AUGUSTA, Ga. -- When third-round leader Bernhard Langer bogeyed the first hole yesterday at Augusta National Golf Club, a ripple of hope ran through those trying to catch him in the final round of the 57th Masters.
When Dan Forsman later cut Langer's four-shot lead to one after six holes, and Chip Beck got within two after seven, hollers of anticipation could be heard reverberating around this venerable place.
The hope would fade.
The anticipation would cease.
The 35-year-old German would win his second Masters.
It took a disastrous, two-balls-in-the-water quadruple-bogey 7 at the historically treacherous par-3 12th hole to remove Forsman from serious contention, and it took a couple of missed chances by Beck -- and one chance he didn't take -- to take any pressure off Langer.
It also took some expert shot-making, especially around Amen Corner, for Langer to stretch his lead back to as many as five before settling for a 2-under-par 70, a four-round total of 11-under 277 and a four-shot victory over Beck.
The victory was worth $306,000 and, more importantly, a second green jacket for Langer, who won here eight years ago and hadn't won in the United States since the week after the 1985 Masters. He becomes the fifth foreign player in the past six years to win the prestigious tournament.
"It means a lot to me to win another major, that being my No. 1 goal at this stage in my career," said Langer, who has now won 37 tournaments worldwide in 20 years as a professional. "How many years has it been? Eight years. You always start to wonder if you're going to win another one. After I won the first one, I thought I would win very soon. I almost won the British Open the same year, but I didn't play well on the last day."
Except for the bogey on the first hole and a bogey on the last hole when victory was all but assured, Langer played superbly. Especially around the greens.
VTC He followed up his bogey on the opening hole with a birdie at the 555-yard second hole, hitting out of a green-side bunker to within feet and making the putt. He saved par from five feet at the fourth hole, and from seven feet at the fifth.
"I was firing at every flag," said Langer, who had indicated after Saturday's round that he would take the kind of conservative approach that had helped Nick Faldo win two Masters. "I was going for every shot. I even surprised myself. In the end it paid off."
Said Forsman, who would fade to 4-under with a 73 and finished tied with Spain's Jose-Maria Olazabal (68) for seventh, "I was talking with some writers today who said Bernhard doesn't play well with the lead. When he bogeyed the first hole, I thought that was an indication of some real problem. He answered that right away."
Langer changed his strategy after seeing how well he was swinging, and how well he was putting with his unusual and seemingly uncomfortable style. He also knew that none of his closest competitors, Beck and Forsman in particular, had ever won a major before.
"I felt I could hit the shots," said Langer, whose back-to-back victories in 1985 were his only two in the United States before yesterday.
Though his score card seemed to indicate he was playing safe -- 10 straight pars from the third through 12th holes -- that wasn't the case. He had missed a few mid-range putts on the front nine, and after narrowly averting the water at No. 11, Langer nearly holed out for birdie.
"It was pretty obvious that I had to play aggressive," said Langer, known to be a cautious, calculating player. "Nobody was backing off or giving it to me. I had to win it."
But after saving par with a six-footer at No. 12 while Beck missed a 10-footer for birdie, Langer looked back to see Forsman hit his tee shot on the infamous par-3 into the pond in front of the green. Langer walked to the 13th tee and looked back again, only to see Forsman plunk his next shot in the water as well.
"I knew he [Forsman] was out of the picture," said Langer.
Beck, though, was still only two shots behind with six holes to play. Included in that stretch were two par-5 holes. Birdie holes. Maybe even eagle holes. When he crushed a long drive down the left side of the 465-yard par-5 13th, leaving himself only 202 yards to the hole, Langer had no choice.
He went for it again. So did Beck.
Their approach shots to the green landed within five feet of one another. Beck was 25 feet from the cup, and Langer was 20, on the same line. When Beck's putt broke left late and grazed the cup, Langer knew he had nearly a straight putt. The ball dropped neatly in the hole.
"He got a good read off of it, and he made a great putt," said Beck, who settled for birdie. "But I still had a chance to win."
Said veteran Lanny Wadkins, who made a little noise by getting to 6-under before finishing tied for third at 5-under, "The game was still on until he made the eagle at 13. As good a player as he is, he can get to the house from there."
With a three-shot lead and five holes to play -- the same lead and one fewer hole than Curtis Strange had left when Langer won his first Masters -- there were some who thought that he might back off just a little. He did, but not as much as Beck.
With a chance to go for the green in two on the 500-yard par-5 15th, Beck opted to lay up as Langer did. But Langer hit his wedge to within seven feet, and Beck flew a similar shot over the green. Langer made his putt for birdie. Beck missed a 10-foot putt for birdie.
"Anytime you have a chance to hit a shot with a wedge in your hands, you have to take it," said Beck, whose decision will be second-guessed from now until next year's Masters. "It was just too tempting. I won't regret this."
If Langer's eagle at 13 or his birdie at 15 didn't secure victory, Beck's bogey at 16 did. Even a bogey by Langer on the final hole -- he joked that he didn't listen to his caddie, who suggested hitting a 3-wood off the tee -- didn't raise any hopes or hollers.
By then, they were long gone from Augusta National.
HOLE LOT OF BOGEYS
The 12th hole at The Masters was Dan Forsman's undoing, and it got a lot of other golfers, too. The toughest holes at this year's tournament, with bogeys and other scores over par:
Hole ... Bogeys ... Others ... Total
4 ........ 22 ........ 0 ....... 22
11 ....... 17 ........ 5 ....... 22
16 ....... 21 ........ 0 ....... 21
12 ........ 9 ....... 10 ....... 19
6 ........ 15 ........ 0 ....... 15
10 ....... 14 ........ 1 ....... 15