Jack Nicklaus knows exactly how he'd like to walk off the major championship stage when he goes to St. Andrews in mid-July to play his final British Open.

"If I can play golf, I can play St. Andrews," Nicklaus said here this week, where he is hosting the Memorial, a tournament he created on a course he designed and built 30 years ago. "Realistically, I could do fairly well at St. Andrews. . . . For me to make the cut, for me to play reasonably well . . . that's what I'd like to do."

Nicklaus said at the Masters in April that St. Andrews would be his final major championship and last month said he likely would not play any competitive golf again. But this week, he amended that slightly, saying he reserved the right to continue playing in the Memorial whenever he feels his game is up to it. He's in the field this week and will play the first two days with defending champion Ernie Els and David Toms.

"The real script of going out would have been to say goodbye in '86 in Augusta" when he won the Masters at age 46, the oldest champion in Masters history. "That's probably what I should have done. If I had any common sense, I would have said goodbye then. . . . I'll always reserve the right [to play] here, but outside of that, I have no intention of playing any more tournament golf."

Until he arrived here last week, Nicklaus said he had only played two rounds of golf since his final round 76 at the Masters, the same score he posted in his first round at Augusta National in 1959. He has played a half-dozen times over the last week and said his game is in decent enough shape to try to play the Memorial.

"I just have a hard time teeing it up as a ceremonial golfer," he said. "For me to tee it up this week, I've still got to tee it up as a golfer. Realistically, the best I can do would be to make the cut or something, and that would be about it."

Love on Upswing

Davis Love III is 24th on the tour money list but hasn't played particularly well this season, mostly because he still has problems with his neck and back. He said Wednesday that he has been feeling healthier over the last month and his game is starting to come around.

"I'm really feeling good, stronger, hitting the ball good and I can start to see signs of some real golf shots under tough conditions rather than every time it was a tough shot, I would miss it or every time it was a par drive, I would miss the fairway," he said. "Now I'm starting to hit the ball better and with some confidence. I'm just getting better and better."

Love, who missed the cut in two of his last three events, said the main problem has been a bad disk in his neck that has bothered him on and off since 2000.

"I've let it progressively get me weaker, and now I'm progressively getting stronger. It's just tight, a lack of strength in my shoulder and my arm. . . . I do a lot of stretching in specific areas rather than just stretching your hamstrings and the same old boring stuff. It's rubber bands and light weights and ball work, stuff like that."

Woods Returns

Tiger Woods is playing in his first event since missing the cut by a shot at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas three weeks ago, ending a stretch of 142 straight. Asked this week if not playing on the weekend had a negative effect on his confidence, he smiled and said, "zero, absolutely zero.

"I'm here to try to get ready to win this tournament and hopefully come out of the week positively so I'll be in good shape going into the U.S. Open" in two weeks at Pinehurst, he said. "The things I was working on post-Augusta are really starting to come together now, so it's very exciting. The swing is more sound day in and day out. Last year, I had just an enormous checklist I had to go through just to hit one shot. Now I can just pick out a shot and go in and hit it, and consequently my scores this entire year have been so much better."

Toms Favors St. Andrews

David Toms played in his first British Open at St. Andrews in 2000, tying for fourth and falling in love with the old links course.

"I like it because you don't have to hit it forever to play it," he said.

"I think anyone can win there. It's a major championship where everybody who tees it up that week has a chance if they play well because it doesn't really favor anyone in particular.

"My first time, I spent a lot of time in the little town there and enjoyed it, stayed in a hotel right at the 17th hole. I'll always go back and play it. I wouldn't think about skipping it as long as I'm exempt. If I'm not, I'd think about trying to qualify."

Jack Nicklaus, teeing off during a practice round for the Memorial tournament, left the door open for playing the event again.