Being the champion of the Masters is a very difficult challenge. Only a select few professional golfers claim the prestigious green jacket. Fewer yet claim the trophy late or early in their career. This slide show will look at the oldest winners of the Masters and also the 2011 challengers to the very difficult task of winning the Masters after age 40.
Jack Nicklaus has held the oldest Masters Champion record since 1986. Twenty five years after he set the record, a group of talented golfers will try to become oldest winner. Even as Tiger Woods tries to best Jack's 18 majors wins records, another group will attempt to top Nicklaus as the oldest winner of the Masters.
A 2011 Masters favorite, 40-year-old Phil Mickelson is one of the older entrants this year. But if he wins, he would not yet make the top five oldest Masters Champions. Let's look at the oldest Masters winners and the challengers to this rank list.
Nicklaus Celebrates 1986 Green Jacket
Jack Nicklaus won the last of 18 major wins at the 1986 Masters tournament. It had been six long years since winning his 16th and 17th major victories in 1980. In 1980, he picked up his last U.S. Open championship and his last PGA Championship.
As Jack aged, his chances for another victory at the Masters seemed to fade. In 1986, he was three years older than the previous oldest winner Gary Player at 43 years of age. But Jack thrilled the crowd with a scintillating final round to beat Tom Kite and Greg Norman by one stroke.
This 1986 Masters shows Jack taking the jacket from Bernhard Langer the 1985 Masters Champion. Unbelievably, Langer at 53 might have been the greatest threat to post an oldest Masters record this year. Playing well on the Champions Tour, he could not be ruled out to win this year until corrective thumb surgery prevented his entry.
Ben Crenshaw Wins 1995 Masters at Age 43
Ben Crenshaw is one of the great historians of the game of golf and the Masters Tournament. No doubt he knows he is the second oldest winner of the Masters. Ben won the Masters in 1984 and then repeated in 1995 at the age of 43.
Crenshaw never won any of the other majors and his 1984 victory might have been hollow without another victory. But in 1995, he dramatically won his second Masters tournament holding off Davis Love III by a single stroke
Gary Player in the 2007 Masters
Gary Player is one of the elite multiple Masters win golfers. He was one of the first to let those in the United States know that international players could compete against the strong U.S. field. Today, the international field with players from Europe, Australia, Korea, Japan and other countries field a strong group of contenders for the 2011 Masters.
Player followed up his 1961 initial green jacket with a second in 1974 and a third in 1978. Always known for his commitment to fitness and diet it is not surprising he was able to win at 43 years old. In 1978, Player beat out a trio of U.S. players, Tom Watson, Hubert Green and Rod Funseth. They all probably wished that Player had lessened the rigor of his training program as he aged.
Sam Snead Plays in the 1999 Masters
Sam Snead played very competitively late in his golf career. A three time winner of the Masters, Snead headed into the 1952 Masters counted out by many who thought his best days were over. "Slammin Sammy" had a message for those with that view. He was ready to play and may the best try to beat him.
The 1952 Masters represents one the most thrilling and iconic of all the Masters championship. Snead and Ben Hogan completed regulation tied at 289, one over par. Using the older 18 hole playoff, Snead edged Hogan by one stroke 70-71 to win his last Masters. Hogan was 42 at the time of the 1954 Masters, so this playoff paired to of the greatest players of all time in the twilight of their career.
Mark O'Meara With His 1998 Green Jacket and Trophy
Mark O'Meara won his first and only Masters in 1998. Starting the last round two strokes behind Fred Couples and Paul Azinger, O'Meara fired a final round 67 to win by one stroke over Fred Couples and David Duval.
O'Meara would follow up his 1998 Masters victory with his second major of the year at the British Open. A great fan of links golf, O'Meara secured a championship in the oldest major championship in golf, appropriate given his age.
Mark O'Meara in February 2011
I'll now review five who may have a chance to top Jack Nicklaus as the oldest Masters champion. And believe or not, at age 54 we have Mark O'Meara trying to move up the list. Although his game has faded, he is a previous winner. And with the Champions Tour, Mark continues to play regularly.
He won in 2010 on the Champions Tour and he has been putting up some good scores in 2011. Being over 50 myself, I would be thrilled to see a 54 year old winner. However, O'Meara has missed the cut in his last four times at Augusta. Don't bet your house on this one!
Fred Couples in the 2010 Masters
Fred Couples represents another 2011 Masters entrant who could be the first over 50 winner at the Masters. Like O'Meara, Couples is a previous winner of the Masters. Most of the oldest winners of the Masters were previous winners of the Masters.
Couples is already a winner on the Champions Tour. He won the 2010 Senior Players Championship. He has also placed highly in some recent PGA Tour events. Certainly a fan favorite, he will have many rooting for him to make another run in the 2011 Masters.
Vijay Singh in 2000 Masters Win
Vijay Singh is just a few years away from being eligible for the Champions Tour. Vijay won the 2000 Masters at the age of 37 besting Ernie Els by three strokes. Leading by three strokes heading into the final round, Vijay fired a 69 to capture his first Masters.
Vijay has won a major just four years ago when he captured the 2004 PGA Championship besting Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonhard. Although his last PGA tour win was at the 2008 Bridgestone Invitational, he has recently had some excellent rounds and seems to be regaining some of his form. A tireless figure on the range, Vijay will have worked on his game as much as any competitor in the 2011 Masters field.
Jimenez inn the 2009 Masters
Miguel Jimenez has never won the Masters or any major. However, in his forties, he has placed eleventh in the 2006 Masters, eighth in the 2008 Masters and twelfth in last years Masters tournament. The Spaniard shows he is not to be ignored even though he is not a previous winner and is not a favorite to win.
But the cigar smoking golfer has recently bested some of the best golfers in the world. He won three times in 2010 including European Tour wins at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the Alstom Open de France and the Omega European Masters.
Davis Love in 2006 Masters
Davis Love III may be the best player never to win a major. But his best major performances have been at the Masters. He finished second in 1995 and again in 1999. His last top ten placing was in the 2004 Masters when he finished sixth.
Davis last won on the PGA tour in 2008 when he bested Tommy Gainey in the Children's Miracle Network Classic posting a score of 263, 25 strokes under par.
Making the list of the oldest Masters champions is never easy. Jack Nicklaus has set a high standard and his record may last a very long time. Nevertheless, the 2011 Masters finds a number of golfers with a chance to become the oldest champion at the premier golf tournament in America.