'It's the same blasted swing,' Nicklaus lamented to his son and caddie, Jackie, as he tapped the club to the ground in frustration.
'I just keep doing it.'
And that, golf fans, is how the greatest player ever -- this side of Tiger Woods, at least -- shot his worst round ever at The Masters.
Back at Augusta National after a year off because of injury, Nicklaus shot 3-over-par 85 in the first round Friday, four strokes worse than his previous high.
How bad was it?
The six-time Masters champion was beaten by none other than Arnold Palmer, the four-time champion 10 years his senior. Palmer didn't exactly tear it up -- he shot 83.
For the King, though, scores in the 80s aren't that unusual anymore. The 73-year-old, four-time champion hasn't made a cut here since 1983 and hasn't shot par since 1985.
Nicklaus, on the other hand, finished sixth as recently as 1998. He didn't hesitate earlier this week when asked what his goal was: 'I'd like to finish first, obviously. Who wouldn't?'
Short of that, he thought a top-10 finish was a possibility if he played really well.
He didn't even come close.
When the first round was over, he was asked if the wet, sloppy conditions were a factor.
'Not if you're out there playing golf,' he said. 'I wasn't. A lot of guys played well out there today,' he said. 'I didn't play well. I got pretty close to what I deserved.'
So did Arnie, although he didn't seem nearly as upset about it.
After shooting 89-85 last year, he vowed to quit playing The Masters, but then had a change of heart. He came back after persuading Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson to rescind his hastily drawn plan to limit the past-champions exemptions to age 65.
Palmer's only goal is to play in this thing through 2004 so he can say he participated in 50 Masters. He concedes he's only playing ceremonial golf, but this was the first time he'd scored better than Nicklaus in the same round at The Masters since 1992, when the Bear shot 75 and the King shot 73.
Nicklaus tried to keep things light, but he knew that nothing short of the incredible would salvage the tournament for him.
'I guess I could shoot a 55' in the second round, Nicklaus said. 'That would make it better.'
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