When you have achieved as much as Jack Nicklaus has in his storied career, there is a significant anniversary to celebrate pretty much every time he visits a major championship. At this year’s Masters, there are two.
Nicklaus, 76, has been back at Augusta National this week to take stock once more, a half-century after he became the first golfer to successfully defend his Masters title and more memorably 30 years on from perhaps the most famous of his six Masters victories, when he became the oldest winner of a Green Jacket.
That 1986 win was one for the ages, that now iconic image of the Golden Bear walking in his 12-foot birdie putt on the 17th with putter raised aloft seared into the memory of many golf fans.
At the age of 46 it would be his 18th and final major victory, also his 73rd and last PGA Tour win. No-one has matched the first record and only Sam Snead and Tiger Woods have bettered the second. Yet what Nicklaus remembers most fondly about that day was coming off the 18th green following an incredible final-round 65 and enjoying an embrace with his son and caddie Jackie.
He had played the closing 10 holes in seven under par and beaten Tom Kite and Greg Norman by a shot and, he said, it still feels fresh in the memory.
“Time passes so fast,” Nicklaus said on Tuesday. “Seems like it was just yesterday we walked off the 18th green and Jackie and I gave each other a hug, which to me is probably my most memorable moment in golf, having your son on the bag and being able to share that with him. That was a great time and great fun.”
Nicklaus’s age in 1986 is often cited but not his durability. His 18th major came in his 25th season on tour. His nearest rival, Woods, won his 14 over 12 years between 1997 and 2008 and may still add to that total, though he has skipped this year’s Masters due to his recovery from back surgery. Nicklaus, who also holds the record for most second places in the majors with 19, considers himself lucky to have avoided such medical issues.
“I had a lot of opportunities to win and didn’t,” he said. “Tiger didn’t have many opportunities to win that he didn’t. He won most every time he had an opportunity. I think he led in last round in, I guess he led going into all 14 of his majors, didn’t he, every one that he won. I led going into the last round in 12 of them, and I won 10 of those 12 that I won, were with leading.
“But I guess I was just lucky from a physical standpoint. I never really had many injuries. My first time I ever withdrew from a golf tournament was 1981. I was 41 years old. It was Firestone. I was in fourth place going into the last round and my back spasmed and went to my knees and they had to carry me off the practice tee.
“Two years later, I had the same thing happen here in Augusta in 1983. I was playing with Gary (Player) and Fred Couples after the first round, shot 73. The only two times I had a problem.
“I was able to manage my problems that I did have. Did I get sick or something like everybody else? Sure. Did I have injuries? Sure. Did I play through them? Sure, like everybody does. But they were never injuries that kept me from continuing to play.
“I think really early on, my schedule, and Tiger has done much the same, I sort of focused on the major championships and I felt like my year was four tournaments and that whatever I needed to prepare for those four tournaments, that’s what I did. And so that’s the way I looked at it.
“So when you do that, you’re not abusing yourself too much. You can play a longer time. And Tiger and I both won young. And he may span 25 years himself. I don’t think he’s done. I think Tiger’s going to win more tournaments.”
Woods is eight years on from his last major, the 2008 US Open, and it is three years since his 79th and most recent PGA Tour win.
He has even cast doubt himself on his ability to win again, earlier this year saying a future victory “would be gravy”.
Nicklaus refuses to buy that from Tiger.
“That’s probably an easier answer than ‘I’m going to get back out there next week’ and really doing it.
“He’s probably tired of saying that.
“If he says the other, then all of sudden everybody writes him off for a while and then he’s got to show up for his 1980 and his 1986.
“I think he’ll show up for that a little bit.”
BallTalk TV - The Masters 2016
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