Silver anniversary of Nicklaus’ last Masters title

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AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - Jim Furyk and two other Pennsylvania juniors sat at the table closest to the television in the grill room just as the final round of the 1986 Masters came on. Hours later, every table in Media Heights clubhouse was taken.

Lee Trevino was in the Atlanta airport, drinking scotch at the bar as he watched the final minutes of the telecast, begging the airline to hold the flight just a little while longer.

Ernie Els, fresh off winning the South African Amateur, stayed up past midnight with his father to watch the unthinkable. Scott Verplank, who played the first two rounds with Jack Nicklaus that year, missed the cut and was back at Oklahoma State, getting goose bumps as Nicklaus charged through the back nine at Augusta National.

Everyone remembers where they were on April 13, 1986.

The Masters will be played for the 75th time this week, a major filled with special moments. Few of them resonate like one 25 years ago, when Nicklaus shot 30 on the back nine to beat Greg Norman, Tom Kite, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Price, all in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

“I was lucky to see it,” Els said. “And we are still talking about it today. That’s probably the best major I ever saw on television. I don’t know if we’ll ever hear the noise like that again.”

Nicklaus was believed to be past his prime, incapable of winning another green jacket.

He had not won in two years, and the best he had to show for 1986 was a tie for 36th in the Hawaiian Open. He missed the cut in two majors the year before, the first time he had done that as a pro. And then there was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story by Tom McCollister about the big names who were not playing well going into the Masters.

The one paragraph that stood out: “Nicklaus is gone, done. He just doesn’t have the game anymore. It’s rusted from lack of use. He’s 46, and nobody that old wins the Masters.”

The details of his 7-under 65 _ particularly the back nine _ remain so vivid that when Nicklaus was asked if he remembers his club selection, he rattled off the final seven holes as if he had just walked off the course.

A few holes stand out.

Kite and Ballesteros each eagled the eighth hole, each eliciting a huge cheer. Nicklaus backed off his birdie putt and said to the gallery, “Let’s make some noise of our own.” He made the putt and was on his way.

Then came the par-5 15th, when he was still four shots behind Ballesteros, 202 yards from the hole. He turned to his son, Jackie, who was caddying for him and said, “You think a 3 would go very far here?” He hit 4-iron to 12 feet for an eagle 3.

Tom Watson was playing in the group behind Nicklaus and stood there watching, arms folded.

“I’ve seen that happen enough times with Jack,” Watson said. “I didn’t surprise me. Obviously, I knew how excited everybody was about it by the electricity you could feel in the air. The air was tense. It was very tense.”

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