By Steve Keating
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Ben Crenshaw made a final drive up Magnolia Lane for a competitive round of golf on Friday and then quickly veered off down Memory Lane for one final Masters joy ride.
Twice a Masters champion, the fight long ago left 63-year-old Gentle Ben's game and the Texan decided it was time to "hang up the spurs". His last round on a hot, muggy day was a ceremonial lap of honor rather than a battle to make the cut.
"I'm very thankful to go around this many times and it's time to hang the spurs up," said Crenshaw. "I have absolutely no reservations. I have been thinking about this for a long time, four or five years.
"I feel like I've won the tournament."
Crenshaw signed off with a tap-in bogey at the 18th for a 13-over 85 but few in the large gallery offering standing ovations at every tee and green were keeping count as the 1984 and 1995 champion settled in at the very bottom of the leaderboard.
The only thing missing from this golfing sentimental journey through the Georgia pines and azaleas was Crenshaw's longtime caddie Carl Jackson, the man who had been on his bag for most of his 44 Masters.
Too frail from battling lung cancer and suffering from shoulder and rib pain, Carl handed off duties to brother Bud but the 67-year-old looper dressed in his familiar white caddie overalls was still there at the end, looking on from behind the 18th green as his boss took his final putt.
As the ball disappeared into the cup and the gallery rose in a thunderous ovation, Carl walked haltingly onto the green, the towering caddie and diminutive golfer wrapping around each other in an emotional embrace.
"Carl, it was a great, great sight to see you back there and wouldn't have been any other way," said Crenshaw. "I'm glad you're feeling okay.
"It wouldn't have been any other way to end it without you being there, and you were very perfect.
"That was a great hug there, buddy."
Crenshaw's final Masters was his 44th. Only Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Doug Ford and Raymond Floyd have played more or produced as many memories.
In the 20 years since his second victory, Crenshaw has made the cut just three times and his rounds and scores have progressively trended higher and higher.
From shooting 15-over in 2012, to 20-over in 2013 and 24-over last year, a once unthinkable 32-over was the total on Friday.
Once the popular betting favorite, Crenshaw arrived for his final Masters facing long odds of about 10,000/1.
By owning a green jacket, Crenshaw has a lifetime exemption to the Masters.
Under club rules, as long as you can swing a club, no matter how timidly, as a former champion you are entitled to return to the Augusta each year and pick up a pay cheque.
But as the sight of doddering champions and skyrocketing scores became more-and-more cringe-worthy, Augusta National began offering some a not-so-gentle suggestion to the seniors that their time was up.
There is no indication whether club officials had such a conversation with Crenshaw but it is one the Texan readily admits he had with himself.
In recent years Crenshaw, who produced more than a few magical moments at the Cathedral of Pines, has drifted dangerously close to committing the sin of hanging on too long.
His back nine 48 in the opening round on Thursday was just one shot off the record high of 49, while his total tally of 91 was just four off the worst ever Masters round of 95 inked by Charles Kunkle in 1956.
"I can remember last year when Craig Stadler went out and Fuzzy Zoeller went out the year before; those are tough decisions for all of us to step down, but my God, it was way past time for me," said Crenshaw.
"A lot of times, you think that you can really play this golf course. I did when I was young; I really played it well a lot of times.
"I really thought I could do better at times; but no, it slaps you down many times, as well.
"It can be painful."
(Editing by Andrew Both)