He was too old (46), too rusty (he hadn't won in two years) and too distracted (he was focused more on his business) coming into the 1986 Masters Tournament. At least, those were the prevailing sentiments about Jack Nicklaus, who had won more professional majors (17) and more Masters (five) than anyone.
The Golden Bear started slowly, with rounds of 74 and 71 to make the Masters cut, and he moved into the top 10 with a third-round 69. But he was tied for ninth and four shots behind leader Greg Norman. Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite, Bernhard Langer and Nick Price also were in contention.
Nicklaus, though, was determined to prove his critics wrong. Here, in his own words, is how he remembers the final round: "The deficit wasn't all that big, and (with) eight players I felt like if you shot a good round you're going to have a chance to win. That's when Steve (his son) called Sunday morning.
"He said, 'Whadya think, Pops?'
I said, 'I think 66 will tie and 65 will win.'
He says, 'Exact number I had in mind. Go shoot it.'
"I was feeling like if I had a good round I had a chance. Of course, front nine I have one birdie and one bogey through the first eight holes and didn't feel like I could get anything going until the ninth hole. And then we had that rigmarole with Ballesteros and Kite making eagles at 8. And I turn to the crowd. I've backed off the ball twice because of the shots, so I ask the gallery, 'OK, you've heard all of that noise, let's see if we can make some noise here ourselves.' And I knocked it in, and I was off.
"I don't remember much about that (walk to 10). I wasn't much electric myself at that point. I was a long ways back. But I did make a nice birdie at 9."
NO. 10: PAR 4, 485 YARDS
"I had about a 25-foot putt, knocked that putt in, big sort of rainbow, right to left, and that was pretty good."
How Nicklaus played -- Driver to right side of fairway -- 4-iron to green -- 25-foot putt for birdie
His Position: Trails Ballesteros and Norman by 3
NO. 11: PAR 4, 455 YARDS
"I had about the same length putt at 11, the pin was on back left, and I shot away from it - you always shoot away from it - about 25 feet. I drained that putt and went, 'Whoops, that's pretty good. I've made three in a row here now.'"
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- Driver to right side of fairway -- 4-iron to green -- 25-foot putt for birdie HIS
POSITION: Trails Ballesteros and Norman by 3
NO. 12: PAR 3, 155 YARDS
"I said, 'OK, let's don't do something stupid at 12.' All I could think of was the guys who got right of that pin. I always played it over bunker, and I hit it right over the bunker. But I hit it a fraction too far - actually it was pin high when you're on the back of the green - and I got sort of a bad bounce on the chip. I tried to hit a run shot with a 9-iron, it hit and kicked left on me, it was the right distance, but I left myself a 5- or 6-foot (putt). "I kept looking at the little spike mark that was in front of me, kind of hoping it wouldn't affect the putt, and I probably had more thought on the spike mark than I did on the putt. I hit the spike mark and went off to the right. Over the ball I was trying to figure, how do I get the ball over this spike mark? I don't know what I could have done. I missed that putt and ... it really upset me, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened. Because it sort of brought me off of cloud nine, down to a place that was still pretty good, where I said, 'OK, I've played the last four holes in 2-under, and I've got the stretch coming up and let's see what we can get done.'"
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- 7-iron over left side of green -- Chip to 6 feet -- Two-putts for bogey
HIS POSITION: Trails Ballesteros by 3
NO. 13: PAR 5, 465 YARDS
"I turned the 3-wood around the corner at 13, and I had a very skinny lie, down next to the creek where the grass doesn't grow very much. I had an overhanging branch on the pine tree and I hit 3-iron underneath the trees and the ball ended up 30 feet from the hole. I hit a decent putt, might have been short, but I made my birdie. I'm still a long way back."
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- 3-wood to left side of fairway -- 3-iron to green -- Two-putts from 30 feet for birdie
HIS POSITION: Trails Ballesteros by 2
NO. 14: PAR 4, 405 YARDS
"At 14, I hit my second shot and it just went through the green. I had a little chip shot that I played and ran it down like that, and made my par."
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- 3-wood to right center of fairway -- 6-iron to back fringe -- Chip to 1 foot, made par
HIS POSITION: Trails Ballesteros by 4
NO. 15: PAR 5, 500 YARDS
"I hit a really good drive at 15. I turned to Jackie (his son) and I had 212 yards, I believe, and I said, 'How far do you think a 3 will go here? And I don't mean a club.' "He said, 'I think it will go a long way.' I hit a 4-iron and knocked it in 12 feet left of the hole. I made that putt. "Ballesteros had eagled 13 around the same time. I don't know that he was going to run away, but he was in pretty darn good shape. Anyway, there weren't many more than Ballesteros in front of me at that point. I wasn't doing a whole lot of math about that time. I was too busy making birdies."
