Nicklaus Saying Goodbye to Augusta

By Associated PressApril 9, 2005, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jack Nicklaus stood alone on the ninth green, taking a long look at the cheering crowd before dipping his head and brushing away the tears.
So much of his legacy was forged at the Masters, a simple goodbye somehow seemed inadequate. This was what the 65-year-old, six-time champion wanted, though. No ceremonial last round, no grand sendoff.
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus sheds a few tears on his final hole Saturday at Augusta National.
A few minutes of applause, a hug from his oldest son, and then he was gone, walking off the course at Augusta National for what he says is the last time.
'I don't think I'll play in the tournament again,' Nicklaus said Saturday after shooting a 4-over 76 and missing the cut by five strokes.
'I think it's fine to go ahead and say goodbye and so forth and so on, but I think you say goodbye when you think you can still play a little bit. I think I can play a little bit, but I can't play well enough to be playing.'
There was a time when nobody played better. Certainly not at the Masters.
Nicklaus won six of his 18 majors here (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1986), two more green jackets than Arnold Palmer. He was the first to win in consecutive years, and still holds the record as the oldest champion for his last victory at age 46.
'It's a special place,' said Nicklaus' wife, Barbara. 'It's been a special place for a lot of years.'
But it's no longer his place. The Golden Bear hasn't made the cut since 2000, and hasn't been in contention since he tied for sixth in 1998. Unlike Palmer, he never wanted a ceremonial sendoff, loathing the idea that he might have stayed too long.
'This is not a celebrity walk-around,' he said. 'This is a golf tournament. It's a major golf championship. If you're going to play in this championship, you should be competitive and you should be able to compete with who is out there.'
He had planned to make 2004 his last year. But after the March 1 drowning death of his 17-month-old grandson, Jake, chairman Hootie Johnson coaxed Nicklaus into coming back one more time.
After playing several rounds with his sons the last few weeks, Nicklaus agreed.
'I think it was good for everybody,' said his wife, who walked the course with her children and some family friends. 'It's been very heartwarming. Everybody's been wonderful, and the support has been wonderful.'
Nicklaus didn't announce this would be his last appearance. Other players didn't even know this was his final round.
'Hopefully, he doesn't,' Tiger Woods said when asked about Nicklaus leaving. 'We didn't give him a sendoff.'
But Nicklaus wanted to make one last run, not a spectacle of himself.
When he started his second round on the 11th hole Saturday morning, his mind was on the three birdies he thought he would need to make the cut. So he set out with son and caddie Jackie, planning to stay until Sunday.
'He said, `It's either going to be a 16-hole day or a 34-hole day,'' Jackie said.
But he bogeyed three of his first four holes, all but ending his chances. As his score climbed and the numbers he needed to make the cut dropped, fans began doing the math. His galleries grew for his final holes, with appreciative fans standing to applaud every time he walked onto a tee.
'If you're a golf fan, you're a Jack Nicklaus fan,' said Mark Tinsley, of Wilmington, N.C., who watched Nicklaus at the seventh green and then made his way over to No. 9. 'If he's not going to make it, I'd like to see his last hole here.'
Nicklaus refused to think about the end until it was upon him. After putting his second shot on the par-4 No. 9 within four feet of the pin, he knew there was no tomorrow, and his emotions quickly got the best of him.
He and Jackie walked up to the green together and then the son stepped back, making sure his father was front-and-center when he stepped onto the putting surface. Nicklaus looked around, took it all in, then bowed his head to wipe away the tears and compose himself. After all, he still had a putt to make -- a birdie chance, at that.
'His eyes were pretty wet as he got on top of that hill. He got me choked up,' playing partner and friend Jay Haas said. 'I wanted him to make that last putt.'
But it wasn't to be, as the ball burned the right edge of the cup. The crowd groaned and Nicklaus looked around in exasperation. After he tapped in, there was one last smile and wave.
Then he walked to the scorer's shed and turned in his last Masters scorecard.
'It's a treasure for me,' Nicklaus said. 'And I'll miss that greatly.'
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.