1. 1986 Masters
The biggest fish of all. Nicklaus winning his 18th professional major and record sixth green jacket at age 46, and doing it by coming from behind with a final-nine 30 to defeat the two best players in the game at the time — Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros — makes this Masters the best tournament in history. It was Nicklaus’ most satisfying tournament for many reasons, some of them personal. His eldest son, Jackie, was on the bag. His mother, Helen, was attending her first Masters, as was his sister Marilyn. But the biggest reason was that Nicklaus, at an age in which it was presumed both the nerves and the body rebels, marshaled everything he had to produce his very best at the very biggest moment, one more time.
2. 1962 U.S. Open
3. 1965 Masters
Nicklaus at his dominating best. Because he favored a conservative playing style designed to avoid mistakes and produce consistency, Nicklaus rarely went on the kind of tears that would distinguish Johnny Miller, Greg Norman or Tiger Woods. But during a benign weather week at Augusta, Nicklaus got into a swing groove that allowed him to unleash scary power and distance with his driver and pepper the flags with the shockingly short approaches remaining. Nicklaus putted well, but not exceptionally, or his 72-hole record of 271 — which broke the tournament record by three shots — would have been a few strokes lower. The takeaway was that Nicklaus was capable of playing a version of the game no one had ever seen before, and his peers were lucky he didn’t have a more aggressive style.