Nobody was picking Jack Nicklaus to win the ’86 Masters.
Tiger Woods even surprised himself winning the ’08 U.S. Open.
GolfChannel.com’s quest to identify the greatest major championship ever played is down to a riveting showdown in the final. The majors Nicklaus and Woods least expected to win face each other this week with online voting deciding who prevails.
So far, star power and drama are the ingredients you most value in majors.
That’s what you are telling us in your voting through the first round, the quarterfinals and the semifinals.
Nicklaus, at 46, was written off as a serious contender going to the ’86 Masters. He arrived at Augusta National that year without a major championship victory in the previous five years. He arrived without having won any PGA Tour event in almost two years. He arrived having missed three cuts in ’86, and yet he turned from the Olden Bear back into the Golden Bear on the back nine, charging with a 30 to gain the early clubhouse lead. Five different players had at least a share of the lead in this dramatic finish. Tom Kite, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman couldn’t take advantage of opportunities in the end. Ballesteros hit a ball in the water at the 15th and three-putted the 17th to fall away. Kite missed a birdie chance at the 18th to tie Nicklaus. Norman was in the middle of the 18th fairway needing a birdie to win and a par to tie and he pushed a 4-iron into the gallery, making bogey.
The ’08 U.S. Open victory wasn’t Woods at his best, but it was Woods as his grittiest, his most determined. In online voting, his playoff triumph over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines that year beat out his victories in majestic routs at the ’97 Masters and 2000 U.S. Open.
A large part of the drama in ’08 was whether Woods would even be able to finish the championship. He didn’t just win. He outlasted Mediate in an 18-hole Monday playoff that required an extra hole. He triumphed over 91 holes, later revealing he played on a fractured tibia and torn knee ligament in his left leg.
While we have watched Woods amaze us with his performances over the years, this was his first major where he looked like he amazed himself.
“All things considered, I don’t know how I ended up in this position,” Woods said after winning. “I think this is probably the best ever.”
But is it better than Jack in ’86? You decide.