1975 Masters produced unforgettable Sunday drama
From Gene Sarazen’s double eagle in 1935 to Bubba Watson’s shot from the pine trees in 2012, the Masters Tournament has been chock full of memorable moments.
While there was the occasional head-to-head duel between top players, the tournament had never produced a genuine shootout among multiple players. Part of that was because of the tradition of scattering the tee times of the leaders throughout the day, a practice that lasted until the 1960s.
By 1975, that practice had changed. Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf all teed off in the final two pairings for the final round, and only one shot separated Weiskopf from Nicklaus.
Regarded as the top three players in the game at the time, the men delivered a series of clutch shots that thrilled the galleries and the millions watching on TV.
Miller, now an analyst for NBC Sports, said he wished he could have covered the event.
“We were the three best players in the world going at it, that’s probably never happened before in a major,” he said. “It was one of those things where we were all playing good, and it was nothing but fun.”
Nicklaus prevailed, winning a record fifth green jacket. The near-misses for Weiskopf and Miller, who each finished a shot back, would follow them the rest of their careers.
The thrilling Sunday shootout wasn’t the only thing that defined the 1975 Masters. In their own words, Nicklaus, Miller, Weiskopf and others describe the action.
THURSDAY, APRIL 10
11:15 a.m.: Gene Littler, Lee Elder
12:04 p.m.: Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange
1 p.m.: Tom Weiskopf, Jumbo Ozaki
1:21 p.m.: Johnny Miller, Bruce Crampton
Lee Elder made history in the first round as the first black golfer in the Masters. Bobby Nichols set the pace with 5-under-par 67, and Nicklaus and the “other Miller,” little-known pro Allen Miller, were tied for second at 68. Weiskopf was in a group at 69 that included four-time champion Arnold Palmer, while Johnny Miller stumbled out of the gate with 75. Elder opened with a respectable 74.
Nicklaus: “I couldn’t ask for a better start. I hit only one bad shot. When you have 36 putts and shoot a 68 at Augusta, you’ve played a pretty good round of golf.”
Weiskopf: “I had a lot of good opportunities. I hit a lot of good putts, but kept leaving them short. I guess I’m programmed for faster greens.”
Palmer: “It’s not exactly a secret that I have been pointing for this tournament. I always do. I start preparing for it at the first of the year.”
Elder: “I’m glad the first round is over. Now, the people around me don’t have to worry about me shooting an 85. I didn’t have any nervousness whatsoever. I played with a super guy. Gene (Littler) talked to me quite a bit and really helped. The gallery was fantastic. They applauded me on the greens. I couldn’t ask for any more.”
Miller: “My first rounds have been horrendous. I wanted to play good here. Give me a good spurt to be up there with the leaders and I can win. I had 78 at the Heritage, 72 at Greensboro and now a 75 here.”
FRIDAY, APRIL 11
10:26 a.m.: Tom Weiskopf, Larry Ziegler
10:47 a.m.: Charles Coody, Johnny Miller
11:29 a.m.: Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson
12:52 p.m.: Lee Elder, Miller Barber
1:35 p.m.: Jack Nicklaus, Jerry Heard
Nicklaus continued his torrid start with 5-under 67, giving him a five-shot lead over longtime rival Palmer. Casper (70) and Tom Watson (70) were tied for second with Palmer (71), while Weiskopf (72) and Miller (71) were further back. The cut fell at 4-over 148, and Elder did not survive after shooting a second-round 78.
Nicklaus: “I was tied for the lead and had not made a birdie yet. I figured if I could get something going, I would have a good chance of opening up a lead.”
Watson: “Jack will be almost impossible to catch.”
Nicklaus: “I’ve been coming to Augusta for many years. I’ve seen many strange things happen. I’ve blown five-stroke leads before and I’ve come from five behind before.”
Casper: “It’s a good thing the putter was working because I spent a lot of time in the trees.”
Palmer: “I feel pretty good about my position. A lot can happen on this golf course.”
Weiskopf: “I thought I played well and I’m happy except that I’m disappointed in the two breaks I had on 13 and 15” that led to bogeys.
Elder: “We got out-of-the-box bad. We were all over the place today. I got a chance to see some of the beautiful flowers and shrubbery around here.”
