Tommy Aaron’s final round at the Masters wasn’t perfect in 1973, but he played the course fearlessly, making a handful of fantastic shots that facilitated the one-stroke win over J.C. Snead.
Aaron’s bookend rounds of 68, with scores of 73 and 74 in the middle two days, were just enough to win the world’s most prestigious tournament with a four-day total of 5-under par.
In addition to Snead, the Gainesville native and resident had to hold off fast-charging Jack Nicklaus, who carded a magnificent final-round, 6-under par 66 to earn a tie for third place overall.
Aaron’s win will also be linked to his remarkable chip shot from just behind the green on No. 15, but it was a full day’s work that helped him insert his name in the same category as the game’s greats.
“Tommy Aaron, getting off to an unbelievable start and coming up with an unforgettable finish, attained a pro golfer’s dream here yesterday when he shot a final-round 68 to win the most coveted event of them all, the Masters tournament,” Times sports editor Phil Jackson wrote on April 10, 1973.
Starting the final round four strokes back of leader Peter Oosterhuis, who was three shots clear of the field, Aaron knew he was going to have to be aggressive but smart about chasing birdies during the first round.
It started well for Aaron, making all birdies on the first three holes, thanks to some great work with his putter.
On No. 1, Aaron drained a breaking 25-footer for birdie that got him back to within three shots of the leaders, who were still preparing to tee off.
Then on the par-5 second hole, Aaron pitched the ball over the green for his third shot. However, he went with a putter for about a 40-foot downhill birdie attempt, which rolled in “like a gopher in a hurry to get home,” Jackson penned from Augusta.
Aaron wrapped up his trio of birdies to open the final round with a short iron to within 12 feet on his second shot on No. 3, then drained the mid-range birdie putt.
After a birdie on No. 8 and par on the ninth hole, Aaron made the turn with a one-shot stroke lead over Oosterhuis.
The throngs of fans in the gallery from Gainesville were beaming with pride and cheering for their friend Aaron.
Once Aaron was on the back nine, things got a little bit dicey, but he was able to recover.
On No. 10, he three-putted from 20 feet for his first bogey.
On No. 11, Aaron had the same fate.
However, the rest of the day would be all about Aaron keeping an arm’s length ahead of the rest of the field.
Aaron went ahead and birdied the par-5 (13), thanks to a stellar drive off the tee and approach shot to the front fringe of the green, which left two putts for his birdie.
Then, Aaron did his best to seal the deal on No. 15.
After Snead drove it into the water on the 12th and Oosterhuis made a bogey on the same hole, Aaron knew a birdie would make it a two-shot lead.
He decided this was the time to go for it.
After a tee shot that didn’t meet his standards on the 15th, Aaron knew it was decision time.
And he chose to go for the green, knowing that if he didn’t get there, it would land in the greenside pond.
Aaron chose to hit a 3-wood, which cleared the green and came to rest about 30 yards from the cup.
This left a “testy little shot,” as Aaron said, needing to get his ball high enough that it wouldn’t roll back down the green and to his feet, but not put too much muscle on it, or it would roll down the back side into the water.
With so much on the line, Aaron’s shot was nearly perfect, leaving the ball about four feet past the hole, which he sent in for birdie, sending the fans from Gainesville into another celebratory roar, Jackson wrote.
After making par on 16 and 17, Aaron’s tee shot on No. 18 went to the left side of the fairway.
However, he played a wonderful second shot that came to rest at the front of the green, leaving only 25 feet for birdie.
Even though his first putt looked like it had the right touch on the uphill path, it just missed the cup, but he was able to tap in for par and close the day 4-under par and 5-under for the Masters.
Leading Snead by one stroke when he hit Butler Cabin, Aaron waited patiently to see the outcome.
Snead knocked in a tricky par putt on No. 17, but missed his birdie attempt on No. 18, making Aaron the official winner at Augusta.
When it was over, Aaron was adorned with the winner’s green jacket by the previous year’s winner, Nicklaus, who would finish his career with a record six Masters titles.
However, in 1973, it was all about Aaron, who was bringing it home to Gainesville.
After it was complete, Aaron weighed in on how important the fan support was when talking with his friend Jackson.
“I’m happy for them,” Aaron said at the time, noting he could hear the support the entire day.