A plethora of significant Masters Tournament milestones are being celebrated during the 77th edition of the event being held at Augusta National this week.
The legendary quartet of Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer – all memorable Masters Champions – celebrate special anniversaries during the 2013 tournament ahead of what promises to be an unforgettable week in Georgia.
This year’s event marks 50 since the most successful golfer of all time won his first Green Jacket at the 1963 Masters. ‘The Golden Bear’, as Nicklaus is commonly known, finished two under par to beat Tony Lema by one shot and claim his first of six Masters titles, the last of which would come 23 years later, aged 46 . It turned out to be Nicklaus’ second of 18 Major Championships overall, having claimed a breakthrough win at The 1962 US Open Championship via a play-off against Arnold Palmer. In what was a fitting ‘changing of the guard’, 1963 was also the final year in which fellow Grand Slam winner Gene Sarazen would make the cut at Augusta.
“It was a place where I always wanted to win,” Nicklaus reflected recently. “I always loved Augusta. Bob Jones was my idol. I loved his facility. I loved what he represented in the game of golf. To win his tournament was really very, very special. That week was probably one of the most important weeks of my career, because it established my ability to win at that golf course, so it set up the rest of my career at Augusta.”
Twenty years later, the 1983 Masters would yield illustrious Spaniard Severiano Ballesteros’ second Green Jacket, and third Major Championship triumph overall, as The European Tour legend completed a four shot victory over Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. That year, heavy rainfall on the Friday forced a postponement and the final round had to be completed on Monday for the first time since 1973. A winner at Augusta just three years previously, Ballesteros would finish runner-up on two more occasions – in 1985 and 1987 – while going on to capture two more Open Championships to go with his maiden Major and Open triumph of 1979.
"The first four holes (in the final round) were the best I ever played in my life," Ballesteros said afterwards. "If people say I'm lucky after that, I want to be a lucky golfer for many years."
Thirty years later, Seve’s memory still burns strong at Augusta.
The 1988 Masters Tournament is often remembered for one shot, one moment of golfing genius that secured Scotsman Sandy Lyle his one and only Green Jacket, and second Major Championship victory, 25 years ago this week. Reaching the 72nd hole of the tournament tied for the lead with Mark Calcavecchia, Lyle found the fairway bunker from the tee, leaving the most high-pressure of approach shots under the circumstances. Choosing seven iron as his weapon of choice, Lyle fired in a shot of the ages that skipped up past the flag onto the top tier of the famous closing green at Augusta, before rolling back down the slope to finish around six feet from the pin. He would hole the remaining birdie putt to close out a thrilling victory – the first for a British golfer – at the 52nd edition of the Masters.
‘I’m on cloud nine,” Lyle said afterwards. “Making that ten foot putt, I was numb.”
In honour of the anniversary, Lyle was handed the first tee shot of the tournament and will launch the Masters proper at precisely 0800 on Thursday morning.
It is 20 years this week since Germany’s Bernhard Langer completed his second Masters victory, thanks to a four-shot triumph over runner-up Chip Beck. Langer’s two under par 70, a round which featured an eagle at the par five 13th, two birdies and five one putts to save par, proved enough to see off all challengers and complete a runaway victory that came eight years after claiming his maiden Green Jacket in 1985.
“Obviously, you start to wonder if you can win again,” Langer said at the time. “I really felt, after I won the first one, that it would be a lot easier to win a second one. I came close to winning the Open Championship the same year I won the Masters, but I had a bad final day. Fortunately, I didn’t today.”