You had to get up early to see Arnold Palmer play his Masters round today.
Having shot an opening-round 11-over-par 83 on Thursday, the worst he has played since first coming to Augusta in 1955, Palmer teed off first this morning, at 9. Last in the 77-man field, he would have to play without an official partner for the first time in his career.
Yet Palmer was not alone.
A tremendous gallery was there to welcome him. And Augusta National, which has the option if the entrant agrees, supplied a partner, 61-year-old Charlie Coe, the amateur who tied Palmer for second in the 1961 Masters. Palmer's ever-faithful fans knew but didn't care that it had come to this for him: playing with one whose caddie bore no name on his back, who the day before had been watching the Masters. Despite the awkward circumstances, Palmer remained beloved.
And tenacious. As he would say later, "Hell, I figured if I had a good round I could make the cut. I felt I needed a 68, maybe 67."
So even if he was joking with his followers at the first tee -- "If he beats me, I'll kill him," he said with a laugh, for Coe to hear -- Palmer intended to make today as memorable as possible. Tanned and robust at 55, he reached back and split the fairway to a resounding burst of applause and marched off. The dew was still heavy.
Palmer could not charge far -- it could not be like 1960 and 1962 and 1964, when he won here. He had to wait for Charlie Coe. Coe, a semiretired Oklahoma City businessman, found his ball deep in the tall pines. Coe's second shot was worse. He hit a tree and as the ball came zinging backward a large part of the gallery ducked. "That's as fast as I've moved in quite a while," said a man, straightening up. Could this be the Masters?
The embarrassment didn't bother Coe nearly as much as his hip, which he pulled on that shot. Already, he was limping. On four, he hit another tree. On five, he landed under a shrub and had to punch back onto the course.
Palmer was having his own troubles, bogeying the first hole and landing amid pines himself on the seventh. He looked a long time at his predicament. A tree stood directly in front of him. "I remember when these trees weren't big enough to bother you," he said.
And then, with a last word to those crowded close to him, "Y'all be careful, if it hits that tree and comes back," Palmer swung mightily, lifting a spray of needles off the ground and knocking the ball through branches on a long flight to just short of the green. Though he would bogey the hole, Palmer turned on the crowd still more when he almost sank a long, curving, downhill putt. Up both sides of the long eighth fairway they followed him, columns climbing the hill like a Civil War army.
"I felt like I knew them all," he said later.
Still more joined the throng.
"How's Arnie playing?" asked a man, rushing up.
"So far, he's hit everything he's swung at," another replied.
The clouds burned off and the day turned glorious about the time Palmer birdied eight. After nine, Coe dropped out. Of his hip he said, "Going up eight, it tightened up real good." Palmer charged -- alone -- onto the back nine, and promptly birdied the long downhill 10. A great roar rolled up from the canyon, as if from yesteryear.
Then, momentary trouble. Palmer hit into Rae's Creek and bogeyed the par-3 No. 12, but he birdied the par-5 No. 15. "I still love him," a woman said.
When he came up 18, having cleared a bunker and made the green, he had assured himself a par-72 round, his third best here in the 1980s. There is nothing like walking up 18 at Augusta and hearing the crowd as Palmer did. He kept nodding in appreciation, and waving.
He was engulfed as he came off the course. As a knot of humanity moved slowly forward, he signed everything put in front of him. Two policemen locked arms behind him.
Then he sat in a building before the massed media.
"If I shoot many 83s, I'm afraid I'm going to have to back off a little bit," he said. "But I'd like to think yesterday was unusual circumstances." He had experimented with his grip; it had been a bad idea.
Today, he had felt the crowd "rooting, cheering, pulling, doing the same things as if I was in contention instead of trying to make the cut." He hadn't, but the day, at least, "was great."
Outside, people who had waited for him gathered around one last time. In the morning, when round three would begin, he would be gone.