It was not the way, or the day, Jack Nicklaus wanted it to end, even if he did hear the thunderous ovations and shouts of "Thank you, Jack!" and "Don't go, Jack!" from the teeming galleries following him every step of the way in his final round of major championship golf.
It was Friday at the Old Course, not Sunday, and despite a gallant effort, the 65-year-old legend of the game will not be playing on the weekend in the 134th British Open. That was Nicklaus's goal at the start of an emotional and sometimes misty-eyed journey that began with some promise and ended late on a sparkling Scottish summer afternoon as he walked off the 18th green after making one final 15-foot birdie putt.
For Tiger Woods, it was exactly the way he wanted his own day to end, 40 minutes after Nicklaus entered the scoring trailer and signed for an even-par round of 72 and a 36-hole total of 3-over 147, two shots above the cut. Woods scribbled his name on a scorecard marked with five birdies and no bogeys, reflecting the same sort of brilliance so often routinely recorded by Nicklaus in his own prime.
Woods, 29, came in with a 5-under 67 and 11-under 133 that enabled the No. 1 ranked player in the world to put four shots between himself and his closest pursuer, Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, as he attempts to win his 10th major. That would be eight short of Nicklaus's record 18. Montgomerie was at 7-under 137 after shooting a stirring 66 on Friday.
Woods will be paired in the final group Saturday with Montgomerie, who birdied his last hole to take over sole possession of second place. Seven players are five shots back at 6-under 138, including Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal (70), who eagled the last hole, American Brad Faxon (66), who had to qualify here last weekend to get into the field, and Vijay Singh (69), the No. 2 ranked player in the world.
But mostly this was a day when golf's past and future crossed paths in front of 40,000 appreciative spectators. The fans stood five and six deep behind ropes and stone wall fences and filled bleachers overlooking tees and greens to catch a glimpse of Nicklaus and Woods, two of the greatest players who ever stalked the ancient fairways at the home of golf along the North Sea.
When Nicklaus, who won here in 1970 and 1978, birdied the 10th hole to get to 1 under for the day and 2 over for the tournament, there was some hope he might have one final charge left. When he bogeyed the 12th, missed a four-foot birdie putt at the 14th and made one last bogey at the 17th, it was all over save for what became a ceremonial march down the 18th fairway toward the Royal and Ancient clubhouse.
"I was a golfer today," said Nicklaus, who began the round wearing a version of the black, white and blue argyle sweater he wore in the final round in 1978. "I played golf all day until it was quite obvious that I wasn't going to make the cut at 17. That was the first time I stopped being a golfer."
His son Steve has been his caddie for the last two days and Steve said at the end of the round: "He just hugged me and said, 'Well, it's over.' We had a hug and we had tears in our eyes. Walking down the hole, down 18, was very emotional. The way he handles himself and how much people love him, it's wonderful for him."
Nicklaus walked off the oldest stage in golf arm-in-arm with playing partner and longtime rival Tom Watson, with thousands all around, many hanging out of windows and leaning over balconies of the old hotels and homes overlooking the first and last holes. A number of his fellow professionals -- Singh, Tom Lehman, Faxon among others -- also made it a point to be there to witness golf history. Nicklaus was greeted and then enveloped by his entire family as he left the final green and joked afterward that his wife, Barbara, who walked in the galleries with friends and family, had done a fine job making sure he had dressed properly for the occasion.
"I wanted that last putt badly," Nicklaus admitted. "I knew the hole would move wherever I hit it. I always make it on the 18th. I frankly think the hole must have moved, because I aimed six inches left, and the way the ball was going, every other putt going that way missed. This one gobbled it in. It was like Pacman."
Woods also paid tribute to Nicklaus after he had completed another spectacular round of shot-making on a course he loves and continues to overwhelm, just as Nicklaus had an abiding affection for the Old Course and also mastered its nuances to win two of his three British Open titles here.
"First of all, he's the greatest champion that's ever lived," Woods said. "From the time he won his first major to his last, no one's ever been that consistent. He's been the benchmark for every player who's ever played the game, at least in my generation. Just to have him around and be able to talk to him about anything. We kind of understand what it takes to prepare and be ready for tournaments, and from that standpoint, it's been pretty cool."
Five years ago, when Woods set a major championship record of 19-under 269 to win his only British title here, he posted 67-66 on the first two days. This year, the scores have been reversed, but Woods's domination of a course lengthened by 164 yards this year remains the same.
Woods was putting for eagle on three par-4 holes, the 352-yard No. 9, the 380-yard No. 10 and the 348-yard No. 12, which he three-putted for par.
He also reached both par 5-holes in two shots, including the 618-yard No. 14, and two putted for birdies on both. Woods's distance and accuracy off the tee have been his greatest assets this week; he's found 27 of 32 fairways and his measured average driving distance is 338.5 yards, so far a fatal combination for the rest of the field.
When he teed off early Friday afternoon, Woods knew no one in the morning had passed him on the leader board. With unusually perfect conditions of minimal wind, fast rolling fairways and fairly accessible second-round pin positions, it was an ideal day for scoring, as well as stretching his one-shot first-round lead.
"When I was out there, I was tied for the lead," Woods said. "So the whole idea was to shoot something in the 60s, which I did. I still have to go out and put up a quality round Saturday, and the same on Sunday. There are some good names on the board, but I have to take care of my own business. A lot of things can happen out there."
Asked about the obvious comparisons between him and Nicklaus, Woods smiled and said: "That's fine. It's nice to be in that kind of company. It's an honor that I'm even mentioned in the conversation. I would have loved to go head-to-head with him in his prime. I think we would have had a lot of fun."