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Day of glory for golden oldie: Jack Nicklaus wins 1986 Masters at 46

With 202 yards to go at 15 and the tournament in the balance, Nicklaus turned to Jackie and said, "You think a three would go very far here?" To which Jackie said, "Let's see it."

Obligingly, Nicklaus hit his four-iron to 12 feet and made the eagle putt for exactly that — a three. The crowd's yelp was downright frightening. Two back.

As Nicklaus walked from the 15th green to the 16th tee, one had the odd feeling of being indoors at, say, an overtime Kentucky basketball game, yet all the while being outdoors. That's loud.

And wild. Six-figure executives were slapping high fives. Women in $400 dresses were sprinting ahead to get a vantage point. "He's hot! He's hot! He's hot!" one man kept shrieking, perhaps about to ignite himself.

"The noise was deafening," said Nicklaus. "I couldn't hear anything. I mean, nothing! I wasn't trying to think about the leader board. All I knew was that I was putting the ball on the green and making birdies and I was going to keep on doing it."

As Ballesteros was walking up the 15th fairway after a King Kong-like drive, Nicklaus was pulling out a five-iron at the par-3 16th. "I nailed it," he said. But he couldn't see it. "I could hear the gallery at the green starting to rumble and I said, 'Oops, I've hit it close.' "

Oops, he had come within inches of a hole in one, the ball skittering three feet by the pin. The eruption from the gallery may have been the most resounding in Masters history, next to, of course, the one that greeted the putt that came next. One back.

What does one feel like when all around you, a golf course, a state, a country, are coming un-glued and you are the only person keeping them from imploding entirely? Ballesteros surely found out as he stood over his four-iron, 200 yards from the 15th green, his ears ringing. What he felt like when he hit it is unknown since he was off the Augusta property within minutes of the finish of his round. But to watch your Masters chances go kerplunk in green-dyed water as his did cannot be good for your est training.

"He had an awkward lie up on a knob, but he hit his last few iron shots heavy," Kite said. "It was a tough situation: the lie, the circumstances, what Nicklaus was doing, the noise. It was so noisy you couldn't even hear each other."

"I wasn't under pressure," Ballesteros said on Monday. "It's just that I hit too easy a swing with a four-iron. I should have hit a hard five. I played very good. Just one bad shot, that's all."

Now Nicklaus had reeled in Ballesteros but not Kite, who would birdie 15. That made it a three-way tie at eight under par. Meanwhile, Norman had quickly recovered from a double bogey at 10 and was sitting two back.

Nicklaus tried to get ready to drive at the par-4 17th but had a small problem. "I kept getting tears in my eyes," he said. "It happened to me once at Baltusrol. But here, it happened four or five times. I had to say to myself, Hey, you've got some golf left to play."

After driving into the left rough he hit a 125-yard pitching wedge to 11 feet. He drained the putt. "Dead center." Nicklaus leads. One up over Ballesteros and Kite.

Moments later, Ballesteros, shaken, three-putted at 17 for bogey, but Kite made par from the back of the green and Norman was stormin', too, making birdies at 15 and 16. Still one up, now over Kite and Norman.

Eighteen surrendered without incident for Nicklaus. He hit onto the front of the tiered green, almost precisely where the pin traditionally has been set for the final round. This year, the green had been redesigned, and the pin was now set on the back level. He nearly holed out from 40 feet, dropped it in for the par, then hugged Jackie.

"I was getting choked up with all the people cheering on every hole. I was so proud of him," Jackie said. "Finally, when he putted out on 18 I told him, 'Dad, I loved seeing you play today. It was the thrill of my lifetime. I mean, that was awesome.' "

Father and son walked arm in arm to the scorer's tent and then to the Bob Jones cabin to wait and see.

What they saw first was Kite at 18 lining up a 12-foot putt for birdie and a tie. Would Kite, so long denied, finally have a chance at a major?

"I made that putt," said Kite. "It just didn't go in. Honest to God...I made it so many times in the practice rounds — seven or eight times — and it never broke left once." It broke left. Still one up.

Now the only obstacle between Nicklaus and perhaps his most remarkable major of all was Norman.

"We heard the roar [for Nicklaus] on 15 and then another roar and another," Norman recalled. "By that time, Nicky [Price] and I were back there with about 50 people following us. So I said to Nicky, 'Let's do something to wake these people up.' "

Out of an impossible divot lie on 17, Norman somehow made a pitch-and-run shot over a hill that stopped 12 feet from the hole, then sank the putt. Tie. Nine under par.

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