Publish date:



Jack Nicklaus has the best record in the major championships of
any player in history. The numbers say it all. He has won six
Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens and three
British Opens. In the 80 majors he entered during his peak
years, between 1962 and '81, Nicklaus finished in the top five
51 times. Perhaps most amazing of all, Nicklaus has finished
second (19 times) more often than he has won, and he has been
runner-up in the British Open more times (seven) than in any
other major. Next week marks the 20th and 25th anniversaries of
Nicklaus's most memorable seconds.

The '77 British Open, at Turnberry, concluded with what many
consider the most brilliant two-round, two-man duel in
tournament history. Nicklaus, 37, had already won 14 major
titles, but he had finished second to an ascendant Tom Watson in
that spring's Masters. At the British Open both men opened with
rounds of 68-70 and trailed Roger Maltbie by a shot. Then,
paired together for the last two days, Nicklaus and Watson
staged their own pyrotechnics on Turnberry's burned-out
fairways. After matching 65s in the third round, they finished
their seesaw battle on the back nine of the final round. Watson
birdied four of the last six holes, sinking a 60-footer from off
the green on the par-3 15th, to shoot another 65. Nicklaus shot
66 and lost by a stroke, although his 269 total was seven shots
lower than the previous scoring record in the Open.

Five years earlier, Nicklaus had won both the Masters and the
U.S. Open, so going into Muirfield, everyone was talking about a
possible Grand Slam. Lee Trevino was the defending champion,
having won at Royal Birkdale in '71, and he was trying to live
up to his reputation as the only player able to stand up to
Nicklaus in the majors. The year before in the U.S. Open at
Merion, Trevino had outplayed Nicklaus head-to-head, beating him
by three shots in a playoff.

Trevino was the leader after the third round thanks to a
course-record 66 that featured five birdies in a row. Nicklaus,
meanwhile, was nursing a sore neck and put up scores of 70, 72
and 71, which left him six shots behind. But when he woke up on
the morning of the final round, his neck felt fine. He played
the first 11 holes in four under and caught and passed Trevino.
The gallery began to chant "Nicklaus Slam."

Two holes behind, Trevino heard the cheers and responded by
crushing his drive on the par-5 9th. He hit a five-iron to
within 18 feet and made the eagle putt to regain the lead for
good. Trevino wound up shooting 71, compared with Nicklaus's
record-matching 66, but Trevino had accomplished his goal. "I
didn't come to Scotland to help Nicklaus win any Grand Slam," he


COLOR PHOTO: LANE STEWART Twenty years ago, Nicklaus and Watson waged the most engaging duel ever at the British Open. [Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson]