Sunday, April 7, 2013

Nicklaus' First Masters Championship

When I was growing up, three names dominated the PGA Tour — Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. They weren't the only golfers who won tournaments in the 1960s and 1970s, just the most frequent and prominent winners.

On this day 50 years ago, Player and Palmer had both won the Masters at least once. Palmer had won it three times, the most recent being the year before. Nicklaus, by far the youngest of the three, had not yet won it.

But he was about to.

Nicklaus became a professional golfer in late 1961, and he won his first major tournament (the U.S. Open) the next year. That was a pretty dramatic victory. Nicklaus prevailed over Palmer by three strokes in a playoff. At 22, he was the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones nearly 40 years earlier; no one who is any younger has won the Open since.

On this day in 1963, Nicklaus became the youngest golfer to win the Masters. Tiger Woods became the youngest winner in 1997 when, at the age of 21, he won by 12 strokes.

In the buildup to this year's Masters, which begins on Thursday, there has been considerable speculation concerning whether Woods will win his first Masters since 2005.

But even if he does, it will be Woods' fifth triumph at the Augusta Golf Club; he will still trail Nicklaus, who has won a green jacket a record six times, by one title.

Tiger's first Masters title was a dramatic one because, initially, it looked as if he wouldn't make the cut, but he roared back to finish the four–day tourney at 18 under par, beating runnerup Tom Kite by 12 strokes.

Nicklaus did not enjoy such a comfortable margin in 1963. He held on for a one–stroke victory over Tony Lema, who trailed by three strokes entering the final day and nearly forced Nicklaus into a playoff. A double bogey in the opening round proved to be his undoing.

The 1963 Masters was a defining moment, writes John Berry in the Lake County Record–Bee of Lakeport, Calif.

Battling "brisk and windy" conditions, Berry writes, Nicklaus "showed that he had what it takes to win under the toughest of conditions on golf's biggest stage."

The Golden Bear won the Masters five more times, the most recent being in 1986.

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