We are now a mere two weeks away from the commencement of proceedings at Augusta National in Georgia for the first major of the year - the 81st edition of the Masters.
As the world’s best players continue to fine-tune their games in the last few weeks before April 6th, to help whet your appetite even more we’ve decided to focus this week on the long-standing record of the most successful golfer of all time - and true Masters legend - Jack Nicklaus.
Matching, or indeed bettering the Masters record set by the great ‘Golden Bear’ is possibly the tallest order in the whole of golf. Widely regarded as the greatest exponent of the game, Nicklaus stunned the golfing world by conquering all before him on six separate occasions at Augusta National.
A Master at Work
The first of Nicklaus’ six Green Jackets came at the 1963 tournament when, as a fresh-faced 23 year old seeking to build upon a sole major win at the US Open the previous season, he managed to secure a one-shot victory over Tony Lema.
Fast forward 23 major-laden years and the world marvelled as one of the greatest sporting triumphs of all time unfolded before their very eyes.
Without a major in five years, the odds were stacked firmly against Nicklaus adding to his then tally of 17 major championships. This lack of faith seemed justified as Thursday’s card was marked up with a two over par 74 and followed by an improved, yet slightly lacklustre, second-round 71.
With eight holes of the final round completed, Nicklaus’ race seemed to have been well and truly run. Treading water at even par for the day, a birdie on the ninth hole kick-started a golfing masterclass which culminated in a back nine 30, en route to a round of 65. As Greg Norman and Tom Kite closed out their rounds it became clear that the 18th major title was his.
Relive the best moments of the 1986 Masters below:
The commentators who had been calling time on the great man’s career for months, nay years, were left dining on their words; Nicklaus had achieved the ‘impossible’.
Outmastering the Master
So then, is there any particular player we can look towards for similarly wondrous achievements? Who in today’s game has a chance of emulating (and exceeding) such a breathtaking Masters career?
The easiest answer is no-one. Can we really expect any single player, in such a competitive era of men’s golf, to amass six Green Jackets and potentially become the first man in history to capture a Magnificent Seven?
Playing devil’s advocate for just a little while – let's consider who’s most likely?
Tiger Woods was three years earlier to four Green Jackets but, as we all know, the Tiger of old is consigned to the annals of history. Only time will tell if he manages to get back to anywhere near major winning form however, with only two wins at Augusta National between he and Nicklaus, who knows what the future may bring.
As a reminder of what Tiger can do at Augusta (like you need one) check this out:
Out of the current crop of world class golfers, Jordan Spieth emerges as a player with at least an outside chance of threatening Nicklaus' record. With a Green Jacket already to his name at the tender age of 23, the Texan certainly has plenty of time on his side to add to his Masters achievements.
An initial hurdle in that quest will be the alleviation of undoubted pain and scarring from last year's tournament, when a final round collapse saw Englishman Danny Willett take the 2016 title. This was a Green Jacket which, for so long, had seemed destined to be Spieth's second in as many years.
He had also finished runner-up in 2014 in what was his Augusta National debut.
Phil Mickelson is worth a mention. With three Green Jackets in the bag already, ‘Lefty’ has to enter the discussion. With that said, he is currently the age Nicklaus was when winning the last of his major championships. Augusta National has been transformed over the years into a ‘bombers paradise’ which could also become a problem down the line.
For now though, Phil is in good shape and could easily add one or two more Masters wins to his collection before calling it a day.
Bubba Watson is note-worthy – purely on the basis that he has two wins to his name. Sketchy form of late would need reversed if he is going to build upon an impressive start to his Masters career.
An Unbreakable Record?
It’s hard to make a case for many others. It would be a stretch to suggest any golfer had the ability to match Nicklaus’ record if they haven’t already prevailed at Augusta.
But then, this is all a little bit of ‘hoping beyond hope’. Truth is that the game has changed and it is more about equipment and power than it is about longevity and grace. Augusta is actually set-up to favour the ‘big boys’ and is no longer the second-shot course it once was.
What this means is that, arguably, a player’s window for Masters success is shorter than when Nicklaus was at his peak. The desire to be the biggest-hitter does also bring with it the added risk of injuries prematurely curtailing that same golfer's career.
You can never say never of course, but we think the great Jack Nicklaus’ record six Masters wins will remain untouched for a very long time to come.
Here's a bonus all-time favorite Nicklaus moment of ours from 2010:
What do you think? Who has the best chance of threatening Nicklaus’ record? Will it ever be broken? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook.