Masters legends: Six of the best

  • Last Updated: April 8 2013, 16:45 BST

We profile six Masters legends, starting with none other than six-time champion Jack Nicklaus.

Jack Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket in 1986
Jack Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket in 1986

Jack Nicklaus

Quite simply the undisputed heavyweight champion of Augusta National, Nicklaus donned his first Green Jacket in 1963 and collected a memorable sixth title in 1986.

The Golden Bear made his Masters debut as a tubby 19-year-old amateur in 1959, but he served notice of his love for the course when he finished seventh two years later while still in the unpaid ranks.

He became the youngest Master at the age of 23, perhaps significantly in the year that inaugural winner Horton Smith graced the Georgia parkland for the last time.

Nicklaus lost out to friend and rival Arnold Palmer in 1964 but he won the next two editions, setting a new scoring record before becoming the first man to defend the title.

A final-round 74 was still good enough for a three-shot win in 1972, and he pipped Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf by a shot in a thrilling final day in 1975.

And then in 1986, 23 years after his first win, an astonishing back-nine 30 capped a closing 65 and earned him a one-shot win over Tom Kite and the luckless Greg Norman, who said magnanimously: "Everybody here loves Jack. This is his place."

Tiger Woods

In 2009, it looked a mere matter of time before Woods overhauled Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles, but then his world came crashing down via a tree and a fire hydrant.

The 37-year-old has failed to add to his 14 major titles since, but he has already done enough to make sure his legacy at Augusta National will remain for a lifetime and beyond.

On his first appearance as a professional in 1997, Woods spent more time extracting his ball from pine straw than on the impossibly manicured fairways over the first nine holes as he took 40 blows to reach the turn.

For the next 63 holes the 21-year-old was in a different stratosphere - nibbling away at the short holes, carefully digesting the par fours and simply gorging on the par fives as he became the youngest Masters champion by a record 12-shot margin.

His performance prompted a reluctant Masters committee to make widespread course changes, but the "Tiger-proofing" did not stop him completing his famous "Tiger Slam" in 2001.

He defended the title with ease and added a fourth Green Jacket to his wardrobe in 2005, edging out Chris DiMarco in a play-off shortly after "that" chip-in for birdie at 16, but that remains his last trip to the Butler Cabin as champion.

Arnold Palmer

Modern-day professional golfers invariably live a first-class lifestyle, and they all give thanks to one man - Arnold Palmer.

It is questionable whether the rewards of today's game would be anywhere near as lucrative had it not been for The King's worldwide impact during the 50s and 60s.

Inaugural Masters champion Horton Smith described Augusta as having "character, individuality and personality", and when Palmer arrived in 1955 the tournament had a player to match.

He won his first Masters in 1958 and emerged victorious three further times in the next six years while finishing no lower than ninth in an incredible 10-year stretch.

Palmer's duels with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player attracted a seemingly never-ending stream of new golfing fans, most of which favoured the swashbuckling cavalier over the elegant Player or the nerveless, calculating Nicklaus.

His 50th consecutive appearance at Augusta in 2004 was also his last as a player, although Palmer still receives the warmest of welcomes every year in his role as honorary starter.

Gary Player

For 27 years the Masters was widely considered a closed shop, an exclusively-American stronghold with invites to overseas players limited to a select, lucky few.

The prospect of a foreigner donning the Green Jacket undoubtably turned the stomachs of many an Augusta patron, so it was unthinkable that Gary Player would become one of the most popular visitors for over half a century.

The diminutive South African became the first international champion in 1961, displaying his trademark bunker skills with a superb up-and-down from sand at the 72nd hole while Arnold Palmer took six from the same bunker to lose out by a shot.

Palmer exacted swift revenge after a play-off the following season, and Player was a top-10 finisher seven times in the next 10 years before landing an overdue second victory in 1974.

Player was sometimes ridiculed for his devotion to a strict fitness regime, but his longevity was evident in 1978 when he birdied seven of the final 10 holes to snatch a one-shot win over Rod Funseth, Hubert Green and a certain Tom Watson.

He recorded just one more top-10 at Augusta, although he did become the oldest player to make the cut in 1998 aged 59, and he bid an emotional farewell to his adoring fans in his record 52nd appearance in 2009.

But he still receives a hearty reception every year as an honorary starter alongside his long-time rivals Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Phil Mickelson

It took Phil Mickelson just six years to transform himself from Masters also-ran to a genuine Augusta great as he joined a select group of players to own three Green Jackets.

The popular left-hander was, for too long, saddled with the "best player never to have won a major" tag until his spectacular breakthrough win in 2004 after a riveting back-nine battle with Ernie Els.

The South African looked to have ensured at least a play-off with a closing 67, but Mickelson put a scrappy first 11 holes behind him to birdie 12, 13, 14 and 16 before coaxing in a 15-foot birdie putt on the final green.

His star-jump celebration left an indelible image on the tournament, which he has gone on to win twice more in some style.

Mickelson's two-driver experiment paid off handsomely in 2006 as he defied bad weather and the extra 300 yards added to the layout to clinch a two-shot victory.

He started the final round trailing Lee Westwood by one in 2010, but his sublime, closing 67 saw him home by three, although he failed to break 70 the following year and finished 13 shots behind Charl Schwartzel.

Mickelson was in contention again last year until a disastrous triple-bogey at the fourth effectively ended his chances, but who would bet against him atoning for that in 2013?

Sir Nick Faldo

It is doubtful whether any golfer, even Tiger Woods, has possessed the kind of single-minded determination that served Sir Nick Faldo so well at Augusta National.

His controversial decision to rebuild his swing under the expert eye of David Leadbetter reaped rich rewards, although it was tenacity, resolve and steadfast attention to detail that were ultimately responsible for three Masters victories.

His first arrived in 1989 as he recovered from a double-bogey six at the first to cover the 17 remaining holes in nine under, and he nailed a 30-foot birdie putt in the gloom on the second extra hole after Scott Hoch's infamous miss at the first.

History repeated itself a year later when he pipped veteran gunslinger Ray Floyd on the same green, having forced a play-off despite trailing by four shots with only six holes to play.

But Faldo's defining moment was his astonishing victory over Greg Norman in 1996, his relentless pressure on the fragile Aussie turning a six-shot deficit into a five-stroke triumph.

It is often overlooked that Faldo fired a flawless 67 on that memorable Sunday, one of the greatest final rounds ever seen at Augusta.

Unfortunately, the great man never contended for a fourth title, but his efforts in consolidating European golf as a major worldwide force will never be forgotten.


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