And so the torch was passed, just as it was when Nicklaus bowed out of the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and Masters, all of those won by Woods.
Nicklaus at least went out on his own terms. Determined to finish with a birdie, he struck his signature pose -- putter raised in his left hand -- when the 15-foot putt curled into the right side of the cup.
``I knew that hole would move wherever I hit it,'' Nicklaus said.
Thirty minutes later, Woods saved par from the Valley of Sin to polish off a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 that gave him his largest 36-hole lead at a major since his magical run in 2000.
``I still have to take care of my own business, and that's a lot out here on this golf course,'' Woods said. ``You have enough issues out there to worry about.''
Nicklaus and Woods finally met in the interview room -- fittingly, as the Golden Bear was leaving.
'Nice playing,' Nicklaus told him, extending his right hand.
'Thank you, sir,' Woods replied as they shook.
'You know, that's my best round of the year!' Nicklaus said proudly. 'And I still didn't make the cut.'
But he sure got an emotional sendoff on a mostly sunny, crisp afternoon at St. Andrews.
It started on the first hole, when the packed grandstand along the right side of the fairway rose and applauded as Nicklaus walked by in an argyle sweater, similar to the one he wore in 1978 when he won at St. Andrews. It traveled around the Old Course until he got the loudest cheer of all -- when he strode atop the Swilcan Bridge.
``You saw the greatest player who has ever played the game come up the 18th hole,'' five-time Open champion Tom Watson said.
The birdie gave him an even-par 72, and he finished at 147 to miss the cut by two shots.
It was his 164th major championship, and it was in these Grand Slam events that Nicklaus defined the modern standard for greatness. He won 18 professional majors, and even more staggering was his 19 times as the runner-up.
``He's been the benchmark for every player that's ever played the game, at least in my generation,'' said Woods, who already is halfway to Nicklaus' record and looks as though he might get his 10th major this week.
The departure of Nicklaus won't siphon all the drama from St. Andrews.
Woods, who was at 11-under 133 after wasting birdie chances on his last two holes, will play in the final pairing Saturday with Colin Montgomerie. The Scot got the second-loudest cheers as he birdied three of his final five holes for a 67 that put him at 137.
The last time they were paired in the final group at a major was the third round of the 1997 Masters, when Monty confidently predicted experience would be on his side. Woods put nine shots between them that day and won by 12.
All he can do now is hope.
``A lot can happen around here,'' Montgomerie said. ``We have a number of bounces that can go either way over the next couple of days. But in saying that, if Tiger Woods plays the way Tiger Woods can play around this type of course, I would have to agree with a number of other players that second place is what we're doing.
``We are watching here a unique golfer on a unique golf course.''
Not everyone feels that way. The seven players at 6-under 138 included Vijay Singh, who missed several birdie chances inside 10 feet and felt his 69 was about as poor as he could have done. He certainly isn't about to concede the claret jug to Woods.
``Look at Retief at the U.S. Open,'' Singh said, referring to Retief Goosen blowing a three-shot lead in the final round by shooting 81. ``You never thought he'd mess that up the way he was playing. I'm not worried about Tiger. I'll just go out and play my game and shoot as low as possible over the weekend.''
Others at 138 included Brad Faxon, a throwback who came to Scotland for local qualifying and shot 66; and Jose Maria Olazabal, keeping his chances alive with an eagle through the Valley of Sin on the final hole to salvage a 70.
Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson tried to get back into the mix, each with a 67 that got them to 3-under 141. By the end of the day, they still were eight shots behind.
This was only the fourth time Woods has started a major with two rounds in the 60s, and he has won them all. He also is 5-0 in the majors when he leads after 36 holes.
It's the way Woods has built this lead that is so daunting.
He putted for eagle five times in the second round, converting four of those into birdies. He was tied for the lead when he began his round, and quickly established himself as the guy to beat.
``It was nice to go out there with the lead and not drop any shots,'' Woods said.
It was a solid round, but you couldn't tell by the muted applause from the gallery. It's a rare occasion in a major when Woods is not the center of attention, with fans hustling along the native grasses and gorse bushes for a view of the world's No. 1 player.
On this day, their hearts were with Nicklaus.
The only time Woods saw his idol was around the loop -- the seventh through the 11th holes at the far end of the course -- when Nicklaus was teeing off on the 11th and Woods was coming up the eighth green.
``Other than that, it was really quiet where we were,'' Woods said. ``I wish I could have heard what was going on.''
He would have heard a salute like no other at St. Andrews, from as many people as the old gray town could contain, all packed into the rectangular shape of the first and 18th fairways.
Singh, Faxon, Tom Lehman, defending champion Todd Hamilton and other players stuck around to watch, joined by dignitaries and everyday fans. Nicklaus could only recall three other times when he felt such emotion -- twice at the British Open, once at Baltusrol, where he won the 1980 U.S. Open.
``The only difference was that I was then trying to figure out how to make a par and birdie on the last hole to win a tournament, and I had a few other things happening,'' Nicklaus said. ``Today, I wasn't too worried about having to make a birdie on the last hole.''
He made one anyway, just like old times.
Nicklaus blew kisses to the crowd, hugged his son Steve, his caddie this week, then wife Barbara and the rest of his family before heading to the scoring trailer.
A voice came over the loudspeaker at St. Andrews.
``Ladies and gentlemen, we do hope you enjoyed this special moment in Open history,'' it said. ``There may be some delays. We hope many of you will take this opportunity to watch some more moments in Open golf.''
They didn't have to look far. Woods was right behind.
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