Throwback Thursday: Nicklaus saved his biggest Masters win for last
Jack Nicklaus won the Masters when he was fat. He won it skinny. He won it with a crew cut and with a stylish look.
He won it against Palmer and Player and Weiskopf and Miller.
He had won it five times.
But when he arrived in Augusta in 1986, no one gave him a chance at victory. Some had even referred to him as the Olden Bear, a man who at 46 was past his prime and not capable of competing in the majors.
Nothing he did in the first two rounds suggested otherwise as he posted scores of 74 and 71.
A 69 in the third round raised a few eyebrows, but he was still four shots behind Greg Norman and tied for ninth entering the final day.
For eight holes Sunday, Nicklaus was treading water. He made only one birdie against one bogey and was well back.
Then something clicked.
He rolled in a tricky downhiller for birdie on the ninth. Then he made a sweeping putt on the 10th. When he rolled in another birdie from long range on the 11th, his gallery started to swell.
Then Nicklaus missed the green at the dangerous 12th and made bogey. And with Seve Ballesteros playing solid golf behind him, it looked like his charge would go for naught.
But he fought back with a two-putt birdie at No. 13, then made par at the 14th. Standing in the fairway at the 15th, he asked out loud if an eagle 3 would do any good. His caddie, son Jackie, said “Let’s see it.”
Nicklaus’ iron shot came to rest 12 feet from the pin, and he sank the eagle putt to get into position to win. His iron shot on No. 16 never left the flag, producing a birdie, and he rolled in another putt for birdie at the 17th.
After securing par at the 18th, Nicklaus had completed a back nine of 30 and a round of 65. He was the clubhouse leader.
Ballesteros had fallen back, and only Norman and Tom Kite could catch Nicklaus now. Kite missed a short birdie putt on the 18th, and Norman came to the home hole needing only par to force a sudden-death playoff.
But his 4-iron sailed wide right into the gallery, and he could not get up and down to force a playoff.
Suddenly, at age 46, Jack Nicklaus had pulled off his greatest Masters triumph. And it was sweet vindication for the king of golf, who had been the focus of so many articles that pondered when he was going to retire.
“I’m not going to quit, guys,” Nicklaus told reporters after his historic win. “Maybe I should. Maybe I should say goodbye. Maybe that’d be the smart thing to do. But I’m not that smart.”