At the end of two holes Palmer, playing steady par golf, had taken the lead as Nicklaus bunkered his approach on the 2nd hole and took a bogey 5. Casper had already bogeyed the first hole, and Fleckman, obviously unnerved, could no longer hit the ball in a straight line. For a moment it looked as if the Army would have its way.
Nicklaus had other thoughts. He now began to hit some of the finest shots anyone is ever likely to see over an extended stretch of maximum-pressure golf. He birdied the 3rd hole from 12 feet, the 4th from four feet and the 5th from 13 feet. There was a slight interruption for a bogey at the 6th, and then he birdied the 7th from 22 feet and the 8th from 12 feet—five birdies in six holes that put him three under par and four strokes ahead of Palmer, who was unable to sink a decent putt and was being made to look like a duffer because he was merely getting par after par.
At the 10th, with his four-stroke lead looking larger and larger, Nicklaus unaccountably three-putted for his final bogey of the day. This misfortune actually produced a smattering of applause in the gallery, but Jack pressed on, striding Palmer fashion down the fairway, as his caddie and attending officials struggled to keep up. At the 13th he birdied again—from four feet—and at the 14th from five feet. Each time his hand went tentatively to the peak of his white visor to acknowledge the applause that by now was increasing as awareness of what it was seeing began to grip the crowd. Palmer obviously was not going to catch up, and the word was spreading: one more birdie and Nicklaus would break the Open record of 276 that Hogan had set at Riviera way back in 1948.
The record was on Nicklaus' mind, but so was a parallel situation at last year's Open in San Francisco. That was when Palmer had the same mark within his grasp and became so absorbed by it that he forgot to beat Casper. "Records just come," Nicklaus later recalled reminding himself as he hammered out safe pars on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. "Nobody should try to break a record. What you're here for is to win a golf tournament."
At the 17th Palmer sank his first birdie putt of the day, reducing the Nicklaus lead to four strokes. And that was how they stood on the tee of the 72nd and final hole of the tournament. Describing his thoughts afterward, Jack said, "All I was interested in was trying to make 6 or better. I felt like an idiot doing it, but I pulled out the one-iron and hit the ball down the right side away from all the trouble on the left. It landed in the rough next to some kind of obstruction. I don't know exactly what it was [a TV cable drum], and I got a free drop. To be safely short of the water, I used an eight-iron out and hit it fat. That left me about 230 uphill yards from the green. When I got out on the fairway I said to Arnold, That was a stupid thing to do, wasn't it?' and Arnold kind of smiled and said, 'You said it. I didn't.'
"So then I took out the one-iron again and hit it farther than I know how to hit it. Although I couldn't see where it landed, I knew it was on the green, and I had the tournament won."
With three putts left for victory, Nicklaus surveyed his final putt, a 22-footer, with all of his Germanic deliberation. At last he bent over, stroked it firmly and it rolled unhesitatingly into the middle of the cup for the birdie that broke Hogan's record.
As the ball dropped, Nicklaus swung his right foot high in the air (see cover), and the gallery gave forth its first true roar of appreciation for a magnificent golfing performance. Arnold, their leader, their favorite, had finished second, but on this day his defeat came at the hands of a man who was unbeatable. When Jack Nicklaus is at the top of his game, performing as he did on Sunday, he cannot be beaten.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]