It was 50 years ago this week that one of the greatest golfers ever to grace the greens set out on his quest to win his first US Masters championship.

In the early 1960s, the entrepreneurial legend Mark McCormack of the International Management Group (IMG) had made Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player into the Big Three of golf. Their rivalry would go on throughout the decade and beyond, but if Billy Casper had been managed by McCormack, he would have joined them to make up the Big Four.

For it is a fact that from 1968 to 1970, Casper, who was a client of UMI-International, won more tournaments than Nicklaus, Palmer and Player did in total.

The man with the magic putter did not hit the ball as long as the Big Three but his short game was superb and his work on the greens was often mesmerising – he was the ultimate exemplar of the ‘drive for show, putt for dough’ mentality first stated by the legendary Bobby Locke of South Africa.

He won 51 times on the PGA Tour, putting him at No.7 on the all-time winners’ list behind only Nicklaus, Palmer, Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson.

His first Major at Winged Foot in New York state in 1959 was a classic example of Casper’s method – he had 114 putts over 72 holes and made 31 one-putts and just one three-putt to win by a stroke from Bob Rosburg.

If that was arguably routine, his second Major was just extraordinary. In the 1966 US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Casper trailed Palmer by seven shots as they began the inward nine of the final round. Palmer lost his form and was four over for that back nine but Casper gained three birdies in the last seven holes to force a tie. Jack Nicklaus was seven shots behind them in third.

In those days, play-offs were an 18-hole affair and once again Casper came from behind to beat Palmer with a one-under-par score of 69, Palmer carding a 73. It was the start of a magnificent run for Casper who over the duration of his career played a then record eight times for the USA in the Ryder Cup – he still holds the record for most points by an American in the tournament with 23.5, a half point more than Palmer.

And so to 1970 and the Masters. Augusta had been a reasonable hunting ground for Casper, who hailed from San Diego in California. He had four top 10 finishes in the tournament in the 1960s, and had finished tied for second in 1969, a year in which he win three tournaments.

He was still in form at the start of 1970, winning the Los Angeles Open in January by beating Hale Irwin in a play-off. Lee Trevino was in great form and Gary Player had won the previous tournament, the Greater Greensboro Open, and while Nicklaus and Palmer were still in their pomp, a lot of younger talent was coming through such as Tom Weiskopf and Dave Stockton.

Casper was 38 when he started his first round on Thursday, April 9, 1970. He carded an opening round of 72, which left him outside a top ten headed by Tommy Aaron. An excellent 68 in both the second and third rounds sent him into the lead on eight under par the Saturday night, just one shot ahead of his friend and fellow San Diegan Gene Littler.

Despite a double bogey at the 7th, Casper maintained his lead going to the turn but Littler clawed it back to take a two shot lead to the 15th. He bogeyed, Casper birdied and the duo parred the last three holes to set up a play-off.

Again it was a play-off over 18 holes, and this time Casper took the lead from the start and stayed thee all the way. The tenth hole was bad for both players, Casper taking a double bogey only for Littler to card a quadruple bogey. Littler missed a short putt to bogey 17, and Casper birdied so he knew he had a six-shot advantage going down the last. Littler birdied but Casper sank his final putt from three feet to clinch his Masters green jacket.

Littler was magnanimous in defeat: “Billy has been one of the greatest, if not the greatest players of the last few years and I would like to congratulate him.”

“The greens here are very subtle,” Casper told reporters. “Sometimes they don’t break just the way you figure them to.

“If you misread them as much as an inch, you’ve missed the putt.”

Casper didn’t miss much. He would win many more tournaments but no more Majors. He never was one of the Big Three, but for a couple of years, Billy Casper was better than any of them.