SATURDAY, APRIL 12
12:26 p.m.: Johnny Miller, Gary Player
1:38 p.m.: Bobby Nichols, Tom Weiskopf
2:02 p.m.: Bill Casper, Tom Watson
2:10 p.m.: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer
Weiskopf seized the lead with 66, and Miller roared back into the tournament with 65 that featured a record 30 on the front nine. Nicklaus and Palmer didn’t care for their pairing, and it showed. Nicklaus shot 1-over 73 to fall one behind Weiskopf, while Palmer’s 75 put him out of contention.
Nicklaus, talking to Palmer before they teed off: “Pretty good nine for Johnny.” Palmer: “It wasn’t bad, was it?” Nicklaus: “No. Nobody’s ever done it before.”
Miller: “I wasn’t playing for pars. I was playing aggressively as I could to shoot a course record.”
Palmer: “I don’t know why it is but Jack and I never play well when we are together.”
Nicklaus: “We’ve really not played well when we played together. My gallery wants me to beat him and his gallery wants him to beat me. I don’t like to get beat by him. We both try not to play that way, but the gallery certainly does.”
Palmer, on whom he would be playing with in the final round: “You can bet one thing, it sure as hell won’t be Nicklaus.”
Weiskopf: “It’s the single most important round of a tournament. I knew I had to play a super round of golf today if I was to get back into the golf tournament.”
Nicklaus: “(Weiskopf) played a fine round in conditions when Augusta plays at its best.”
Miller: “I wanted to play a good tournament so you guys wouldn’t say I was a dog this week. I also wanted to let those guys (the other players) know I’m here.”
Weiskopf: “There’s still an awful lot of golf to play. There’s two pretty good golfers (Nicklaus and Miller) behind me.”
Miller: “I think I’ll play well tomorrow. He (Nicklaus) better not make a mistake. I’m certainly not going to choke. I could blow him right out of the box.”
SUNDAY, APRIL 13
1:52 p.m.: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson
2 p.m.: Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller
The assembled scribes got their wish: a showdown between the game’s top players. Weiskopf led Nicklaus by one and Miller by four. Watson was five behind. In 2011, the three principal characters reflected on the tournament during the CBS program Jim Nantz Remembers Augusta: The 1975 Masters.
Nicklaus: “It was probably the most exciting and most fun I had finishing a golf tournament.”
Miller: “Three guys totally in their prime and just going all out.”
Weiskopf: “I was in the last group. I controlled the situation, I thought.”
It proved to be a perfect day for scoring. Playing an hour ahead of the trio, Hale Irwin matched the course record with 64.
Irwin: “That round kind of got lost in the shuffle with Nicklaus and Weiskopf and Miller all having a real shootout on the back nine. I was very proud of that round. Coming from plus two to minus six and finished fourth in the tournament. So I was very proud of that.”
Weiskopf played the front nine in 2-under 34 but lost ground to both of his foes. Nicklaus shot 3-under 33 to forge a tie with him at 11-under, and Miller blistered the front to the tune of 32 to get to 9-under.
The next two hours would be golf theater at its finest.
Weiskopf and Miller both bogeyed No. 11. Miller was the only one of the three to birdie the par-5 13th.
On No. 14, Nicklaus made bogey and Weiskopf picked up a birdie.
Through 14 holes, Weiskopf was at 11-under, Nicklaus at 10-under and Miller at 9-under.
After a big drive on the par-5 15th, Nicklaus selected a 1-iron for his second shot from 242 yards away.
Nicklaus: “I was on one of those little bumps in the fairway, uphill lie, and a 1-iron is a hard club to stop on that green. I took it and hit it straight up in the air. It comes off the golf club and you watch the flight and you say, ‘Ooh, was that fun.’ A shot I will always remember.”
The shot settled 12 feet from the cup, but Nicklaus wasn’t able to sink the eagle putt. He tapped in for birdie as Weiskopf and Miller waited to play their second shots to the green. The CBS duo of Ben Wright at the 15th and Henry Longhurst at the 16th were in good form as well.
Nicklaus’ tee shot on the par-3 16th came up well short.
Longhurst: “Disappointing one there, leaves him at least 40 feet short. Long slope to come up. Rather a disappointment for Jack Nicklaus.”
Back at No. 15, Miller had an eagle putt and Weiskopf had a short birdie putt after his second shot went long. Nicklaus had extra time to survey his birdie putt at No. 16 because playing partner Tom Watson
had hit two balls into the water.
Watson, who would go on to win the Masters in 1977 and 1981: “I made seven at 16, but I was within two or three shots at that time. And I played well.”
Wright: “Nicklaus has had a very long wait on the 16th with Watson having his cruel misfortunes, and the atmosphere here is electric and almost totally silent on the respective greens.”
