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A GREEN GIANT PALMER PROVIDED GOLF A SEMINAL MOMENT, AND NOW WE CAN VIEW IT IN A NEW HUE.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

PACIFIC PALISADES - Almost a half-century later, all the golf world knows for sure is that the legend of Arnold Palmer changed with a clank.

Exactly which way it changed that Sunday at Augusta National remains a mystery.

The news, I guess, is that fans are about to get a chance to solve it for themselves.

"It was right in the middle of the hole," Palmer says insistently of the bold putt that loudly failed to drop.

But there's still doubt about what happened and what might have happened.

A short drive on Sunset Boulevard from where the Nissan Open was being played at Riviera, they replayed the 1960 Masters on Friday at Bel-Air Country Club. This was a private screening of CBS's live coverage of that tournament's final holes, a sequence considered seminal in the sport's popularity explosion. A black-and-white kinescope has been colorized in a project led by the network's Jim Nantz, and the result will be broadcast in April.

It's 60 minutes of cool moments: Glimpses of a 47-year-old Ben Hogan and a 20-year-old Jack Nicklaus. Camera shots of Palmer puffing on cigarettes.

Well, any camera shots of the young, coiled, magnetic Palmer would be cool.

And real-time footage of one of history's most famous putts that didn't go in.

It happened on the 16th hole, a par-3. Palmer was 4-under par and 35 feet from a birdie. Ken Venturi was in the clubhouse at 5-under.

In those days, under Augusta rules, you could leave the flagstick in the hole when you were putting.

"I thought I was taking advantage of the situation," Palmer, who was putting uphill, said Friday at Bel-Air.

The colorized images show a sandy-haired 30-year-old wearing shades of dark gray on top of brown shoes stroking the putt left to right across the video screen. The ball climbs, rolls and -- thunk -- collides flush with the pin.

Instead of dropping straight down, it ricochets straight back, stopping maybe a foot from the cup.

"Did you see what happened there?!" color man Jim McArthur says on the telecast. "That conceivably could have been the most important shot of the tournament."

Palmer tapped in for par, meaning he'd have to birdie one of the last two holes to gain a playoff, or strain credulity and birdie both to win.

Friday, Palmer, now 77, described the moment: "The ball hit dead center. Hit dead center of the pin, and bounced back. At that point, I knew I needed a birdie to tie Kenny. It was pretty depressing to have that thing kick away. That got my attention. I remember thinking, 'What kind of luck is this, to hit the pin dead-center, not going very fast, and have it kick out of the hole?"'

Spoiler alert: Palmer did birdie the 17th (dancing a jig after his 20-foot uphill putt just ... got ... up) and the 18th (a four-footer after a sensational 6-iron into the wind), to win the second of his four Masters.

But the mystery remains: Did Palmer get unlucky, because the putt on 16 would have dropped if the flagstick hadn't been there? Or did Palmer get lucky, because a ball under such a head of steam would have rolled over a cup unprotected by a pin and left him a testing putt?

Said one of the writers I watched with Friday: "That's going fast."

Said the man next to him: "That was dead-center."

"Had the pin been out, the ball might have dropped," the great golf scribe Herbert Warren Wind wrote at the time. "But it might also have run seven feet past -- it was moving that fast."

Nantz, showing off the second entry in a Masters retrospective project he calls a labor of love, has heard the speculation and watched the footage -- and formed his own firm opinion.

"Through the years the legend was that the ball may have rolled right off the green and into a bunker (if the stick hadn't stopped it)," Nantz said. "That's how embellished and exaggerated it got. You look at it, and he struck the perfect putt. I still don't know how it didn't go in, even with the flagstick in."

Either way, if Palmer elects to leave the flagstick out -- as would be required by the rules of today -- the story of one of America's sporting heroes is altered.

If the ball goes a long way past, Palmer could miss the par putt and need two birdies just to get to the uncertainty of a playoff.

If it drops in, Palmer is tied with Venturi with two holes to go and can take the lead with the birdie on 17, spoiling the drama of 18.

If Palmer loses, or if he wins with a routine par on the Masters' last hole, it doesn't go down as one of golf's great finishes.

As it developed, Palmer's charge to victory -- he had the lead Sunday morning, lost it and got it back -- is remembered for wakening the public to the Arnie charisma.

In those days, though, it was charisma in black and white, with no instant replay, let alone slow motion. Fans would have seen the putt on the 16th hole once at the time. Maybe a few caught it later on a Masters highlights reel.

Now Nantz has rescued the 1960 kinescope -- the product of a film camera focused on a TV screen that day -- from an Augusta vault and paid for a company called Legend Films to put 10,000 man-hours into the first color restoration of a live sports broadcast.

Watching himself win the '60 Masters, Palmer said Friday, "I got almost as nervous as I did during the tournament. ... I was afraid I wasn't going to win this time."

CBS will show it before the Masters' final-round telecast April 8.

Settle the mystery yourself. Did Arnie get the long or short end of the stick?

heymodesti(AT_SIGN)aol.com

(818) 713-3616

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Arnold Palmer receives the champion's medal and plaque from Art Wall after winning the Masters in 1960.

Associated Press

(2 -- color) no caption (Arnold Palmer)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 17, 2007
Words:1020
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