Augusta memories: 'The loudest roar I ever heard on a golf course'

Nicklaus nostalgia still going strong – 25 years after his Masters miracle
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The Independent Online

If Tiger Woods really was insecure enough to harbour any doubts about the possibility of a comeback victory at Augusta, then he should look no further than the 25-year-old footage on loop throughout Georgia this next week.

Jack Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters at the age of 46 and two months was the plus-foured Lazarus besides which all golfing resurrections will pale. Any pending Woods rebirth included.

The United States loves an anniversary, as exemplified by the fuss made over this, the 75th staging of The Masters (just the 64 before you catch up with The Open then lads). Yet the Nicklaus nostalgia is completely understandable; if only because it provides an excuse for the replays. As one of the honorary starters, Nicklaus will be there to stir the treacle. "People still come up and tell me where they were, how they missed flights in the airport to see the finish," says the 71-year-old. "They don't do that for any other of my 18 majors. Just the 1986 Masters."

Tiger, himself, has his own recollection, despite being 10 at the time. He had been out playing with his father, Earl, but returned in time to see the start of the telecast which, because of the infamous Augusta rationing, picked up Nicklaus on the 10th. "The only memory I really have was the putt at 17," said Woods. "Just the putter going up, and how basically Jack walked it in. That was the first time I'd seen someone do that. It kind of stuck in my head."

It stuck in time, never mind the boy's head, the commentary of Verne Lundquist throwing further immortal dust on the moment. "Maybeeee... Yessirrr!" he bellowed as the 11-footerdisappeared, with Nicklaus's left arm raising the putter in harmony with the ball's inexorable progress.

Nicklaus, who began the day four behind and the back nine five behind, played the inward half thus: birdie, birdie, bogey, birdie, par, eagle, birdie, birdie, par – 30 shots, equalling the Masters record. Every second seemed defining, never mind every drive, iron, putt or celebration. The 12-footer for eagle on No 15 caused what Nick Price, the overnight leader by then playing in surreal isolation on the 13th, called "the loudest roar I ever heard on a golf course". Nobody argued.

Yet perhaps it was the eruption which greeted his tee-shot on the 16th which better sums up the story. Nicklaus hit a five-iron on the 170-yard par three to within three feet. On the 15th fairway stood Seve Ballesteros, two shots clear of Tom Kite and odds-on for his third Green Jacket. The Spaniard duly cracked and his approach plopped in the water guarding the green. In that instant, poor Seve was shaken beyond repair.

Kite still had the chance to force the play-off but could not birdie the last, while Greg Norman, the eternal Masters bridesmaid, needed only a par to take the old man to sudden death. Yes, he bogeyed. And so the party began, while grizzled old hacks in the press room cried on to their typewriters as they struggled to cope with the magnitude of the story.

What made it so special (apart from the obvious record of Nicklaus becoming the oldest Masters champion, at the time by four years)? Well, Nicklaus hadn't won a major in six years, any event in two years and had missed three cuts in his last seven events in which his highest placing was a tie for 39th in Hawaii.

"Done, Washed-up, Through," read the headline in the Atlanta Journal on the eve of that Masters. That just about says it all.