AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Three decades ago, Jack Nicklaus was no longer the ‘Golden Bear’ and had been labeled the ‘Olden Bear’ by some.
He was six years removed from his last major victory and two years distanced Nicklaus from his most recent PGA Tour win when he arrived in Augusta, Georgia for the 1986 Masters.
He had been counted out as a major contender in 1980, but went on to win both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship that year.
Perhaps it was hasty to dismiss him as a genuine threat for the 1986 Masters aged 46, but there were no signs that Nicklaus had another major victory in him at the start of a week that stunningly ended with him landing a record sixth Green Jacket.
“I‘m not going to quit, guys,” Nicklaus remarked after his sensational win. “Maybe I should. Maybe I should say goodbye. Maybe that’d be the smart thing to do. But I‘m not that smart.”
Nicklaus had missed the cut in three of his first seven tournaments in 1986. His swing was a mess as he summoned his long-time instructor Jack Grout to Miami a few weeks prior to the Masters.
Grout, who was recovering from open-heart surgery, told his prized student that he had become too “handsy” with his swing.
Nicklaus worked hard to find his swing, incorporated a chipping tip from Chi Chi Rodriguez via his son and caddie Jackie Jr. and put an oversized putter in his bag.
He also received inspiration for that week in the form of an Atlanta Journal column which a friend taped to the refrigerator at the house Nicklaus was renting in Augusta. The opinion piece said the American golfing great was washed up.
Nicklaus did not dispel the notion when he opened with rounds of 74, 71 and 69 to sit four shots off the pace in a tie for ninth heading into the final round. He then fell further behind after the first seven holes before turning the tournament on its head.
However, he caught fire after he stood over a birdie putt on the ninth green before he backed off twice because of roars when two of the leading contenders, Seve Ballesteros and Tom Kite, knocked in eagle putts at the eighth.
Nicklaus birdied nine, 10 and 11, bogeyed 12 and birdied 13 as the galleries pressed in from all sides. His eagle-birdie-birdie-par finish for a back-nine 30 and a score of 65 vaulted him into the lead.
Kite lipped out with a birdie putt from 10 foot at the last to finish a shot back.
Greg Norman needed a par at the final hole to force a playoff and spectators were already lining the par-four 10th in anticipation of extra holes but the Australian fanned his approach shot right and ended up with a bogey on 18. The Masters had an unlikely champion.
Nicklaus revealed afterwards that he had a prescient conversation on the phone that morning with his older son Steve.
“He said, ‘Whadya think, Pops?'” Nicklaus recalled. “I said, ‘I think 66 will tie and 65 will win.'”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes