Thirty-two years later, one of them had a chance to win another British Open at Turnberry at age 59.
The other was playing tennis.
The 69-year-old Nicklaus said Saturday he finished playing tennis at home in south Florida in time to watch Watson play the back nine at Turnberry, where he birdied two of the last three holes for a 1-over 71 that gave him a one-shot lead.
I watched quite a bit, actually, Nicklaus said in a Q&A with his spokesman. Like everybody else I had some tears in my eyes.
Watson, already the oldest man to lead any round of any major, will try to join Harry Vardon with a record six British Open titles and become the oldest player to win a major championship.
A victory would come 26 years after Watson last won a major, the longest gap in golf history.
Whether or not Tom plays well tomorrow, whether or not he wins, it doesnt make a difference, Nicklaus said. Of course, we would all love to see Tom win, but what he has accomplished already is a phenomenal achievement.
Nicklaus was 46 when he won the Masters in 1986, shooting a 30 on the back nine. He was 58 when he made a Sunday charge at Augusta National before he tied for sixth.
In a recent interview, Nicklaus said the Duel in the Sun was the best he ever played in a major without winning. He and Watson matched scores for three rounds and were tied with two holes to play until Watson pulled ahead with a birdie on the 17th, closed with a 65 and won by one shot.
Nicklaus believes Watson will benefit from his experience, not only of links golf, but from winning eight majors.
The thing Tom will realize is that this golf course is not very easy, he said. No matter what everybody else does tomorrow, they will make mistakes. He will, too. And he knows that. The key for him is to just not let the mistakes multiply or manifest themselves into a bad hole. If Tom plays smart golf tomorrow, he is the favorite. And I do not anticipate him playing anything but smart golf.
Watson has been carried along by memories of Turnberry all week, starting with a text he received from Nicklaus wife, Barbara, on the eve of the British Open wishing him luck.
When asked what Nicklaus would make of this amazing week, Watson smiled and said, Well, I think hes watching.
It would be something special if I did what I intend to do tomorrow, he said.
Nicklaus said he and his wife will be rooting for Watson to win. The Golden Bear also said he sent Watson a text message, although he needed some help.
Barbara sent to Tom my very first text, ever, Nicklaus said. Barbara has been texting him all week, but that was my first.
As for the message?
That is just something between the two of us, Nicklaus said. Hell have to tell you.