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Nicklaus's 45th Appearance Likely Is His Last

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page E03

AUGUSTA, Ga., April 9 -- Jack Nicklaus played what he said would be his final competitive round in the Masters with tears in his eyes as he walked up the final fairway Saturday morning, waving to the crowd and evoking one last bearish roar when his approach to the ninth green (he had started on the back nine) landed three feet from the cup. Sadly, he missed the birdie putt, then announced his 45th Masters would almost certainly be his last.

Nicklaus, 65, had rounds of 77 and 76 and missed the cut of 4 over by five shots. His son, Jackie, caddied for him and his wife, Barbara, watched him play from behind the gallery ropes with other family members along for perhaps his last hurrah.

"It's great and it's fun to play in the Masters," said Jack Nicklaus, a six-time champion at Augusta National. "But it's certainly no fun to play that way. It's no fun to go out there and hack it around and struggle to try to figure out some way to break 80. That's never been the way I operated, and I don't believe I should be out there."

Nicklaus said he came back this year after Masters Chairman William "Hootie" Johnson asked him for one more appearance. A month ago, after the accidental drowning death of his 17-month-old grandson, Jake, Nicklaus had only given himself a 20 percent chance of playing this week. But he and his son Steve, Jake's father, played a lot of golf as therapy in the interim, and his family convinced him to play in his 45th Masters.

"I have the ability to come back," Nicklaus said of a Masters rule that allows all past champions to play in the tournament. "I mean Billy Casper came back after how many years did he miss [three]? He just wanted to play one more round. I don't think I'll do that, but I certainly have the right to do that. But it is certainly no fun hitting a bunch of fairway woods."

After the round, Jackie said right before his father hit that final 7-iron almost stiff to the pin at No. 9, his father had told him "it'd be nice to get it close."

Nicklaus, an honorary member of Augusta National, also had an idea for tournament officials to consider. He recommended letting the older past Masters champions play in a special par-3 tournament during the practice rounds: "Just go out with the guys and say 'Hey, thanks' to everybody, love being here, let the people say something to you, whatever it is. I think you'd find that Arnold [Palmer] would come back and other guys, too. That's my opinion, and if anybody likes it, they can use it. If they don't like it, they can forget it."

Nicklaus will play what he has said will be his last British Open in July at St. Andrews, this time with Steve carrying his father's golf bag. He said his two favorite places in golf are Augusta National and St. Andrews, where he won in 1970 and 1978, and when he finished a news conference in the media center this afternoon, he was accorded a standing ovation.

Still, he did give himself an out in case he does get the itch to play the tournament again.

"I'm not positive ever of anything," he said. "Arnold changed his mind about how many times? I have the right to change my mind. And I said if I get 10 miles an hour more of club-head speed, I'll be back . . . but I don't think that's going to happen. And when they shorten the holes another 30 yards, and that ain't gonna happen either."

Gambling on Casper

One British journalist wagered 100 pounds (almost $200) this week with a British bookmaking company that 73-year-old Billy Casper would shoot a first round over 90, getting a payoff of 100 pounds for each stroke Casper was above 90. Casper's 106 total Thursday should have paid off at about $3,200, but because Casper never signed his scorecard, it was not an official Masters round, and there may not be a payoff. The bookmaking company said it will decide after the tournament whether to honor the wager. . . .

After playing with Casper Thursday, Charles Coody hugged him and said, "If I'd been through something like what he'd just gone through, I hope someone would give me a hug, too."

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