Jacks Back at the Blue Monster


MIAMI, Fla. -- Oh, no! Tigers not here ' neither are Ernie or Phil. Vijay pulled out, too. No, none of the top four players in the world is teeing it up at Doral this week. But, who cares? JACK is here.
Thats right: the 63-year-old Golden Bear is playing in a regular PGA Tour event. Jack is here and playing because hes healthy. Playing golf is fun again. Hes virtually pain free. Well, Id say Im about 60 percent, which is about as good as Im going to feel at my age, explained Nicklaus, but no ones ever 100 percent; and last year I was about ten percent.

The greatest player in the history of the game has lost about 25 pounds and the nagging pain in his joints that paralyzed his swing. He gives all the credit to his nutritionist and the diet that has his body functioning wonderfully: Its my own natural anti-inflammatories that are working. Im not by any means out of hurting, but Im not hurting very much I feel good and I feel like its time to play a little bit of golf.

Nicklaus doesnt expect as much of himself as do many of his fans. I dont ever expect to beat the world at 63, but Im having fun.

Of course, many of his fans hope this appearance at Doral means Jack is readying himself for the Masters in April. But the six-time Masters champion says the Ford Championship this week is no rehearsal for Augusta National. I decided to play here because I felt like my body last year was so bad that I couldnt play anything. I started playing a little bit his year and I said if Im thinking about playing Augusta why wait to see if I can play golf again. So I decided to play here on a course I like close to home.

Even though he looks ' and feels ' good, Nicklaus says his game if far from world-class. I dont know if I will shoot a pair of 80s or a pair of 65s. The latter is not too likely. I just wanted to go play.

Jack says he wont decide if hell compete at the Masters until right before the championship. He says its no big deal. Oh, his fans would disagree so vehemently. I dont know when Im going to decide whether I will play, said Nicklaus. What difference does it make? Im not going to compete anyway.

Jack has developed a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor over the years. Without the potential of winning at Augusta National, Jack asked who cares if he shows up just to wave at people as he runs by.

Well, Jack, millions of sports fans care. He is a man for whom legions feel compelled to root and cheer. And for those who may be more optimistic than the man himself, it is still possible to dream about Nicklaus and another Green Jacket. He provided the hope, himself. I think I can shoot some good rounds. I finished 6th on one leg in 58 ' I mean at 58 in 98. Ive got two legs now, so hopefully I should be able to finish at least that good or better.

At least 6th or better at the Masters? My God, with Jack in contention over the weekend, the roars around Amen Corner could even drown out the hubbub outside the gates this year at Augusta National.

For now, at least, Jack is Back.