You Say Hello I Say Goodbye

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When Tiger Woods finally gets bored of golf and decides to become a professional fly-fisherman or a Senator or just wants to see how much of the world he can purchase, he will be linked historically to one other player.
 
Oddly enough that one player will be a man whom Woods has thus far competed against only 29 times as a professional. And one against whom he holds a 26-2-1 record in head-to-head performance.
 
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus pauses on the Swilcan Bridge during a practice round with old rival and friend Tom Watson.
This weeks Open Championship at St. Andrews will mark Jack Nicklaus final appearance in golfs oldest tournament. And, it may well mark his final competitive event.
 
Perhaps. Maybe.
 
This may or may not be Jacks last stand on the whole. But it is most certainly his final performance on golfs most worldly stage. At age 65, this is his last year of eligibility to compete in the championship.
 
The Golden Bears goodbye could mean another coronation for Woods.
 
Ive been pretty good on Jacks farewells, Woods joked to the media while in Ireland for last weeks J. P. McManus Pro-Am.
 
Pretty good is an understatement. When Nicklaus walks away from a major, Tiger wins said major. There have been no exceptions.
 
Nicklaus last U.S. Open was in 2000 at Pebble Beach. He missed the cut; Tiger won. His last PGA Championship was also in 2000 at Valhalla. He missed the cut; Tiger won.
 
After missing the cut at this years Masters Tournament, Nicklaus declared himself finished at Augusta. Tiger then went on to win.
 
'And I won at St. Andrews (in 2000) last time, which was supposed to be his farewell,' Wood added.
 
Nicklaus decided to play the Open Championship for a 38th time because the tournaments governing body, the Royal & Ancient, moved this years site to St. Andrews.
 
Nicklaus has always had a fondness for the Old Course, as two of his three Open victories (1970, 78) came at the home of golf.
 
Augusta and St. Andrews are my two favorite places in the game of golf, and I thought it was appropriate to end it at one of those two, Nicklaus said earlier this year. And, being what the R & A did in changing their date ' frankly, they weren't going there until 2006, and they just announced it a year earlier, which I thought was a pretty nice compliment. I thought that would be a pretty good place to stop.
 
Woods also has quite an affinity for the historic links layout.
 
Its one of the greatest venues youll ever play because its so dependent on the weather, he said at the Cialis Western Open two weeks ago. The golf course is not that hard when the wind doesnt blow, as we saw the last time at the British Open. We all took it deep.
 
We is more like me. Woods set a major championship record by finishing the 2000 Open at 19-under-par 269. He won by eight strokes over Thomas Bjorn and Ernie Els.
 
That victory completed the career Grand Slam for Woods. He has since won another PGA Championship (2000), another U.S. Open (2002), and three more Masters Tournaments (2001, 02, 05).
 
But not yet another Open Championship.
 
Should he repeat his performance from five years ago, he will join ' who else? ' Nicklaus as the only two men to win every major championship at least twice.
 
Woods will return to St. Andrews with a swing that is dissimilar to the one that was so effective in his 2000 demolition. After suffering through a 10 major winless stretch, that new motion finally paid major dividends at this years Masters, which he won in a playoff over Chris DiMarco.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods looked relaxed during his Tuesday practice round at St. Andrews.
That triumph evoked thoughts of a possible seasonal Slam for Woods. But that dream died prematurely when he finished runner-up to Michael Campbell in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
 
I dont want to be like I was in 2000; thats why I made the swing changes ' I wanted to be better, he said. I was satisfied when I won the first major this year, but I felt I should have won the other. At the U.S. Open I finished second-to-last on the putting stats, so that tells you how well I hit the ball. My confidence is building at the right time.
 
Woods was quite confident five years ago. And his ball-striking was as good then, if not better than it is now.
 
He didnt find a single one of the Old Courses 112 bunkers on the last occasion it hosted the Open. That may be a more difficult feat to accomplish this time around.
 
While Woods has a new swing of attack, the Old Course has a new line of defense.
 
The layout now measures 7,279 yards, compared to 7,115 in 2000. Five new, longer tees have been added, which should bring some of those penal pot bunkers back into play. That includes the infamous Hell bunker at the par-5 14th, which was upped from 581 to 618 yards.
 
Woods isnt a big fan of the changes.
 
I dont understand why they would do it, he said. They are so dependant on the weather. If the wind blows and you get bad weather, the guys are going to shoot high scores.
 
Woods, of course, has the good reason to like the old Old Course. So does Nicklaus.
 
Its just another thing the two happen to have in common.
 
One is of mixed heritage, was groomed for this game, has a chiseled physique, and is the sports current Superman. The other is a white Midwesterner, whose father hoped he would one day play football, who was referred to as Fat Jack, who once was kryptonite to the sports then Superman.
 
Theyre separated by 36 years and nine professional major championships. And yet they have so very much in common.
 
A perfect script would have one raising his hands over his head, bidding adieu Sunday afternoon, while the other raises his hands above his head in triumph later that evening.
 
But life is not a script that we can always write to our liking. And, for that matter, not everyone would like to see this script conclude in such a manner.
 
Then again, there may still be one more chapter left to write ' St. Andrews may not be the end. Nicklaus denouement may yet come at Augusta. And that would be just fine with Woods.
 
He just needs to keep retiring, Woods said with a big smile.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - British Open