Jack Nicklaus in the Majors

The Golfer's Awesome Record in His Sport's Biggest Championships

Jack Nicklaus holds the Claret Jug after winning the 1966 British Open.
Jack Nicklaus holds the Claret Jug after winning the 1966 British Open.

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Jack Nicklaus was great in golf's major championships, holding the all-time record with 18 wins in majors. But many golf fans underrate how good Nicklaus was in the majors. How can that be, when every golf fan knows Nicklaus holds the record for wins?

Just take a look at this dive into Nicklaus' accomplishments in the majors and you'll be astounded at just how good the Golden Bear was in the biggest tournaments. (He was pretty good outside the majors too, with 73 total PGA Tour wins.)

Jack Nicklaus' 18 Major Wins in Order

Jack Nicklaus of the USA during the final round of the 1980 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 1980
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Here are Nicklaus' wins in major championships, listed chronologically:

  • 1962 U.S. Open: Nicklaus' first major came via an 18-hole playoff win over Arnold Palmer, 71 to 74.
  • 1963 Masters: Won by one shot over Tony Lema.
  • 1963 PGA Championship: Won by two strokes over Dave Ragan.
  • 1965 Masters: Set records for the score (271 - since bettered) and margin of victory, finished 9 shots ahead of runners-up Palmer and Gary Player.
  • 1966 Masters: Shot 70 in an 18-hole playoff to defeat Tommy Jacobs (72) and Gay Brewer 78). Became first back-to-back Masters champ.
  • 1966 British Open: Beat runners-up Doug Sanders and Dave Thomas by one shot.
  • 1967 U.S. Open: Won by four strokes over Palmer.
  • 1970 British Open: Defeated Sanders in an 18-hole playoff, 72 to 73.
  • 1971 PGA Championship: Won by two over Billy Casper.
  • 1972 Masters: Won by three over Bruce Crampton, Bobby Mitchell and Tom Weiskopf.
  • 1972 U.S. Open: Won by three over Crampton.
  • 1973 PGA Championship: Won by four over Crampton.
  • 1975 Masters: Beat runners-up Johnny Miller and Weiskopf by one stroke.
  • 1975 PGA Championship: Won by two over Crampton.
  • 1978 British Open: Won by two strokes over Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite and Simon Owen.
  • 1980 U.S. Open: Won by two over Isao Aoki; lowered his own tournament scoring record to 272 (since broken).
  • 1980 PGA Championship: Won by seven, a tournament record (since broken) over Andy Bean.
  • 1986 Masters: Nicklaus' final major (and final PGA Tour win) was by one shot over Greg Norman and Tom Kite.

Pity poor Bruce Crampton. Crampton won 11 PGA Tour titles, but no majors—mostly because he was runner-up to Nicklaus four times. Arnold Palmer, Doug Sanders, and Tom Weiskopf were twice each runners-up to Nicklaus in majors.

Speaking of Weiskopf, he gave one of the great quotes about trying to win against Nicklaus in big tournaments down the stretch:

"Jack knew he was going to beat you. You knew Jack was going to beat you. And Jack knew that you knew that he was going to beat you."

Nicklaus' Majors Win by Tournament

Jack Nicklaus' nickname is The Golden Bear
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Organized another way, here are Nicklaus' major wins listed by tournament:

Nicklaus holds the record for most Masters wins. He shares the record for PGA Championship wins with Walter Hagen; and shares the record for most U.S. Open wins with Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, and Ben Hogan.

While Nicklaus won the British Open fewer times (3) than any of the other majors, in some ways his performance in the Open is most impressive. For example, from 1963 through 1982, Nicklaus finished outside the Top 10 in the British Open only two times. During that stretch of 20 Opens, Nicklaus finished outside the Top 5 only four times and was in the Top 4 15 times.

Nicklaus won two majors in the same year five different times: 1963, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1980. The closest he came to winning three majors in one year was 1972, when Nicklaus won the Masters and U.S. Open, then finished second in the British Open.

