Arnie Decides To End Masters Run

Arnold Palmer grins after his fourth putt on the 1st hole during first round play of the 2002 Masters, Thursday, April 11, 2002. Palmer announced after round that he would no longer play competitively at Masters after this year. AP

Arnold Palmer announced Thursday he could no longer live up to his own high standards and will play his final round of competitive golf at the Masters today.

Palmer is walking away before he's told to stay away.

The 72-year-old Palmer shot a 17-over-par 89 in the opening round Thursday, equaling his worst score at the tournament he first played in 1955.

He then announced matter-of-factly what many had expected: He will play one more round today, then retire from the Masters.

"This is it," Palmer said. "The writing is kind of on the wall. I've kind of been contemplating this for some time anyway."

Even though Masters champions are supposed to have a lifetime exemption, Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson sent a letter to Doug Ford, Billy Casper and Gay Brewer "recommending" they not play this year.

The three — all in their 70s — agreed to drop out, but Brewer was so upset that he boycotted the Champions Dinner.

Palmer decided to go out on his own terms.

"I don't want to get a letter," the four-time champion quipped. "My golf has been pretty lousy of late. It doesn't warrant being here playing."

Palmer was clearly overmatched by the longer Augusta layout. In an effort to keep up with advancing technology, the course was stretched by nearly 300 yards this year.

"If I thought there was a chance I could play the kind of golf I expect to play, I certainly wouldn't stop," Palmer said. "But most all of you know, I haven't played good in some time. That is enough to push me over the edge.

"Enough is enough."

While the tournament will go on without Palmer, the biggest cheers Thursday were reserved for him. He'll get an even greater send-off when he plays his final 18 holes Friday.

Palmer won the tournament in 1958, '60, '62 and '64, helping to popularize the tournament at the dawn of the television age. His slashing swing and dashing style turned on a whole generation of fans, who were dubbed, "Arnie's Army."

Palmer had not contended at Augusta since the mid-'70s; he made his last cut in 1983.

He actually reached the fringe of the green with his second shot of the day, but his putt rolled over a hump — far left of the flag — and curled down the other side. He stared incredulously at his ball while the crowd groaned in disappointment.

Palmer then putted about 12 feet past the cup and missed the comebacker, the ball catching the left lip before spinning out. He tapped in for a double-bogey.

"Well, that was four good putts," Palmer quipped to the gallery.

He finished the front nine with three more double-bogeys, but was clearly enjoying the moment. He stopped along the ropes numerous times to chat with adoring fans.

Tiger Woods, the defending champion, was asked if he could envision playing the Masters at Palmer's age.

"I hope I'm still on this side of the grass at 72," Woods replied, smiling.
  • John Esterbrook

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