Ballesteros' two Masters wins came early

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1980

Seve Ballesteros slips on his first green jacket, with help from Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1980. He also won in 1983. Both victories came by four shots.
Seve Ballesteros slips on his first green jacket, with help from Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1980. He also won in 1983. Both victories came by four shots.

He was the youngest Masters Tournament champion, and he overpowered the field with his length and deft putting touch.

Jack Nicklaus? Nope.

Tiger Woods? Guess again.

Try Seve Ballesteros, who in 1980 blitzed the field for the first of his two Masters wins.

The Spaniard, just the second foreign-born player to win at Augusta National Golf Club, set several records along the way. At age 23, he eclipsed Nicklaus as the youngest winner in tournament history, a mark that was broken by Woods (age 21) in 1997.

And while Ballesteros' assault on par and the Masters record book draws comparisons to Nicklaus and Woods, his style of play was more like that of Arnold Palmer.

Ballesteros made his Masters debut in 1977 at age 20. It didn't take him long to make a splash on the world golf scene when he won the 1979 British Open.

So when he opened with 66 in the first round to share the lead with David Graham and unheralded Jeff Mitchell, few people were surprised.

Ballesteros liked his odds, too.

"I feel I have a chance to win,'' he said earlier that week.

Ballesteros backed that up with 69 in the second round to open up a four-shot lead over Graham and Rex Caldwell.

During his British Open win a year earlier, Ballesteros had become famous for hitting wild tee shots, including one in the final round that wound up in a field used as a parking lot.

Ballesteros hit three wayward drives in the second round at Augusta, but none more famous than the one off the 17th tee. He hooked it so badly that it wound up on the seventh green, which sits parallel to the 17th fairway. Graham, who was playing the seventh hole at the time, quipped that Ballesteros could "play through'' if he desired.

After getting a free drop, the young Spaniard hit his approach to 15 feet and sank the putt, much to the gallery's delight.

"I think good drives,'' Ballesteros told reporters afterward.

Ballesteros struggled at the start the third round, but jump-started his day with an eagle 3 on the eighth. He hit a 3-iron some 245 yards for his second shot to set up the short putt, and that gave him some separation.

He collected three more birdies on the back nine to finish off a round of 68 and a seemingly insurmountable seven-shot lead over Ed Fiori.

With such a large lead, a Ballesteros win was deemed a mere formality by the press, who turned their attention to records for margin of victory and 72-hole total that were in his reach. Those records moved closer to reality as Ballesteros again blitzed the front nine, making birdie on three of his first five holes. He made the turn in 33, moving him to 16-under-par for the tournament and 10 shots ahead of his closest pursuer.

And then it all began to fall apart.

A three-putt bogey on No. 10 was the first blow, then a ball in the water at No. 12 produced a double bogey.

On No. 13, he dumped his second shot into the water guarding the green and suffered another bogey.

Just like that, his 10-shot lead was down to just two over hard-charging Gibby Gilbert, who was playing several holes ahead of Ballesteros.

"I was comfortable ... 10 shots is a lot,'' Ballesteros said later. "Then I was uncomfortable. I'm in trouble. I was thinking I was about to lose the tournament.''

The Spaniard gathered himself to make par on the 14th, then hit what he described as the shot of the day on the par-5 15th to set up a two-putt birdie. He parred in from there and won the Masters by four shots over Gilbert and Jack Newton.

The opportunities to break hallowed scoring records had slipped by him. But Ballesteros was most grateful to slip into the green jacket as darkness crept over Augusta National.

"I say I must try hard and, finally, I started playing well,'' Ballesteros said of his back-nine troubles. "I am very pleased.''

1983

Ballesteros had to wait three years and an extra day to earn his second green jacket. With Friday's round washed out by heavy rain, the tournament finished on Monday, but Ballesteros didn't seem to mind.

Near the leaders all week, the Spaniard started the final round one shot behind former champions Ray Floyd and Craig Stadler. But with a burst of scoring in the first four holes -- birdie, eagle, par, birdie -- Ballesteros turned the day into a Sunday-like stroll.

``It was like he was driving a Ferrari and everybody else was in Chevrolets,'' said Tom Kite, who shared runner-up honors with Ben Crenshaw.

Ballesteros maintained a comfortable lead until Amen Corner, where he made bogey on the 12th hole. After he snap-hooked his drive into the woods on No. 13, he was able to salvage par by pitching out and reaching the green in regulation.

"I told my caddie after I parred 13, that 'From here to the last hole we have to play the last holes in par,' and we did,'' Ballesteros said.

That included a chip-in for par on the final hole.

"I got my birdies early,'' said Ballesteros. "On this course, you have to wait for birdies. . . . When you play aggressive here, this golf course will kill you.''

Ballesteros never won another Masters. He led the 1986 tournament before suffering a late collapse, and he was eliminated on the first hole of sudden death in 1987.

-- John Boyette, sports editor

FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS


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