Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Master of the Masters: 1986

For the next three days, we will be rolling out a small series called "Master of the Masters," highlighting some of the best and most clutch performances in the history of this great tournament. Today we focus on Jack Nicklaus' incredible run back in 1986.

I feel like you probably should know something before I expand on the greatest Masters ever played - In April of 1986, I was two-years-old, not exactly the prime age to give a full account of something happening. I didn't know Jack Nicklaus from jack cheese, but over the years, it has turned into my favorite golf memory ever. Just watching the highlights gets me excited. From the roar at 15, to the near ace at 16 and the putter raise at 17, the 1986 Masters was television that was better than Hollywood.

Something you probably should understand about Jack heading into the '86 Masters so you can totally understand the surprise nature of this win; it had been two years since Jack had won any PGA Tour event. He was 46, and not nearly the dominate player that he used to be. Jack hadn't won a major since 1980, and it seemed that 17 was going to be the number he would finish at. On Thursday, Jack opened with a 74, pretty ho-hum for him but also fairly expected. Nobody picked Nicklaus to contend in 1986. Nobody. A little something I always say about the level of play certain golfers are in when they start a week; if a family member is on the bag caddying, they probably aren't expecting much success.

But the scores started to improve. On Friday he shot a solid one-under 71, and backed that up with a three-under 69 on Sunday. He was going around the golf course that made him a legend in respectable fashion, and when you're four years shy of 50, that is all you can ask. Well, that's all most people can ask. Most people aren't Jack Nicklaus.

Jack started Sunday five shots off the lead, and wasn't much of a thought. But as the final round opened up, the Golden Bear returned. Nicklaus made birdies on the extremely tough 9th, 10th and 11th. A bogey on 12 looked like where it would all end for Jack, but he had two par-5s left, and take advantage he did.

Nicklaus made birdie on 13, settled for a par on number 14, and then came the 15th hole at Augusta National, properly named Firethorn. Jack hid an incredible second shot into the always tough green to find, and rolled in his eagle putt to really get things going. He was two strokes back with three holes to play, but still had work to do.

This was the moment that separates good players from the great players. A lot of guys might have let the pressure get to them here. Some might have pared out and been happy with it, knowing they made their run and put together a great final nine holes. But it wouldn't have been legendary. It wouldn't have been epic. It would have been a story that people forgot two months later.

Not with Jack. Nicklaus, coming off an eagle, hit the shot of the tournament on 16, nearly acing the par-3 with a 5-iron, which he simply rolled in for a birdie to get to 8-under. He wasn't stopping there. Nicklaus made an improbable birdie putt on 17, and then a par on 18 was good enough for a final round 65.

Nicklaus would win by a shot over Tom Kite and Greg Norman. It was the best final round ever played.


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