Nicklaus skips St Andrews to preserve memory


DUBLIN, Ohio – The British Open this year will feature a four-hole exhibition with all its past champions, from Seve Ballesteros to Tiger Woods to Nick Faldo.

Among the few missing will be Jack Nicklaus.

Nicklaus was criticized in the British press for saying he would only go to St. Andrews this year if his sponsor, Royal Bank of Scotland, wanted him there for a corporate function.

RBS doesn’t have any plans for Nicklaus, and Nicklaus doesn’t have any plans to play.

But it’s not the money or the hassle. Nicklaus said he simply doesn’t want to tarnish the warm feelings he had from 2005, when he chose St. Andrews as the final major he played.

“It was my last time being involved in a major. It was perfect,” Nicklaus said.

He said he has a contract with RBS to entertain clients at various tournaments, and he told them he really didn’t want to return to St. Andrews for the British Open this year. RBC honored his request.

“I go to the Masters, but the Masters is different,” Nicklaus said, alluding to the annual tradition of the Champions Dinner, the proximity to his home in south Florida and playing the Par 3 Tournament. “St. Andrews is where I finished by my career. That’s got a special feeling and I want to keep that feeling.”

Nicklaus said he called Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson a few weeks ago to let him know he wasn’t coming, and why.

“He said, ‘I suspect that’s the reason. I honor that, respect that and I’ll support that,”’ Nicklaus said.

TIGER’S INJURY: Tiger Woods wonders if his neck injury was a case of doing too much too soon.

He said there wasn’t a single moment where it began to hurt, rather an accumulation of hitting so many balls after being away from the game for the better part of four months.

“Because I’d taken so much time off and way away from the game and didn’t do anything that physically resembled the game of golf, then come back and try and hit the same amount of golf balls that I was hitting right before the Aussie Masters, I wasn’t physically ready for it,” he said. “And the body started breaking down, and I just started playing through it.”

Woods said he assumed the pain would go away.

“Just never got better,” he said.

Woods said he puts ice on his neck and does strengthening exercises to get the right muscles working.

One reporter asked Woods why he wasn’t more forthcoming with his neck injury before he had to pull out of The Players Championship.

“You don’t need to know,” he said.

MUIRFIELD CHANGES: Jack Nicklaus is always tinkering with his beloved Muirfield Village, trying to get it just right, and the next change could be one of the biggest. After the Memorial, he’s going to build a different 16th hole.

Nicklaus said there’s nothing wrong with the par 3 except that it didn’t add to the drama of the closing holes. In his typical harsh assessment, he said of the 16th hole, “It’s a nice way to get to the 17th tee.”

Bringing the Presidents Cup to his course made the decision easy.

“When they play the Presidents Cup, most of your matches are going to end around the 15th, 16th hole. So the bulk of your gallery is going to be out there,” Nicklaus said. “We need to expand our gallery situation in that area.”

To do that, he plans to extend a small lake all the way down the left side of the hole. With so much water, he thought the hole should play a little shorter, and that the green should be moved more to the right.

“It will create a much bigger amphitheater and create more space for people,” he said. “So it will be a win-win for the thing. Yes, we’re going to spend some money in there, but I think no longer will it be a way to get from 15 green to 17 tee. It will be a really good golf hole, and the gallery situation will be unbelievable.”

It wasn’t just the Presidents Cup that led to this change. Nicklaus said a new 16th has been in the works, but he thought it would send the wrong message if people were hurting because of the economy and Muirfield Village was building a new hole.

“I didn’t think that the economy was right to be spending money on the golf course out here for a golf tournament, and I think that the economy is recovering,” he said. “I think we’re moving more in the right direction. And I wanted to get it done while I was still around.”

SCOTT’S YEAR: Adam Scott might have hit his low point at Muirfield Village a year ago. He opened with a 77, then followed that with an 81 to miss the cut by nine shots.

Even more irritating was missing the cut by far less.

“I felt like I lost so much confidence by missing the cut by one each week, rather than just making it,” he said. “You miss the cut by one, you may as well miss by 10. You’re not playing. I was so close all the time, but I lost a lot of confidence from that.”

One shot changed everything.

Scott was at the Singapore Open, struggling to make the cut. He thought he needed to finish with a par to make the cut on the number, and he hit 7-iron to a foot. Turns out that birdie allowed him to make the cut. He had a great weekend and finished third.

Some six weeks later, he won the Australian Open, his first professional victory in his home country. Then came another victory three weeks ago at the Texas Open, and Scott says he is headed in the right direction.

“All the things that I’ve dealt with and learned and put behind me and moved through is going to show up in my game over the next six months or a year or five years,” Scott said. “I think I can be a much, much better player than I was before, even when I was playing my best golf.”