Sun, Jun 05, 2005 - Page 22 News List

Nicklaus plays Memorial one last time

PRO GOLF TOUR Legend Jack Nicklaus missed the cut by six strokes after firing a 5-over 77. But the Golden Bear's 18 majors remain the benchmark in professional golf circles

AP , DUBLIN, OHIOAP, GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP,NEW JERSEYAP, POLK CITY, IOWA

Jack Nicklaus, 66, waits to putt on the 18th green during the second round of the Memorial at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio on Friday. The winner of 18 majors missed the cut by six strokes.

PHOTO; AP

Jack Nicklaus waved with both arms as he walked off the final green at the Memorial, a gesture that either meant he was saying goodbye or that he'd had enough -- maybe both on Friday.

Showered by applause for the 18th time, he had a tear in his eye. The winner of 18 majors and long defined by his steely concentration on the golf course, Nicklaus fought back emotions from his opening tee shot. Even then, he figured this was his final US PGA Tour round in the US.

"I got on the first hole and said, `This will probably be the last time I hit it off here,'" Nicklaus said. "I don't really do that much. Once I got into the round, I wanted to play golf. That's just the way I am. I wanted to shoot as good a score as I could."

All he could muster was two birdies, too many mistakes, and a 5-over 77, missing the cut by six strokes.

Nicklaus bowed out graciously, a proud, 65-year-old man who doesn't want to continue if he can't be the same Golden Bear whose 18 majors are the benchmark in professional golf.

"When I'm out there, I try to go play golf," he said. "That's what these people came in here to see. They came in to see Jack Nicklaus play golf, as well as 104 other guys. I wanted them to see me, not what I did today."

He received a lengthy standing ovation from the thousands lining the 18th hole. Even though he has lived in Florida most of his career, Nicklaus will always be one of their own. He grew up not far away, learning the game at Scioto Country Club, then founding the Memorial Tournament at a course he designed.

The roar subsided for only a moment as he jokingly plumb-bobbed a 6-inch par putt before tapping it in, touching off another rousing ovation.

"I don't think too many people cared about what my golf game was today," Nicklaus said. "Except for me, I suppose. I may be the only one."

Ernie Els came over to hug him and said he could see tears in Nicklaus' eyes. Nicklaus, never demonstrative on a course, even blew a kiss to the crowd after waving in every direction.

All day long, as he labored through what would be a long and torturous round, a huge gallery followed him and shouted encouragement as if to coax him to another stirring finish, like so many times before.

"Thanks for the memories, Jack!" a fan yelled at the ninth hole.

Every time he walked from a green to the next tee -- even if he had just put up an ugly bogey -- a string of fans would thank him.

He birdied the par-5 seventh hole by hitting a short putt and someone in the back of the grandstand behind the green yelled, "One more year, Jack! One more year!"

As it stands now, that won't be the case.

"It will probably close out my golf in the US in regular tournament golf, more than likely. I may come back here, but I certainly wouldn't plan on it," Nicklaus said.

Asked if he came to that conclusion recently, Nicklaus said, "I came to that a long time ago."

Nicklaus said he will reserve the right to play at the Memorial or in team events with his sons. He plans to play next month in the British Open at St. Andrews, his final year of eligibility on his favorite links course.

Playing through a driving rain, Juli Inkster shot a 6-under 65 to take the opening-round lead at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The 44-year-old Inkster, who hasn't won on the LPGA Tour in two years, chipped in twice and posted six birdies and an eagle to surge past Annika Sorenstam, who was two shots back after an opening 67.

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