Arnold Palmer, age 50, and Jack Nicklaus, age 40, played together in the final round of the Masters today. It was a pairing that brought cheers, and a few tears.
They finished nowhere: Palmer shooting 69 for an even-par 288 total and a tie for 24th place, Nicklaus carding a dismally familiar 73, full of lost opportunities, for a 291 finish and a share of 33rd spot.
Nevertheless, they drew bigger crowds, elicited more geniune affection and seemed like larger characters, even as also-rans, than any player here today, except winner Seve Ballesteros. He now has one green coat, but they have nine between them.
Certainly, they upstaged the two "I'm just happy to finish second" fellows who tied for runner-up -- Jack Newton and Gibby Gilbert.
For the first time since 1967, Palmer, who has lost 20 pounds thanks to jogging two miles a day, finished ahead of Nicklaus in a Masters.For him, it was a meaningful and happy day since his next project is to inject life into the newborn seniors tour for "legends" who are 50 or older.
His fine finish today helps give credence to that idea. It is Palmer, without doubt, who will make or break the fledgling tour for oldsters.
If he can win again, crowds will come.
For Nicklaus, this was a barely disguised day of bitterness. No thought could make him sadder than the notion that he is now in Palmer's class -- a distinguished statue whose place of greatness is unequivocally in the past.
"Playing with Jack, I had a little more incentive to play," beamed Palmer. "We've always competed and we always will -- until Jack gets too old."
Nicklaus joined the laughter, but couldn't sustain it.
"Once I'm out of a tournament (no chance to win), I just want to go home," said Nicklaus, "Saturday's round really took a lot out of me. I just threw away one shot after another until my chances were gone. Today, I had about as much enthusiasm as zip.
"I've just been pathetic at putting numbers together here."
Nicklaus came here, after months of serious practice, with what he thought were realistic hopes for his 18th major title. After all, last year, in his worst season, he missed a play-off by just one shot. This year, he was never in contention.
As Palmer and Nicklaus walked up the 18th fairway today, acknowledging the standing and cheering crowd, and casting joking looks of disbelief toward Ballesteros' 10-shot lead on the scoreboard, it was a gentle moment that showed how kind golf is in giving its greats a lingering twilight long after other sports have junked their heroes.
Yes, they'll probably be back, basking in the green spring affection, until they both just get too old.
If their standing ovations never seem to end, then Newton and Gilbert got a once-in-a-lifetime dose of the same treatment. Newton once lost a playoff in the British Open, and Gilbert once had a fourth place in the PGA. But those don't match being runner-up in the Masters.
"I went out to get second place and I did," said Gilbert. "The best place I've ever fininshed here was last," added the dour 39-year-old who in three previous Masters had finished dead last twice (with 302 and 303 totals) and missed the cut once. "For a guy who's won only $12,000 this year, that $35,500 looks real good."