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- Driver to center of fairway -- 4-iron to green -- 12-foot putt for eagle
HIS POSITION: Trails Ballesteros by 2
NO. 16: PAR 3, 170 YARDS
"So I got to 16 and 175 yards, couldn't see the base of the flag, but obviously I knew where it was. And I hit a 5-iron shot, with a shade of a breeze coming at us, I hit 5-iron and that's my remark to Jackie, my cockiest remark I ever made in the game of golf. "I hit the shot, and I didn't even look at it. I just reached down and picked up my tee, and Jackie said, 'Be right.' I said, 'It is.' And the ball, of course I saw it land, you couldn't see the base of (the pin), but it had a chance to go in the hole. Of course the gallery there is going wild, the gallery at 15 was going wild. "The reception at 16 was probably - I've had a lot of great receptions at 16 in my life, but that one was pretty special. Made that putt and they were just going bananas. "I'm sure Ballesteros could have heard that if he was still back on the first tee. It was pretty loud."
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- 5-iron to green -- 3-foot putt for birdie
HIS POSITION: Trails Ballesteros by 1
NO. 17: PAR 4, 400 YARDS
"We go over to the 17 tee, and I hear that horrible sound, I knew exactly what it was, that sort of half cheer, half groan, the people that wanted me to win were cheering, the people that wanted Seve to play well were groaning, and I would have groaned, because I don't believe in wishing someone bad luck, I never have. But I knew what had happened. "I always reflect right back to the beginning of the week at the Masters dinner. I was talking to Seve about the tournament, and he was like, 'I haven't played much this spring. I'm not really sharp, I haven't played enough golf.' When he did that it just went, boom, right in my mind. I said I knew that when a guy is not as sharp as he feels he should be, he'll have a tough shot. Instead of hitting 5-iron he hit a light 4-iron, and when he hit it he quit on it. His ball didn't get halfway across the water. He just quit on it. It was a horrible break for him, but it obviously changed the whole tournament. "I hit my tee shot and hooked it a little bit more than I wanted to, but I wanted it up the left side. It got past the trees. Now today, it would be in the forest, you couldn't play that shot. I knew the pin was right and I wanted to get it left. I had 112 yards, I think, and I knew I couldn't hit it over the green with a pitching wedge. But I didn't think I could quite get it back to the hole with the pitching wedge, which was OK. So I hit a hard pitching wedge, and I pulled it a touch. I left it 12 feet left of the hole. We got up on the green and the crowd was going bananas. "Jackie and I were looking at the putt, the putt looks like it has to go a little right, which it does. He says, 'What do you think, Dad?' I said, 'I think it goes a little right; what do you think, Jackie?' He says, 'I think it's going to go to the right, Dad.' I say, 'Rae's Creek, I think it will straighten up and try to turn back to the left.' He said, 'You sure?' I said, 'It always has.' So I hit the putt and that putt will not straighten up. ... The ball went in, and I guess that was the first time I was leading. I didn't know that. All I knew was I was in pretty good shape."
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- Driver to left rough -- Pitching wedge to green -- 11-foot putt for birdie
HIS POSITION: Leads by 1 over Ballesteros and Kite
NO. 18: PAR 4, 405 YARDS
"Took the 3-wood off the tee, hit a good 3-wood and 185 yards. I said, 'OK, I don't want to be long.' I want to get it on top if I can but I don't want to be long - I don't like that chip from over the green. It's always a hard chip to get the ball up and down. I hit a 5-iron as good as I could hit it. As soon as I hit it I felt the rush of wind in my face. I said, 'Oh, it's not going to get there.' It hit and wound up down at the bottom of the green, and I had 40 feet left. We had redone that green. I'd practiced several putts from there. You didn't have to hit it quite as hard as you used to because once it got on top it would kind of float. "I hit a good putt up, rolled up to about four inches, and I felt I could probably make that one. Hit the putt in the hole. Jackie was there, and it was kind of a spontaneous thing, we gave each other a hug. Sandy Lyle was who I was playing with, he was very gracious. "We left there and went over to Jones Cabin. And we sat there ... watching television and Norman started making birdies. He made a couple of birdies and I said, 'I'm not going to sit here and watch this, I'm going to get up and walk around.' I'm not doing myself any good luck-wise, not that I could control anything Greg was doing. So I got up and walked around and he kept making birdies. And then Kite came up to 18 and hit a really nice second shot in there and a really nice putt. Didn't quite have speed to carry through on the putt. Then Norman made a great second shot on 17 and made his birdie. What did he make, four in a row? And all of a sudden he made four birdies and got himself back into it. Matter of fact, he got himself to 9-under. He hit a good tee shot at 18 and then hit that pitch-out. The swing was just not a very good golf swing. He had a hard pitch, and he hit it up and missed the putt. That was basically it. I just watched it. "I kind of enjoyed the last 10 holes."
HOW NICKLAUS PLAYED -- 3-wood to center of fairway -- 5-iron to green -- Two-putts from 40 feet for par
HIS POSITION: Clubhouse leader at 9 under
Kite: Par on 16, 17 and 18. Finishes at -8.
Norman: Birdie at 15, 16 and 17; bogey on 18. Finishes at -8.
Ballesteros: Par on 16, bogey on 17 and par on 18. Finishes at -7.