From the 10th tee at Augusta National, you look down a long hallway between tall pines. The strip of green carpet seems to stretch forever. In fact, it leads to a back-nine paradise filled with white and pink dogwood.
But it can be hellish for the golfers, even the best of them. Lee Trevino and Isao Aoki stand at the top of the hill, a huge gallery behind them. So far, they have battled the course almost to a draw, better than most can do here today in the 49th Masters' opening round. Trevino is one under, Aoki even.
Trevino is surprising even himself. Just for openers, when he arrived on the grounds earlier in the week, driving down Magnolia Lane merely to register, it looked like the start of another disastrous Masters week for him. He locked his keys inside his car. "I kept my cool, I kept my cool," he said afterward. He had to, or else continue suffering: In 17 previous Masters, Trevino has known only anguish.
Joking as he usually does outside of Augusta, but this time genuinely relaxed here, Trevino laughed off the brief inconvenience. At 45, he says, he's just learning to use his head instead of lose it. Result: By midafternoon today, word had spread across the lush property that Trevino was hitting the ball as he did last August when he emerged from a hacker's oblivion to win the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek, Ala.
At the 10th, the big crowd has assembled in hopes of seeing the Trevino of old, of 1980 for instance, when he won $385,814, the second leading money winner on the tour.
Here at 10, appearances deceive, disaster lurks. The only sound midway down the 10th is that of birds, yet in this idyllic setting Trevino and Aoki struggle. Trevino seems to get by briefly on pluck: He punches an iron shot surprisingly short, but it bounces up out of trouble and onto the green. He dances, and the crowd roars.
Trevino also is playing with a new metal driver, which he says gives him an extra 15 yards, which he needs here at Augusta. He's a short hitter and it's the length of the course that has in part always bedeviled him. On 11, the driver pays dividends as he clears a crest. He says the one problem he has always faced at Augusta is that so often he has landed on the short side of a crest. But now the crowd senses he's hitting the ball well, maybe better than he's ever hit it here. The gallery sweeps past a woman in a red jumpsuit with red earrings the size of silver dollars, stretched on the lawn and sunning herself. Trevino's fans have eyes only for him.
At 12, the little par three over Rae's Creek, Trevino hits a six-iron to within six feet of the pin, which is set fiendishly in front of a kidney-shaped bunker. An almost perfect loft. And then, with everyone craning from the near side of the creek, many looking through binoculars, he sinks the putt, retrieves the ball and waves it jubilantly. From the reaction, you would have thought it was Sunday and sudden death.
Nos. 13, 14 and 15 are long, back-and-forth holes which Trevino and Aoki negotiate in par. From a mound along the 15th fairway, you can look down at the spot where Gene Sarazen hit his immortal double eagle in 1935, over the pond and onto the green. From close to where Sarazen swung, Trevino plays it safe, laying up short of the water. Aoki goes for it, and almost is sorry. His ball clears short of the pond and hits short of the green and rolls backward toward the water. Aoki clutches his shin and holds on for dear life. The ball sticks in rough just in front of the water, saving Aoki. As for Sarazen, his shot remains a mystery impossible to fathom: How could he have hit it such a distance?
At 16, the almost all-water hole made famous by television, Trevino's six-iron puts him six feet left of the pin. He curls his putt left to right and in it goes -- he's three under, and a great roar comes up out of the pines. Aoki again must struggle for par.
Nos. 17 and 18 are par fours, uphill. Trevino cranks perhaps his best drive at 17. "Fired up, ain't he," a spectator says. Another: "Did you hear that thing go by?" And: "Let's give Lee a little encouragement. Hey Lee . . . " , Trevino waves back, playing the crowd as well as the ball. "He's blowing on his hand," somebody says. "He wants to keep that hot hand."
Alas, at 18, trouble. First, a TV sound man with a huge microphone comes up behind Trevino in the middle of the fairway, as he is about to hit his second shot. When he finally does hit, a four-iron from 175 yards out, he again punches the ball low and it clears the green and stops in front of the scorekeeper's tent. A few minutes later, Trevino glumly confesses, "From there I was playing for a 5. No way could I get close enough for a par.
Nineteenth hole: the press tent. "I hit it probably as good today as I ever hit it at Augusta," he says. His two-under 70 puts him in a five-way tie for fourth. Aoki's even-par 72 leaves him in a pack, a 13-way tie for 14th. Although he shot a first-round 68 here last year before tailing off badly, finishing with a final-round 79, Trevino contends, "If I can stroke the ball the way I did today, there's no reason why I can't win. If the greens stay soft. If there's no wind. That's what got me last year, the wind. It dried out the greens."
And one other thing. Trevino says he drank himself out of contention last year. "I got into the sauce," he told reporters. "I like beer." He said he was just being "truthful."
In early years, he says he didn't have "the right attitude" to win the Masters. "It's my own fault."
"It's something that'll haunt me for the rest of my life.
"I want it, I want it bad. Sure do."