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Posted May 15, 2018, 5:49 pm |

Doug Ford, 1957 Masters champion, dies at 95

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    Doug Ford, 1957 Masters champion, dies at 95
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    Doug Ford

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Doug Ford, the oldest surviving Masters Tournament champion and a former PGA Player of the Year, has died. He was 95.

PHOTOS: Doug Ford at the Masters

The PGA Tour announced Ford's death, saying Ford's family informed the tour that he died Monday night. Details of his death were not immediately available.

Ford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011. He won the 1955 PGA Championship, and then two years later won the Masters when he shot 66 in the final round to rally from a three-shot deficit to Sam Snead.

Ford was the PGA Player of the Year that season. He collected the first of his 19 tour victories in 1952, and his last win was in 1963.

He played on the Senior Tour when it began in 1980, and he twice won a division for older players at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf.

But Ford, a native of Connecticut, is best remembered for his victory at Augusta National Golf Club. Specifically, a daring shot at the par-5 15th in the final round in 1957 with the Masters on the line.

“That shot,” Ford said in an interview with The Augusta Chronicle in 2017, “was what won it.”

A day earlier, Ford was near the same spot, 230 yards from the pin, and elected to go for the reachable par-5 in two. Ford’s 3-wood found water and seemingly took him out of contention.

After the round, his fellow tour professionals questioned the move.

“They were all wondering why I went for it,” Ford recalled. “They said, ‘If you get that shot tomorrow, you need to lay up.’ ”

A day later, Ford refused to play conservatively.

After playing his first 14 holes Sunday in 4-under, Ford had stormed to the lead with four holes to play. Not far behind was Snead, who trailed by a stroke.

Similar to Saturday, Ford’s drive at No. 15 found the fairway – a mere 230 yards from the green. His caddie, George “Fireball” Franklin, urged him to play safe.

“Fireball kept telling me to hit an iron – to not go for it,” Ford said. “It got sort of heated between us and you could tell the crowd could sense what was going on. In the end, I went for it. After all, they don’t remember you in Augusta unless you win.”

Ford hit 3-wood and struck the same shot as the day before. Only this time, the ball found the green instead of trickling down the bank.

The 34-year-old two-putted for birdie and extended his lead.

“I was never a good safe player,” Ford said.

Now two strokes clear of the field, Ford’s second shot on No. 18 found the greenside bunker – and plugged. But Ford walked up, hit it and watched as it landed some 25 feet short and rolled into the cup for a birdie.

Ford played in 49 Masters between 1952 and 2001, which ranks third in tournament history behind Gary Player (52) and Arnold Palmer (50). He played in 46 consecutively.

A year after winning his green jacket, Ford almost became the first player to successfully defend his Masters title. He finished one shot behind Palmer, who won the first of his four Masters after getting a favorable ruling at the par-3 12th.

“I only have myself to blame,” Ford said. “I missed birdie putts on No. 17 and 18 that would have won it. I don’t blame the rules committee.”

In his latter years, Ford struggled to compete at Augusta National.

Ford, Gay Brewer and Billy Casper received a letter from Masters chairman Hootie Johnson in 2002 asking them to no longer compete in the tournament because they exhibited a pattern of not completing their rounds.

Ford withdrew from his final four Masters appearances, including in 2001, when he quit after one hole. Brewer and Casper each withdrew twice in their final three appearances at Augusta National.

Johnson later rescinded the order to ban champions after they turned 65, which was to go into effect in 2004.

Ford was still a regular at Augusta National each year, making his way from Florida to Augusta the Saturday before the tournament and remaining in town for Tuesday’s annual Champions Dinner.

And he kept his sharp wit.

When asked what it felt like to be the oldest living champion, Ford paused to collect his thoughts.

“I’d rather be the youngest,” he said.