Nicklaus' 2nd-Place Finishes in Majors

Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus talk after Watson's win in the 1982 US Open
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Nicklaus holds the record with 18 major wins. But did you know he also holds the record for most second-place finishes in majors? Nicklaus was runner-up 19 times:

  • 1960 U.S. Open: As a 20-year-old amateur, Nicklaus finished 2 strokes behind winner Arnold Palmer.
  • 1964 Masters: Lost by 6 shots to Palmer.
  • 1964 British Open: 5 behind Tony Lema.
  • 1964 PGA Championship: 3 behind Bobby Nichols.
  • 1965 PGA Championship: 2 behind Dave Marr.
  • 1967 British Open: 2 behind Roberto de Vicenzo.
  • 1968 U.S. Open: 4 behind Lee Trevino.
  • 1968 British Open: 2 behind Gary Player.
  • 1971 Masters: 2 strokes behind Charles Coody.
  • 1971 U.S. Open: Lost 18-hole playoff to Trevino, 68 to 71.
  • 1972 British Open: 1 behind Trevino.
  • 1974 PGA Championship: 1 behind Trevino.
  • 1976 British Open: 6 behind Johnny Miller.
  • 1977 Masters: Finished 2 strokes behind Tom Watson.
  • 1977 British Open: 1 behind Watson.
  • 1979 British Open: 3 behind Seve Ballesteros.
  • 1981 Masters: 2 behind Watson.
  • 1982 U.S. Open: Finished 2 strokes behind Watson.
  • 1983 PGA Championship: 1 behind Hal Sutton.

Nicklaus was runner-up in The Masters four times, the U.S. Open four times, the British Open seven times and the PGA Championship four times.

Nicklaus' Top 5s in Majors

Jack Nicklaus holds the Claret Jug after winning the 1978 British Open at St Andrews with a score of 281
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Nicklaus finished in the Top 5 in a major championship a whopping 56 times: 18 wins, 19 seconds, nine thirds, eight fourths and two fifth-place finishes.

Nicklaus had more Top 5 finishes than any other golfer has Top 10 finishes in majors. And he holds or shares the record for most Top 5 finishes in all four majors.

Nicklaus finished in the Top 5 of all four majors in the same year twice: 1971 and 1973. In 1971, he was second, second, fifth and first (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship respectively); in 1973 he was third, fourth, fourth and first.

Nicklaus' Top 10s in Majors

Jack Nicklaus in the 1986 Masters, teeing off on the 18th hole
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Jack Nicklaus finished in the Top 10 in a major 73 times in his career. The golfers with the second-most Top 10s in majors—Sam Snead and Tom Watson—each had "only" 46 Top 10s.

Nicklaus holds the records for most Top 10s in the Masters (22), U.S. Open (18) and PGA Championship (15), plus he had 18 in the British Open (J.H. Taylor is the Open record holder with 24).

Nicklaus' first Top 10 in a major happened in 1960, his last in 1998. That 38-year span is the longest in golf history between first and last Top 10s at majors.

Here's a truly phenomenal stat: In the 40 majors played in the decade of the 1970s, Nicklaus missed the cut in one of them. He finished in the Top 10 in 35 of them.

Nicklaus finished in the Top 10 of all four majors in the same year five times: 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977.

Nicklaus' Champions Tour Majors

Jack Nicklaus in 1990
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In addition to holding the record for major wins with 18, Nicklaus also, for many years, held the record for most wins in senior majors with eight. Bernhard Langer now has that record with 10. These are Nicklaus' wins in Champions Tour majors:

  • 1990 Tradition
  • 1990 Senior Players Championship
  • 1991 Tradition
  • 1991 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1991 U.S. Senior Open
  • 1993 U.S. Senior Open
  • 1995 Tradition
  • 1996 Tradition