When April came around in 1986, most assumed Nicklaus was past his prime at 46. After all, he had 17 major championships and worldwide respect; what did he need with another Masters? Ride off into the sunset, Jack; the Golden Bear should enjoy his golden years.
Only Jack didn't see it that way. Jack saw the younger generation that was ahead of him on the leaderboard -- Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite, Greg Norman -- not as icons, but as targets. And he put together one of the finest back-nine runs in golf history.
It started when he birdied the 10th hole to drop to -4, but he was still five strokes behind Ballesteros. But Nicklaus would add birdies at 11 and 13 plus an eagle at 15 to breathe right down the neck of Ballesteros -- metaphorically speaking, of course, because Ballesteros was playing behind him.
On 16, Nicklaus stepped up to the tee. "Your destiny is right here," Tom Weiskopf said in the broadcast booth. And here's what happened:
Rattled by Nicklaus' charge, Ballesteros dunked his ball at 15 in an agonizing pull. Nicklaus kept up the charge at 17, putting for a birdie and a chance to take the lead:
Nicklaus then approached the 18th tee to take one of the most important drives of his career. He hit it dead solid perfect, and nearly birdied the final hole. He walked off the green at -9 to the delirious cheers of the Augusta crowd.
Ah, but it wasn't over yet. There was one more competitor still out there making noise. Though almost nobody mentions it now, Greg Norman was charging on his own, and left the 17th hole with a share of the lead. Birdie 18, and the Masters was Norman's. But on the second shot ...
Nicklaus closed the back nine at Augusta with an otherwordly 30. It may well have been the greatest single-day performance by any athlete in history, a moment where a legend took one more turn onstage. There weren't any golf blogs like this one around back then, but I'm betting that not even the snarkiest among us could have kept a dry eye at that. Simply spectacular.
Got a Nicklaus recollection? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post the best later this week.
- Jack Nicklaus