Nicklaus refuses to hit fade, defying time again by staying 6 shots back

At 60, new hip no problem

Funk shoots 68 for 143

The Masters

Notebook

April 08, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He just won't go away, taking his six green jackets and the rest of his legacy with him. He just won't give in to being 60 and having an artificial hip, certainly not at Augusta National in the 64th Masters.

Stubborn as ever, Jack Nicklaus still thinks he can win this tournament again.

At even-par 144 after a second round of 2-under 70, Nicklaus trails second-round leader David Duval by six shots. It was the same deficit he faced when he won back in 1986, trailing Seve Ballesteros at the time.

"Realistically, do I think I have a good shot at winning the tournament?" asked Nicklaus. "Probably not. But does that mean I'm not going to try? Does that mean I'm not going to give it my best shot? Does that mean in my own mind I don't believe I can play and, if I get down to the end, I can't make something happen? Absolutely, I've got to believe it."

Playing again with fellow legends Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Nicklaus climbed into contention with a round that he felt could have been decidedly better. After playing the front nine in 3-under-par 33, Nicklaus figured he missed at least seven putts down the stretch, six of them for birdie and one for par.

"I certainly played a lot better than what my score is," said Nicklaus.

After finishing tied for sixth two years ago, Nicklaus saw his string of 40 straight Masters broken when he sat out following hip replacement surgery a few months before.

Most thought that his decision to play all four majors in the same year for the last time was going to be a bittersweet tribute to one the game's greatest players.

It has turned into a tribute to modern technology, both in terms of medicine and equipment. And to a man widely considered the best to ever play the game.

"I feel fine," he said. "I've been sort of half broken apart most of the spring, and it feels like my body comes together in pretty good shape for this tournament.

"I don't think the hip will have any effect on me one way or the other. The thing about the hip, I can get out of my own way now. I can stay into a shot. I can release it. I haven't been able to do that."

Even those who are trying to do the same aren't amazed at what Nicklaus has done here the past two days.

"Jack is always doing things that people never expect him to do," said Player, 65, who missed the cut after finishing with a 2-over-par 74 and a two-round total of 6-over 150. "He's really a phenomenon. Nothing surprises me."

Said Palmer, 70, who missed the cut for the 17th straight year with a score of 82 yesterday after a 78 Thursday: "He's probably wondering that with a few more breaks out there he could be a few more under par."

Nicklaus does understand why people -- including those in the media -- marvel at how competitive he has stayed at Augusta.

"I suppose I can look back on it and say, `Yeah, what are these old guys doing up there?' But if you asked me Wednesday, I'd have said, `This old geezer doesn't have a chance to do anything. If you ask me that Friday, I say, `Yeah, I'm going out there to play good golf.' I feel pretty young. So far this week, my nerves have been excellent and my nerve has been good."

Big day for Aaron

Nicklaus wasn't the only older player to defy the odds. Tommy Aaron, 63, became the oldest player to make the cut when he backed up his opening-round of even-par 72 with a 2-over-par 74. The last two champions, Jose Maria Olazabal and Mark O'Meara, both missed the cut. Olazabal shot 77 yesterday for a two-round total of 149, missing the cut by a shot as a result of Duval's birdie on the 18th hole. O'Meara shot two straight 75s.

Funk just five back

Former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk matched his best single-round score as well as his best 36-hole start at the Masters after a 4-under par 68 got him back to 1-under 143. Funk shot that two-round score in 1996, but a pair of 76s on the weekend left him tied for 38th.

Funk, 43, came off the course a bit displeased after a bogey on the par-4 18th halted the momentum he had built with three birdies on the back nine.

"Overall, I'm excited about shooting a 68," he said, "but it could have been better, too."

His score was one shot better than the 69 he put up in the third round three years ago, when he finished tied for 17th.

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