Wright, after Weiskopf sank his birdie putt to go up by one: “What a tremendous putt by Tom Weiskopf, and that is going to be evil music ringing in Nicklaus’ ears.”
Miller taps in his birdie putt and trails by two.
Nicklaus, having waited for the gallery to quiet down, is all determination as he crouches over his long birdie putt at the 16th.
The putt falls in the cup, and Nicklaus breaks into a trot and thrusts his putter in the air. He and Weiskopf are tied again.
Longhurst: “Oh, did you ever see one like that? I think that’s one of the greatest putts I’ve ever seen in my life. Back on the tee, Weiskopf has to take it this time, having dished it out on the hole before. I never saw such a putt in my life.”
Nicklaus: “I think you’re trying to make every putt you hit, but you don’t expect to make a putt like that.”
A shaken Weiskopf leaves his tee shot at No. 16 well short.
Longhurst: “Started well enough, but that’s terribly, terribly short and disappointing for Weiskopf. And that might be it. If he does lose, I think this will perhaps be the one that did it. That was disappointing.”
Weiskopf three-putts No. 16 to fall one behind Nicklaus, who pars No. 17 and heads to the 18th. Back on the 17th, Miller gets a birdie and he and Weiskopf go to the last hole at 11-under.
Frank Glieber, CBS announcer at No. 17: “Now Nicklaus has got to be wondering exactly what happened on 17. Was it Weiskopf birdieing? He’ll see it in a moment on the scoreboard on 18 as the birdie will go up for John Miller.”
Miller: “I was given a front-row seat on all of these shots of Jack’s, and Tom, and being able to sort of respond to them. I don’t think they were paying attention to me for quite a long time, but they knew I was coming.”
Nicklaus missed his birdie putt at No. 18 and finished the tournament at 12-under.
Vin Scully, CBS announcer at No. 18: “So Nicklaus gets his par. Now, this huge gallery is wondering: Will an elusive birdie pop up on the 18th?”
Both Weiskopf and Miller hit fine tee shots, and both hit superb approaches to the home hole.
Scully: “Oh, what a horse race! So they are both alive, they are both above water. Either or both make a birdie putt and we have a tie. And this gallery, that has roared at numbers, can’t wait for the finish.”
Even Nicklaus stuck around to see the finish at No. 18. Peeking out of the scoring hut, he had a
front-row seat for the birdie attempts.
Miller: “I was just striping it, and something told me don’t aim at that left pin because it might go down the hill, the bad voice in me, so I aimed 15 feet right of the hole and hit it within an inch of where I was aiming, and dead hole high. So if I had not chickened out and hit it at the pin it would have been a leaner.”
Miller, away, barely missed his putt.
Scully: “And one birdie flew away. Johnny Miller, a gallant effort. And now there is one last shot left in the arsenal, and it belongs to Tom Weiskopf. Tom, a bridesmaid three times. For the first time in his life led yesterday at the Masters.”
After studying the putt from all angles, Weiskopf’s putt just misses.
Scully: “And so the heartbreak and the disappointment register on the face of Tom Weiskopf, and on the lips of those who have cheered him for four days. And hail to the victor, Jack Nicklaus wins his fifth Masters green coat.”
In the Butler Cabin ceremony, defending champion Player helped Nicklaus into the green jacket.
Nicklaus: “We didn’t have time to choke. We were making birdies.”
Nicklaus would go on to win the 1986 Masters at age 46 and end his career with a record 18 major victories. Weiskopf and Miller never did win in Augusta. Miller added another major, the 1976 British Open, to his résumé and finished as runner-up at the 1981 Masters. Weiskopf failed to win any more majors and never seriously challenged at Augusta again.
Nicklaus: “I think that the real fun of it wasn’t that I played well, but I was playing with Weiskopf and Miller and they were both playing well. They would make birdie, I’d make birdie, we’d go back and forth. It went all the way down to the end of the golf tournament.”
Miller: “It was just so exciting, not only for the gallery but for all three of us. Jack told me afterward it was the most fun he’d ever had on the golf course. At the presentation on the stand, he leaned over to me and said thanks for making it so much fun. I was like, well, it was a lot of fun for you, you finished first.”
Weiskopf: “You know, uh, that had a big effect on the rest of my 10 years of playing. It really was gut-wrenching, tore my heart out. From that day forth it affected me. I couldn’t give it up. I had my chances, I was trying the best I could. The better man beat me that day.”
Historic Leaderboards: 1975 Masters