PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 April, 2004, 12:00am

The ball tracks to the hole, the right arm swings and points the putter skyward. The man on the green tilts forward, toward the target, anticipating the success.

It is 1986 and it is Jack Nicklaus. The ball is going to fall into the cup. History is being made by golf's Golden Bear.

Upon his arrival at Augusta in the spring of 1986, Nicklaus proclaims golf a 'young man's game' and Augusta National 'a young man's course'. Nicklaus is 46.

The man who has 69 PGA Tour titles has not won since his own tournament, the Memorial, in 1984, and it is six years since his last Major title. Greg Norman is poised to overtake Nicklaus as the world's best and most recognisable golfer. Like Nicklaus, Norman treasures the Masters and its history.

Nicklaus is a bit player through 54 holes with rounds of 74-71-69. Tom Kite, Nick Price, Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros are in the hunt, but they are not chasing a Bear, they are after a Great White Shark.

Something magical happens on the back nine, where Nicklaus makes five birdies and an eagle - raising his putter skyward six times down the stretch. Each time, there are goose bumps for everybody watching live and on television

Nicklaus shoots 30 on the final nine holes for 65 to snatch his sixth Green Jacket. His 279 total earns a one-stroke victory over Norman and Tom Kite. It is Nicklaus' 18th Major championship, but also his last victory on the PGA Tour.

Before the Masters, an Atlanta journalist wrote that Nicklaus was 'done, washed up, through'. Nicklaus tacked the story to his refrigerator, and now he puts the lie to it.

'I read in the Atlanta paper this week that 46-year-olds don't win Masters,' says Nicklaus. 'I kind of agree. I got to thinking. Hmmm. Done, though, washed up. And I sizzled for a while.

'But I said to myself, I'm not going to quit now, playing the way I'm playing. I've played too well, too long to let a shorter period of bad golf be my last.'