For the final act, there was a birdie, of course. Jack Nicklaus had just stroked his tee shot on the final hole at St. Andrews. He had wedged it up to 6 feet. And then, just he has done countless times in his storied 43-year career ' he stroked it softly, perfectly along a slightly winding path, into the heart of the cup.
He made them often enough to get 73 PGA Tour wins, 10 more on the Champions Tour and 11 more international victories. He is easily the all-time leader in major championships with 18. Many call him the greatest player of all-time.
But this year might have been the most profound of his long career. This was the year that he said goodbye to the Masters and British Open. And, it is the year of one of the biggest heartbreaks of his life. In this his 65th year, he lost a grandson, 17-month-old Jake Nicklaus, in a drowning accident.
Jake, who was the son of Steve and Krista Nicklaus, died March 1 after wandering into a hot tub at his parents home. Jack grieved uncontrollably, both for the child and for son Steve.
Nicklaus canceled all appointments and stayed with Steve and Krista virtually nonstop. Golf became their lonely companion for the better part of a month. Finally, Steve suggested that Jack go play in the Masters. Jack, uncertain at first, finally relented and entered the tournament.
I had no intention of playing golf, said Jack as he discussed his improbable appearance at Augusta. But I've been playing golf and I'm not doing anything else and - Steve and I talked about it, he says, Go play.
He says, You want to play anyway.
I said, I want to play, but I don't have much of a golf game.
'He said, You'll have a golf game.
So I'm here. That's why I'm playing. I feel like, you know, next year is going to be tougher than this year to try to get a golf game ready, and this year, I can't say it's going to be much of a golf game, but it's going to be what I've got.
Nicklaus, of course, was correct. He shot 77 and 76, though that was good enough to beat 13 players, among them Nick Price, John Daly, Ted Purdy, Paul Casey and Ian Woosnam.
This will be my last time, somewhere in my head believing that I might be able to shoot a reasonable round of golf, Jack said. But then, he left a sliver of doubt.
You know, I may come back in five years, I may come back in 10 years and decide I want to go tee and up and play - I can do that, he said.
Jack would have liked to have finished his second round ' what probably was his final round at Augusta - on the 18th hole. But he didnt ' he finished on the ninth since he had to start the round on the 10th hole. Mother Nature was the culprit, playing havoc with the tee times with stop-and-start rains throughout the first two days.
Nicklaus obviously had a few quiet thoughts. He had won this tournament six times during his career, and now he was about to end that career.
This was going to be the last time I was going to walk up the fairway, he explained. I just said, you know - obviously, I had made up my mind. This is just too tough for me. I just cannot do this.
(Son) Jackie, he's with me, and he says, Oh, come on dad, let's make another birdie. Come on dad, let's make another birdie.
Alas, it wasnt to be. Jack hit his approach to 5 feet, but to the consternation of everyone, his putt slid by the hole. But Augusta had the chance to say goodbye, and that was what was important. And Nicklaus realized it.
Then, in what was a goodbye scene for the entire world, Jack played for the final time in the British Open at St. Andrews. This one was planned both by Nicklaus and by the Royal & Ancient. The group moved the rotation up a year to allow St. Andrews to be the course for Jacks finale, and Nicklaus graciously consented to allow golf fans from around the world to see him play one final time.
He put together rounds of 75-72 at the hallowed grounds, missing the cut this time by only two shots. Once again he beat some pretty famous golfers, among them Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Davis Love III, Chad Campbell, Mike Weir, Shigeki Marayuma
And, in an entirely fitting tribute to an outstanding career, Nicklaus finished with a birdie at this major championship which he has won three times.
By then, the world knew that Jack had missed the cut. Nicklaus knew it, too, after he bogeyed the difficult 17th, the infamous St. Andrews Road Hole. And that was the first time that I stopped being a golfer, he said. I should stop being a golfer more often, because I birdied the last hole.
But then I just sort of let my emotions go with it. The people were fantastic. Actually, as I was coming down the last few holes, I'm sitting there saying, Man, I don't want to go through this again. Maybe it's just as well I miss the cut. I said, I think these people have been wonderful. They've given of themselves and gave me a lot more than I deserved. I'm probably better off getting out of here.
Obviously I kept trying to do the best I could.
And it was entirely fitting that Tiger Woods won the British on Jacks last stand. Woods has been the main threat to Nicklaus 18 majors, and this was Tigers 10th. He paused to remember Nicklaus, and to pay tribute to the mans great major-championship record.
It's going to take a long time to win 18 major championships, said Tiger. More importantly, what did he finish - 56, 54 times in the top three or top five, whatever it was, 19 seconds.
I think that's more impressive than 18 wins. He's been there that many times. And there's no player that's ever played the game that's been that consistent in the biggest events than Jack.
And when it was over, when the throngs at St. Andrews had finally quieted and Nicklaus had gone on his way with wife Barbara, he had a moment to reflect on a career that has lasted more than four decades. Did it go fast?
Far too fast, said Jack. I think we all say that.
There isn't one person in this room that wishes we were back 20 or 30 years. I'd be very surprised. But I don't want to do it again. I kind of enjoyed what I did. I don't know whether I'd be as successful today going out there or not, playing against those guys. I think I would. That's the way I'd feel. But who knows?
As I say, once you've got it in the bank, win those few tournaments, that's pretty good. People have asked me what would you want to do differently, and I can't think of anything, frankly, except have my wife dress me better in 2000.
Yes, it was over. Nicklaus will now concentrate on his course-design business, on his passions of fishing and hunting, on the business of just being a doting father and grandfather. And what would he like his legacy to be, an inquiring sportswriter wanted to know?
Well, I don't know. I think you guys will probably determine that, Nicklaus said.
I'm not really concerned about what my legacy is in relation to the game of golf, frankly. I'm more concerned about what my legacy is with my family, my kids and my grandkids. That's by far more important to me. If I've done it properly out here and I can hold my head up to my kids and grandkids, that's the most important thing.
The year 2005 is the year that we can finally turn out the lights on Jack Nicklaus career. And that career is one that may never again be duplicated.