Every Open is a special occasion, but for Jack Nicklaus the 1966 Championship holds greater significance than most.
Landmark moments seemed to arrive at every turn for the then 26-year-old as he completed his set of all four majors by winning The Open four years after his maiden outing at the tournament.
His one-shot triumph at Muirfield saw Nicklaus become the fourth man to complete a career Grand Slam – following only Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan in winning The Open and Masters in the same year in the process.
A challenging 18 holes at Muirfield led many players to struggle with narrow fairways, but Nicklaus largely managed to negotiate the pitfalls throughout the tournament.
In charge from the off
Success at The Open had proven elusive for Nicklaus – a second-place finish at St Andrews in 1964 providing his best previous showing – but he made his intentions clear straight out of the gate.
Only Jimmy Hitchcock could keep pace with Nicklaus’s opening round 70 and he was soon brushed aside as the eventual champion followed up with a second round 67.
It was a show of consistency which Nicklaus had not enjoyed at previous Opens and it looked increasingly likely he would sew up the sixth of his eventual 18 majors.
While many found themselves in deep rough, which added further complications to navigating the tight Muirfield course, Nicklaus largely stayed on track and on the green.
He wasn’t to have it all his own way though.
Third round fright
Smooth sailing in the opening throws of the tournament looked to have Nicklaus well on course for victory before his form deserted him.
A third round of 75 saw him drop four shots in the final five holes of the third round and opened the door for the chasing pack.
The invitation to enter was duly accepted by fellow American Phil Rodgers who, having previously shot 74 and 66, came in at 70 to move into a two-shot lead at the summit of the leaderboard.
Others were also lurking ominously, and the consistency of Dave Thomas and Doug Sanders meant the eventual joint runners-up looked well set for a title charge in the fourth round.
Nicklaus edges it at the last
The top performers in any sport often come up with the goods in the crunch moments and Nicklaus did just that to regain top spot at the last.
He looked a long way shy of doing so, however, and was well off the pace as he hit three bogeys in four holes from the 11th.
With his nearest challengers keeping their heads – Thomas was particularly impressive as he got round in 69 – Nicklaus needed to finish the final two holes with a pair of fours if he was to prosper.
A birdie at the 17th relieved some of the pressure and Nicklaus then made par on the 18th to add the Claret Jug to his growing trophy cabinet.
The first of three
For Nicklaus the victory ended the wait to lift a trophy which would evade him more than any other major throughout his career.
A second Claret Jug wouldn’t arrive until 1970 and 12 years separated Nicklaus’s first triumph at Muirfield and the last of his trio at St Andrews.
Regardless, only 10 men have won the tournament more times and of them Tom Watson is alone in sealing any of his haul of five after Nicklaus’s first arrived in 1966.