Happy Birthday, Jack! Celebrating The Golden Bear’s 18 Majors

Nineteen times, Jack Nicklaus finished second in a Major. Nine times he finished third. Imagine that he’s won half of those second places and a third of the thirds. That would give him an additional 12 Majors, 30 in all, and make Tiger Woods’ quest to catch him not even halfway done.

Of course, Jack finished with “only” 18 Majors, but with his 76th birthday just a few days away, it seems like as good as time as any to celebrate the most remarkable player to ever grace a golf course.

Here’s a fond look back at his 18 Major titles:

1962 US Open: Not only was its Nicklaus’ first Major, but stamped him as a rival for the great Arnold Palmer, who he defeated in an 18-hole playoff the Monday after the tournament officially concluded at Oakmont Country Club. Although he was only 22, Nicklaus had already played the US Open five times as an amateur and nine Majors total. Palmer looked in strong control at the halfway point, 3-under and three strokes ahead of Nicklaus. Nicklaus caught him at the 13th hole on Sunday and silenced a pro-Palmer crowd in the playoff, up four strokes after eight holes, winning by three strokes.

1963 Masters: Now 23, Nicklaus won the first of his six Green jackets with a three-foot putt on the 18th to finish a stroke ahead of Tony Lema. Like Woods after him, he used an early round of 66 to get well ahead of the field, ultimately firing a 2-under 286.

1963 PGA Championship: The temperature was so hot at the Dallas Athletic Club on Sunday that Nicklaus used a towel to grasp the hot trophy. In doing so he joined Sam Snead and Jack Burke as the only men to win the Masters and the PGA title in the same year. No man has done it since. He was under 70 in all but the second round, winning by two strokes with a 5-under 279.

1965 Masters: After a Major-less 1964, Nicklaus returned to Augusta with a vengeance, smashing Ben Hogan’s record with a 17-under 271 that would stand for 32 years. He won by nine strokes over Palmer and Gary Player.

1966 Masters: It took an 18-hole Monday playoff, but Nicklaus became the first man to ever win the Masters in back to back years, knocking off Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer in the extra session with a 70.

1966 Open Championship: In winning the Claret Judge for the first time, Nicklaus completed the career Grand Slam, needing just four seasons to do it. It was his sixth Major, and introduced Nicklaus to Muirfield, inspiring him to create Muirfield Village in Ohio, the host of his Memorial Tournament since 1976. He overcame a third-round 75 to defeat Doug Sanders and Dave Thomas by one stroke with a 2-under 282.

1967 US Open: New year, new title, new record. His final round 65 was a tournament record and allowed him to race past Palmer by four strokes, breaking the US Open record with a 275 – surpassing Ben Hogan’s 276 set in 1948.

1970 Open Championship: After three years without a Major, which Nicklaus would later attribute to a decline in his physical condition and weight gain, he returned to form at St. Andrews, with an 18-hole playoff victory over Doug Sanders. Nicklaus fired a 72 to Sanders’ 73.

1971 PGA Championship: The ship righted a year before, Nicklaus looked in top form as went wire to wire at Palm Beach Gardens, defeating Billy Casper by two strokes with a 7-under 281.

1972 Masters: Another dominant performance, with a 68 in the first round, gave Nicklaus four Green jackets and 10 Majors. His 2-under 286 was the only score under par in the entire field, and won him the title by three strokes.

1972 US Open: Remarkably, it was Nicklaus’ first time going back to back on Major wins.  The average score was a 78.8 and Nicklaus’ winning 2-over was the second-highest score at a Major. It was his 11th Major win, tying Walter Hagen for the most as a professional. He also became the fourth man to win the first two Majors of the year, joining Craig Wood, Ben Hogan (twice), and Palmer. He took a 3-stroke win over Bruce Crampton.

1973 PGA Championship: As an Ohio native, Nicklaus aimed to impress, and 10 years after his first title at the PGA Championship, he won his 12th, shooting a 7-under 277 at Canterbury. He won by four strokes over Crampton, and his closing 54 holes of 68-68-69 simply was untouchable by the rest of the field.

1975 Masters: After winning at least one Major every year from 1970-1973, Nicklaus was shut out in 1974. He responded with his fifth Masters the following year, which also marked the first time an African-American was allowed to compete. He shot 68-67 to open the tournament 9-under with a five-stroke lead and his own course record in sight, but his 73 on Day 3 ended those thoughts and saw him trail Tom Weiskopf by a stroke. A closing 68 was just what the doctor ordered, as he birdied 15 and 16 to slip past Weiskopf and Johnny Miller.

1975 PGA Championship: For the fourth time, Nicklaus won two Majors in the same year, and for the second time – and only the fourth time in all of golf history – he won the bookend tournaments to do so. At Firestone in Ohio, very close to where he grew up, he shot a 4-under 276 to edge Crampton by two strokes.

1978 Open Championship: For the second time in his career, Nicklaus went two years without a Major, only to return in top fashion, taking his 15th Major and concluding his third Grand Slam.  He was a stroke behind co-leaders Peter Oosterhuis and Tom Watson to start Sunday, but a second straight 69 propelled him to a 2-stroke victory.

1980 US Open: It had been eight years since his last US Open win, and a full 18 since his first. At the lower course of Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, the 40-year-old Nicklaus set a new tournament record with an 8-under 272, holding off Isao Aoki with a 22-foot birdie on No. 17 and a 10-footer on No. 18. The victory came after a 1979 in which Nicklaus failed to win any tournaments for the first time in his career.

1980 PGA Championship: Nicklaus became the second five-time winner of the PGA Championship and won his second Major as a 40-year-old. He joined Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan as the only men to win the US Open and PGA Championship in the same year, a club Tiger Woods would join in 2000. He just didn’t win the tournament, he dominated it, finishing 6-under on a weekend when the next lowest score was 1-over. The seven-stroke margin of victory was the largest until 2012 when Rory McIlroy bettered it.

1986 Masters: In a career already legendary beyond anyone else, the topper came last, on the 50th anniversary of The Masters, when the 46-year-old Nicklaus won the Masters for a record sixth time, 23 years after his first triumph at Augusta and 24 years after his first Major – all records.  Nicklaus wasn’t in the top 10 until the end of Saturday, and even then four strokes back in a seven-way tie for ninth, with eight other players in front of him. At even par through eight holes, Nicklaus birdied 9, 10, and 11 to pull within two strokes of Seve Ballesteros, who was at 7-under. He eagled No. 15 to sit one stroke behind col-leaders Tom Kite and Ballesteros, with Greg Norman also at 7-under, then birdied 16 as all four men tied for the lead at 8-under. He and Norman moved to 9-under with birdies on 17 while Kite fell back one stroke and Ballesteros two, and when Norman bogeyed 18, Nicklaus was champion again.

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