by Jeff Skinner
Jack Nicklaus so revered the course at Muirfield in Scotland that he borrowed the name for his very own creation of golfing heaven, Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio. The Golden Bear completed his “Career Grand Slam” with a win there in 1966. But it was at Muirfield in 1972 that his quest for his true Grand slam, winning all four majors in a single season, came to an unlikely end.
Only two golfers have started play at the Open Championship with The Masters and U.S. Open trophies on their mantel and a chance to win the Grand Slam: Nicklaus in ’72 and Tiger Woods in ’02. Neither was able to add that third leg and both lost due to exciting and somewhat bizarre circumstances.
Muirfield doesn’t resemble a cemetery. Anything but. Its velvet green fairways and scraggly brownish rough in the Scottish linksland near Edinburgh have no tombs or gravestones, but it’s where two Grand Slam opportunities are buried.
At the start of the third round in 2002 Tiger was in excellent shape, only two shots out of the lead when the weather turned and turned hard.
“You can see this wall of rain coming in,” he said before the recent AT&T National tournament. “The forecast was for maybe some showers, no big deal whatsoever, but no one had forecast for the wind chill to be in the 30s, for it to be that cold. That was the thing. No one was prepared for that. No one had enough clothes. Everything was soaked. It got to the point where the umbrella was useless. It was raining too hard, and it was too windy.”
When his opening tee shot veered into the right rough, Woods’s shoulders slumped. He knew what was ahead. Bogey, the first of seven. Two double bogeys. Only one birdie, at the 17th. Out in 42, home in 39 for a 10-over-par 81, his highest round as a pro. Suddenly, he was tied for 67th, 11 strokes behind Ernie Els, the eventual winner.
The weather could not have been more different for Nicklaus’ final round in 1972. In bright sunshine and a surprisingly warm day Nicklaus had one hand on the Claret Jug as he signed his scorecard and waited for the field to finish.
Six shots behind Trevino after three rounds during which he often used his 3-wood off the tee, he finally took the head cover off his driver.
Birdie at the 349-yard second as he nearly drove the green. Birdie at the third, the fifth and the ninth to suddenly tie for the lead. Birdie at the 10th after twice backing off a 5-foot putt upon hearing the roars as Trevino and Tony Jacklin each eagled the ninth.
At the 188-yard 16th, Nicklaus’s 4-iron bounced into low rough to the left of the elevated green. After a pitch to about 7 feet above the hole, his par putt slid past on the right. His only bogey.
After a par-par finish for a 66 that he thought was one stroke too many to tie Trevino, he suddenly heard somebody shout, “Trevino’s blown!” Trevino’s fourth shot on the par-5 17th had crawled into the rough behind the green; a bogey loomed (for a playoff), maybe a double bogey (for a Nicklaus win).
But as Nicklaus emerged from the scorer’s shed, his caddie, Jimmy Dickinson, yelled, “He holed his chip for a 5.”
“He what!” Nicklaus said.
Trevino’s bladed scooting chip had hit the flagstick and disappeared. Par. With a par on the 18th for 71, Trevino won.
“I was there and let it get away,” Nicklaus said later. “I felt a 65 would do it. I had a 65 and let it get away.”
Let the Grand Slam get away.
“I shot 279, and 19 times out of 20, that’ll probably win, but it didn’t,” Nicklaus said. “That’s what you’re fighting, that somebody’ll beat you. For 16 rounds, to put it together, that’s difficult. I’m disappointed because I felt I could put it together, but I didn’t. I got beat.”
Beat by one stroke. Beat by a wet wind chill. Either way, two Grand Slam bids are buried at Muirfield.