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Ben Crenshaw was not alone on the final few holes of the Masters.

Not when he made a brilliant 6-iron shot to birdie No. 16. And not when he rolled in the killer birdie putt at 17.And certainly not on the 18th green when his short tap-in made him Masters champion by one stroke over Davis Love.

"It was like someone put their hand on my shoulder and guided me through," Crenshaw said about his final-round 68 on Sunday. That someone was Harvey Penick, Crenshaw's lifelong golf teacher and friend who died a week ago.

"I believe in fate," Crenshaw said. "Fate has decided another champion like it has so many times before."

Fate and an absolutely exquisite putting touch that tamed the slick, dangerous greens of Augusta National Golf Club. Not once over the 72 holes did Crenshaw three-putt on the steeply contoured greens groomed to table-top speed for the Masters.

His 14-under-par 274 was three better than Greg Norman and Jay Haas and five better than David Frost and Steve Elkington.

As the final putt fell making him Masters champion, Crenshaw curled into a knot of emotion, holding his head and thinking thoughts of Penick.

"I let it all go," Crenshaw said. "I couldn't hold it in any longer."

It was a slam-bang finish after the day started with 12 players within four strokes of Crenshaw and third-round co-leader Brian Henninger.

And it all turned, as always, on the tricky back nine at Augusta.

The crunching blow came at No. 16 when, with Love safely in the clubhouse at 13-under, Crenshaw stroked a beautiful 6-iron shot that showed great knowledge of the course, hitting well right of the hole on the par-3 and curling down the slope to within 3 feet.

He knocked it in for the birdie that put him at 14-under and rode that exceptional sequence to a 12-footer for birdie at No. 17.

"I played it like a dream," Crenshaw said about No. 17. "It was a killer 9-iron and the prettiest putt I ever hit. I'll never forget 16 and 17 as long as I live."

He played No. 18 safely and made a bogey.

"I really don't think there was any stopping Ben," said Love, who qualified for the Masters by winning in New Orleans last week. "He was driven. He was charged and obviously he is one of the greatest putters ever."

Everything that Crenshaw had bottled up inside himself since Penick died last Sunday, a week after giving Crenshaw one last putting lesson, poured out on the 18th green. As his final putt dropped on the last green, Crenshaw doubled over and clasped his head with both hands.

"I had a 15th club in the bag today and that was Harvey - Harvey Penick," said Crenshaw, the green jacket of the Masters champion looking decidedly out of place over his patterned golf shirt.

"I don't know how I got through the week, I really don't know," he said. "It was an emotional week. This place charges me up like nothing."

It was the second Masters title for the 43-year-old Texan, who won in 1984 and also has finished second twice and in the top 10 seven other times, certain proof he is one of the game's best putters.

Crenshaw, who went to Austin, Texas, on Wednesday for Penick's funeral, saw the famed 90-year-old teacher a week before he died.

"I had one last lesson with Harvey," Crenshaw said earlier in the tournament. "He said, `Can you please get a putter and show me how you're stroking that ball?' And he said, `Now, I want you to take two good practice strokes and then trust yourself and don't let that club get past your hands in the stroke."

No course requires more nerve, touch and confidence with the putter than Augusta National. Crenshaw mastered it like a craftsman.

"You have to admire somebody who flies back to Texas to be at Harvey Penick's funeral and to be a pall bearer and then come backs here," Norman said. "I think that is the strength of his character."

Nine players were still bunched within three strokes when Crenshaw stuck his approach on No. 9 within gimme birdie distance.

He turned for the back nine and the dangerous turns of Amen Corner alone in the lead. But it quickly became a test wills between Crenshaw, Love, Norman and Haas.

Love had the lead alone after he squandered a makeable eagle try at No. 15 and settled for birdie. He followed that with a three-putt bogey at 16.

Norman lost his chance when he hit a poor sandwedge into No. 17, pulling it well left of the hole, and three-putted.

Crenshaw proved again he is one of the best putters in the history of the game. He made an outstanding 5-foot par putt on No. 12 after blasting from the bunker and followed with a big-breaking 15-foot birdie putt on No. 13.

Crenshaw, who started the day tied for the lead at 10-under with Henninger, first took the lead on No. 2 when he knocked an 80-yard wedge shot to within 2 feet and made a birdie. Henninger, meanwhile, dumped a wedge shot of the same distance into the greenside trap and started his slide with a bogey and shot a 76 to finish at 6-under 282.

Phil Mickelson and Scott Hoch were at 8-under. Curtis Stange finished at 7-under and Fred Couples was at 6-under-par 282.

Love, who had never finished in the top-10 in a major championship, closed with a sensational 66. He started the day at 7-under, turned the front nine in 33 and got to 11-under par with a birdie on No. 11. At that point, Crenshaw, Love and Haas, who had just birdied No. 8, were all tied at 11-under.

Then came Crenshaw's birdie at No. 9.

Norman, who has had several chances to win the Masters but has never cashed in, finishing second twice and in the top 10 four other times, closed with a 68.

He started the day at 7-under, turned in 34 and got to 10-under with a birdie on No. 10. Norman, who dominated the par-5 holes in the tournament, making 13 birdies and an eagle and two pars, missed a big chance when his 10-foot eagle putt on No. 15 curled low.



Top finishers

Ben Crenshaw 70-67-69-68-274-14

Davis Love III 69-69-71-66-275-13

Greg Norman 73-68-68-68-277-11

Jay Haas 71-64-72-70-277-11

David Frost 66-71-71-71-279-9

Steve Elkington 73-67-67-72-279-9

Phil Mickelson 66-71-70-73-280-8

Scott Hoch 69-67-71-73-280-8