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THE BRITISH OPEN/ THURSDAY-SUNDAY, MUIRFIELD COURSE,
SCOTLAND

Tough One to Bear

Nicklaus' bid for third leg of Slam halted by Trevino at Muirfield in '72

July 16, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GULLANE, Scotland — The last time anyone had a chance to win golf's Grand Slam going into the British Open, Jack Nicklaus had put himself in position with three-shot victories at the Masters in April and at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June. It was 30 years ago, and Nicklaus was a picture of steely resolve.

Stockily built, with wavy blond hair, and at 32, at the height of his powers, Nicklaus set foot on the storied links of Muirfield for the 1972 British Open.

The city of Edinburgh was 20-some miles away, but what Nicklaus was trying to do was even further removed from the fabric of reality. No professional had won all four of the major championships in a calendar year, although Bobby Jones had won all four of golf's majors 42 years earlier, when two of them were amateur tournaments.

Nicklaus knew history would not be on his side as he walked onto the course for his practice round, but he was still the heavy favorite among the British bookmakers. At nearly 2-1, he was the biggest favorite in the 101-year history of the Open.

Nicklaus was aware of different odds. Before him, others had won the first two major titles, then faltered in the British Open: Craig Wood in 1941 and Arnold Palmer in 1960. Ben Hogan had won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1951, then skipped the British. Hogan also had won three majors in 1953, but he couldn't compete in the PGA Championship at Birmingham, Mich., because it overlapped his lone visit to the British Open, which he won at Carnoustie.

Muirfield's greens were hard and fast in 1972 and the weather was out of character--warm and breezy instead of cold and rainy.

And, as it turned out, something else was off kilter. Nicklaus woke up on the Monday morning before the tournament with a sore neck and didn't feel much better until Saturday.

Even so, he made things interesting. Midway through the fourth round, Nicklaus was six shots behind Lee Trevino and nearly caught up, but wound up losing by a shot.

Three decades later, though, Nicklaus blames himself for not getting one step closer to a possible Grand Slam.

"I think I prevented myself from winning the third," he said. "There's only one person you can control and that's yourself. If you don't win, and your game is capable of winning, then it's your fault. It doesn't make a difference who's there. Lee Trevino beat me by a shot there. But that didn't have anything to do with it.

"And that's the whole point of the whole thing. Sure, I had my opportunity coming down the stretch. I remember standing on the 16th tee in 1966 at Muirfield when I won. I said 'Jack, finish 3-4-4 and you'll win this golf tournament.' That's par-birdie-par. I finished 3-4-4 and won the golf tournament.

"I stood on the 16th tee in 1972 and I said 'OK, Jack, you're in the exact same position as you were in '66. You finish 3-4-4 and you'll win this golf tournament.' I finished 4-5-4 and lost by one shot.

"It didn't make a difference what Lee Trevino did. It didn't make any difference what Tony Jacklin did. It's what I did, and that's the only person you can control."

Nicklaus shot a 66 in the fourth round, which was played Saturday, but Trevino followed his third-round 66 with a 71 that was just enough.

Trevino, the defending British Open champion, had shared the 36-hole lead with Jacklin at 141, a shot ahead of Nicklaus, and said at the midway point that what he was doing wasn't about depriving Nicklaus of anything.

"I didn't come to Scotland to help Nicklaus win any Grand Slam," Trevino said. "If I played golf with my wife, I'd try to beat the daylights out of her."

For the third round, Trevino and Jacklin were paired, Nicklaus and Gary Player playing ahead of them. Trevino tied for the lead again when he sank a 15-foot birdie putt at the 14th and followed it with a 30-footer for a birdie at the 15th. At the par-three 16th, Trevino's nine-iron found a bunker, but he holed his sand shot from a difficult lie and made another birdie.

Trevino also birdied the 17th, but his second shot at the 18th went through the green and down a slope. He somehow holed his third shot, though, for five consecutive birdies and a one-shot lead over Jacklin.

And Nicklaus, after a 71, was six shots behind Trevino, five behind Jacklin with 18 holes to go Saturday.

"I remember going to the first hole and telling Jacklin, 'I think he can catch one of us, but not both of us,' " Trevino said.

He was wrong, Nicklaus having saved his best round for last. He played the first nine holes in 32 and birdied the 10th and 11th to go to six under and take the lead.

Seven more holes and the third leg of the Grand Slam would belong to Nicklaus.

But Trevino got back in front in a flash. At the ninth, he knocked an iron onto the green and rolled in a long putt for an eagle to move back ahead. Jacklin also eagled, joining Trevino, one shot better than Nicklaus.

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