown this evening. "It was very sweet," he said. "But the first one (Masters) is always the best."
To his fellow pros, Ballesteros is no psychological conundrum. He's simply the golfer they look to as the game's current state-of-the-art magician.
"We were practicing difficult bunker shots at the TPC," said Crenshaw. "Seve said, 'Want to see me do that with a two-iron?' And he started hitting great sand shots with a two-iron, shots with the same spin as our sand wedges.
"He has shots nobody else has thought of," said Crenshaw. "You may think he's in trouble, but he's never in trouble."
When Ballesteros plays as he did today, it's the rest of the world of golf that's in trouble.