Nicklaus provides one more memory

His 18th-hole tee shot brings thrill, ovation in likely final appearance

U.S. Open notebook


June 17, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Leave it to Jack Nicklaus to give the crowd watching behind the 18th hole at the Pebble Beach Golf Links yesterday one last memory from more than four decades in the U.S. Open.

Leave it Nicklaus to find a way to say the proper goodbye to a golf course and a tournament that defined his legendary career.

It didn't matter that Nicklaus shot an 11-over-par 82, his highest score in 160 Open rounds. It only mattered that Nicklaus had one last great shot left in his 60-year-old body.

The ovations began when Nicklaus started his walk up the fairway. Included in the ovations was one from former rival Tom Watson, who was playing in the group behind and cheered from the tee box. They grew louder as he approached his ball.

"Normally, I hit a 3-wood off the tee and play it as a three-shot hole [to the green]," Nicklaus said later. "I was on the tee and I turned to Jackie [his son and caddie] and told him, `I haven't tried to knock it on in 20 years.' "

The roars were deafening as he crushed a 3-wood from 238 yards away and his ball ran onto the green. Left with a 60-foot eagle putt, Nicklaus admitted that his emotions got the best of him. He wound up three-putting, missing a 6-footer for birdie.

"My eyes were blurry and I was trying to go through the moment and I topped the darned putt," said Nicklaus, who acknowledged the crowd several times.

Before he hit his second putt, he shared a joke with his son and namesake.

"He said to me, `You're going to read your last putt in the U.S. Open,' and I said, `Do you see the top of the cup?' " said Nicklaus, who finished his 44th straight Open in 13-over-par 155.

Nicklaus reiterated what he said before this year's U.S. Open. Unless he wins a Senior Open - and perhaps not even then - the four-time U.S. Open champion will not play in the tournament again.

"I'd say there's a pretty good chance of that," he said. "The chances would be very slim that I'd play again, even if I won the Senior Open. The place I sort of started in many ways with my golf game with my second Amateur [in 1961], almost 40 years later is a pretty good place to stop."

Someone wanted to know if Nicklaus enjoyed what could have been his last competitive round at Pebble Beach.

"I enjoyed it," he said. "I wish I could have played a little better. I felt like I was playing with a marble on a pool table. I couldn't keep it on the green. Every time I ran through the green, I seemed to make bogey. I enjoyed the last few holes despite what I was shooting. I shot 82 before [in competition] and I'll shoot it again."

Nicklaus admitted getting choked up as he walked the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach for the last time in an Open. He had won the first Open played here in 1972 and finished second to Watson in 1982.

"It's difficult coming up the last fairway knowing that it will probably be the last time coming up a U.S. Open fairway," Nicklaus said. "It's been a big part of my life. Hopefully there's other things in my life besides that, but today that was the biggest part of my life."

Faldo encouraged

There weren't many expectations for Nick Faldo here this week. He hadn't been a factor in a U.S. Open since he finished tied for fourth at Pebble Beach in 1982 and hadn't been a factor on the PGA Tour since winning the Nissan Open more than three years ago.

So Faldo didn't seem to mind that he finished yesterday's second round with a 3-over 74 for a two-round total of 1-over 143. Nor did he mind that, after coming back to the course to complete the fog-suspended first round at 4-under with two holes to play, that he made double bogey on the par-3 17th.

The double bogey, like his three British Opens and three Masters titles, was a distant memory.

"It was great to see my name on the leaderboard and to play with a little heat [pressure] and learn from that," said Faldo, who will be 43 next month. "I've done a lot of rebuilding in my game. I'm trying to rebuild my confidence."

Et cetera

There was a rumble through the press room when a 19 went up on the scoreboard for Clark Renner on the 18th hole. Press guides were immediately opened to find out that Renner is a 34-year-old club pro at a place called Surf n' Turf in Del Mar, Calif., and that he had tried to qualify for the Open 14 times before this year. His 19 would have been five shots more than John Daly had in Thursday's opening round and would have tied the record for the highest score ever recorded on a hole in the Open. Just when it seemed as if Renner had his place in the record books, a USGA official realized that Renner had parred the final hole to finish two rounds at 19 over. Never mind. ... Dennis Paulson withdrew after the second round, citing back and rib injuries. Paulson came to the Open on a roll, having won his first PGA Tour event the previous week in the Buick Classic. He beat David Duval in a playoff. But Paulson dropped out after rounds of 75 and 76 at Pebble Beach.

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