Anniversaries: Nelson’s first win featured remarkable comeback

Coming into the 1937 Masters, Byron Nelson was relatively unknown.

He had missed the first Augusta National Invitation Tournament and hadn’t made much noise with a tie for ninth in 1935 and a tie for 13th in 1936.

That all changed in the first round of 1937 when he matched the Augusta National course record with 6-under-par 66.

“The best round of golf I played in my whole career was the first round of the 1937 Masters,” Nelson told the Masters Journal.

He added 72 in the second round to maintain a three-shot advantage over fellow Texan Ralph Guldahl at the halfway point.

But Guldahl caught and passed him in the third round with 68 to Nelson’s 75. That set the stage for one of the biggest swings in tournament history.

Nelson didn’t do anything spectacular in his first nine holes of the final round, but he coaxed a 12-foot birdie putt into the cup at the 10th hole.

Guldahl had a four-shot lead over Nelson when he reached the 12th tee. But Guldahl, who was playing ahead of Nelson, hit it into Rae’s Creek. He made double bogey and then followed it up with a bogey at the par-5 13th.

After a par at the 11th, Nelson hit his tee shot on the 12th to six feet and made the birdie putt to eat into Guldahl’s lead. At the 13th, Nelson went for the green in two and came up just short. But he chipped in for an eagle.

In less than an hour, Nelson had made up six shots on the leader. He parred the remaining holes for a two-shot win over Guldahl. While his play at what eventually would be called Amen Corner gets the attention, Nelson gives equal credit to his birdie to start the second nine.

“Everyone mentions the 2 and the 3, but the putt on No. 10 set the whole thing up,” Nelson once said. “I never thought about my chances. I just kept plugging away and hoping. It just seemed that everything I did was right.”

Five years later, Nelson defeated Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff for his second Masters win in 1942.

In later years, Nelson was an integral part of the tournament as the golfer traditionally paired with the 54-hole leader, and he served as an honorary starter for several years.

Guldahl endured another runner-up finish in 1938, but he came back in 1939 to win the Masters thanks to an eagle on the 13th in the final round.

In 1958, the Nelson Bridge was dedicated at the No. 13 tee as a permanent reminder of the first of Nelson’s two Masters victories. It also recognizes Guldahl for his heroics during his victory.

1947

Jimmy Demaret was never out of the lead in earning his second Masters victory.

The affable Texan opened with 69, which left him tied with Byron Nelson for the early lead. He followed with steady if unspectacular rounds of 71, 70 and 71 that left him with a two-shot victory over Nelson and amateur Frank Stranahan.

The four subpar rounds also earned Demaret a spot in the Masters record book as the first golfer to accomplish that feat.

1957

Few people would have given Doug Ford much of a chance of winning the Masters.

He trailed Sam Snead by three shots entering the final round, and several other notable players stood in his way as well. Ford’s final-round charge put him into contention, but he had to make a crucial decision on the par-5 15th: go for the green from well over 200 yards out, or lay up. Ford disregarded his caddie’s advice, hit the green and two-putted for birdie.

Ford holed out from the bunker on No. 18 for another birdie that was the icing on a final-round 66 and a three-shot victory.

1967

Gay Brewer Jr. blew a golden opportunity to win the Masters in 1966. Then in a three-way playoff with Jack Nicklaus and Tommy Jacobs, he skied to 78 and could only watch as Nicklaus became the first back-to-back champion.

A year later, he didn’t let the green jacket slip away as he held off Bobby Nichols by a stroke. He trailed his childhood friend by two shots going into the final round, but consecutive birdies at Nos. 13, 14 and 15 helped him shoot 67.

Nicklaus, in his quest to become the first golfer to win three Masters in a row, missed the cut.

1977

Not many golfers got the best of Jack Nicklaus in their careers – much less in majors – but Tom Watson seemed to make a habit of it.

The trend began in the 1977 Masters, where Watson held off the Golden Bear for the first of his two wins at Augusta National. Nicklaus trailed by three entering the final day but birdied seven of the first 15 holes to put a scare into the leader.

Watson responded with a 20-foot birdie on the 17th hole for some breathing room, and Nicklaus, playing in the group ahead, made bogey on the final hole to finish two shots behind.

1987

Given a choice in a three-way playoff for the Masters, who would you take: Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman or Larry Mize?

That was the improbable scenario in 1987 as Mize, who attended high school in Augusta, took on two of the game’s top players in sudden death.

Ballesteros was the first to blink as he three-putted the 10th green. Then at the 11th, Norman appeared to be in control as Mize missed the green far to the right while the Great White Shark was on the putting surface.

Then lightning struck as Mize holed his 140-foot shot, giving him the win and making him the only Augustan to ever win the Masters.

1997

Tiger Woods’ first major tournament as a professional didn’t get off to a smooth start.

Woods played the first nine holes of the 1997 Masters in 4-over-par 40, hardly the beginning he was looking for. But he righted his ship with 30 on the back nine, and from that point the rout was on.

Woods shot 66 and 65 the next two rounds as he overpowered Augusta National and made believers out of his critics. A final-round 69 gave him the lowest 72-hole score in Masters history and a 12-stroke victory.

2007

Most players who win the Masters succeed on the par-5 holes, usually hitting the green in two shots to set up easy birdies.

Not Zach Johnson. He laid up on the par-5 holes every time, but with a stellar short game he played the long holes in 11-under fashion.

That enabled him to win by two shots in cold and windy conditions with a 1-over 289 total that matched the highest in Masters history.

1937: Byron Nelson wins first of two Masters
1947: Jimmy Demaret first Masters winner with four sub-par rounds
1957: Doug Ford surprises to win first Masters
1967: Gay Brewer Jr. wins Masters
1977: Tom Watson holds off Golden Bear for first Masters win
1987: Augusta native Larry Mize wins Masters
1997: Tiger tracks into history with Masters win
2007: Zach Johnson brings Masters win to Iowa

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