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A look back at Arnold Palmer's last Masters

A look back at Arnold Palmer's last round at The Masters

The roar interrupted Michael Campbell's thoughts, and he risked whiplash as his head jerked in search of the cause. He peered from Augusta National's sixth green toward the elevated tee, his face twisted into a question mark.

Arnie.

Of course.

Arnold Palmer bade farewell to the Masters on a sun-splashed Friday afternoon, and the emotion that accompanied his final tournament tour matched that he stirred on his way to winning four championships two generations ago.

"He is still the King," longtime fan Donald Williamson said. "Write that. I don't care what anyone says about Elvis, Richard Petty or anybody else. Arnie is the King."

Those who accompanied Palmer on his final 18 holes in his 50th Masters surely agreed. Those who waited at tees and greens for his passing by concurred with shouts of praise to the 74-year-old icon. Cheers and applause thundered through the pines on his 5-hour, 20-minute journey, and he responded with thumbs-up signals for the adoring fans.

He veered to the ropes to shake hands with friends. He waved. That trademark smile never left his face.

The Masters made golf and Arnold Palmer made the Masters . He oozed charm, and his charisma brought the game from the country clubs to the common people. He connected with the masses like few others who have graced the world of games, and now the hour had come to say goodbye.

"I'm through. I've had it. I'm done, cooked, washed up, finished, whatever you want to say," he said, laughing. Then serious: "It's time."

Full of memories. Yeah, it is time. He has not really competed for years, and that mattered not at all for all those who shared the memories of his triumphs and train wrecks.

With the setting sun for a backdrop, Arnold Palmer climbed the 18th fairway for the final time shortly after 6 p.m. Friday, and the memories came flooding back.

"Use your imagination, and you will understand" he said. "I thought about how many times I walked up that 18th fairway. I can think of the four times I won the Masters . I can think of a couple of times that I didn't win that I felt like I should have won.

"I can think of the fans that have supported me. I listened to them, and of course most of them have something to say when I'm walking up that fairway. Emotion? A lot. Sometimes I just get tired and emotion overrules and runs away with me. I'm not upset about that."

Nor should he be. That has been his trademark. He wore his feelings on his sleeve. He won spectacularly and lost spectacularly. He never saw a shot he did not think he could hit successfully.

Palmer made double-bogey on 18 to lose one Masters by a stroke and finished birdie-birdie to win another by a single shot. He won in a playoff and he won in a walk.

The music stopped in terms of competing for championships, but the band played on in his love affair with Augusta, his fans and his family.

MORE PALMER: Palmer's obituary | Golfers pay tribute to "The King" | Palmer's timeline, history | Remembering The King's greatest wins | Palmer's legacy includes hundreds of courses | Palmer changed the game and won hearts

Fifty Masters. That's what he wanted. That's what he got Friday. And now the time had come to say goodbye.

First in their hearts. Although tournament officials stopped posting his score on each hole, the record book will show he played his final Masters in 84-84-168 and missed the cut by a mile. Don't be deceived; follow his steps around Augusta National for the final time in Masters competition and the reception says he battled for a prominent place on the leader board.

Even shin splints from walking the hilly course that slowed his step and the snake on the 13th hole did not spoil his day.

"I started through the ditch and a snake about this long" -- maybe four feet, spreading his hands like the fisherman showing the big one that got away -- "and I almost stepped on him," Palmer said. "I'm not sure if it was a moccasin or not. ...

"Well, if I had felt a little tired, I didn't then. I came out of there and I was flying."

He often flew around Augusta National's emerald acres and rarely disappointed. Maybe the last time came 10 or 12 years ago, and that day he showed another generation what they had missed.

Palmer came to the 10th tee in the second round furious with his game, and never mind that he had reached his 60s. By golly, he refused to accept the shots that had been coming off his clubs.

Almost miraculously, he suddenly could not miss. Shots zeroed in on the pins, and he birdied 10, 11 and 13. He barely missed another on 12, made par on 14 and sent a 3-iron second shot winging to the green on 15. He made eagle, and Arnie's Army marched again.

The roars of achievement distinctive to Augusta National assembled the troops, and he sent his tee shot on the par-3 16th right at the flag. On the final two holes, perfect drives left him 7-iron second shots, and visions of the back-nine 31 he shot to win the 1962 playoff looked very real.

Alas, he three-putted 16 and the irons betrayed him on the finishing holes, leaving him shaking his head.

What would he have done a generation earlier?

"I would have hit 'em straight at the flag," said the Arnold Palmer the sports world treasured.

Chances at birdie. The length that club officials added to combat today's sluggers and their high-powered equipment bodes ill for all older players, and Palmer often needed to hit fairway woods on his second shots to reach greens on par-4s. Still, he badly wanted at least one birdie on Friday's auld lang syne round.

He had his chances, too -- missing from 3 feet on the sixth hole, about 12 feet on the 12th and from maybe 10 feet on 15. But that hardly mattered in the grand scheme.

"The fact is that one of the things I want to do was what I did today, and that was to finish 50 years at Augusta," he said. "All my family is here, and that has never happened before at any golf tournament. That's very special. It's something I wanted. I just wanted them to see what happens."

What happened was the expected parade of affection for a sports treasure.

One of the most touching moments came at midafternoon. Jack Nicklaus, another of the game's old masters , arrived at the 16th green about the time that Palmer walked down the hill to the nearby sixth green. The double-barreled salute would warm the coldest heart.

Afterward, Nicklaus, who shot 75-75-150 and missed the cut by two strokes, made noise about this being his last Masters . But he always says that and later backtracked a bit: "It will depend on how I'm playing" next spring.

But Palmer will not be in the field, and in a way golf will be poorer.

Listen to Davis Love III.

"I had a great nine-hole practice round with him Wednesday," Love said. "That will be the highlight of my week and one of my Masters memories that I always will treasure."

Golf fans everywhere share the feeling.

This article was written by Bob Spear from The State and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.