Curtain Slowly Drops on Jacks Career
People didn't believe him last year. I've got a suspicion Jack wasn't sure himself. But as he dragged his 61-year-old body through the paces at each event, something just said, 'It's really gone.' I know - he got a new hip. He felt great for the first time in a long, long while. But the muscles just were not going to cooperate. He could shoot 72s and 73s, but no longer could he match the young men in shooting their 69s and 70s. Retirement - and I mean full retirement - suddenly got a whole lot nearer.
Nicklaus isn't like Arnold Palmer. He doesn't love golf like Arnie, who will go out and slap some balls just for the pure exhilaration of it. Palmer loves getting together with the guys, whoever that is at the moment, playing a little golf, having a little innocent fun.
Nicklaus is wound differently. He might go out and play a round or two with the sons or the grandkids, but he seldom plays solely for recreation. Golf for Jack has been his means of support - period. Golf for Palmer has been his means of support, sure. But it has been so much more for Arnold, a social outlet, a way to get outside and raise a little hell with 'the boys.'
Nicklaus, the ultimate champion, finds it incredulous that he can't win anymore. Deep down inside, he's struggling to come to terms with a body that just can't beat Tiger. He's smart enough to realize when to call it quits, smart enough to read numbers and tell when a 73 just isn't a 67. When he realizes it with finality, it will be over. Nicklaus won't get out there just to be 'out.' He has to have a reasonable chance of winning.
Nicklaus has never been public about his massive ability, but he was certainly aware of it. Oh, how he was aware of it. That's why today, when for the first time in years his body feels fit, he just can't believe it won't crank out a numbing succession of pars and birdies. But there's a thing called 'age' that comes creeping, that slows the swing speed just slightly, that causes putts to lip out instead of finding the cup, and that adds to the score little by little.
'I'm playing reasonably well,' said Jack this week on a conference call to tout the Senior Skins game. 'I've actually been working quite hard on my golf game in recent weeks. If I'm going to give myself a chance to play, I might as well go ahead and play.
'Physically, I'm feeling very good. My foot has calmed down and I have been walking every day. I've taken off some pounds over the holidays, so I have this new body and I'm ready to go.'
Precisely. Jack SHOULD play, although he needs to lower his sights a little. He needs to play because a whole lot of us enjoy watching him. He should play because he just might win a time or two, instead of believing he HAS to win. He still can make cuts, even in the regular-tour majors, and he has every reason to play. The only thing is, he shouldn't be so hard on himself if wins are a little more rare when he walks the fairways nowadays.
That, though, probably isn't Jack Nicklaus. He won't play when he becomes convinced he can't win. But, unlike Palmer, he doesn't believe he will miss it that much.
'I think I could find a way to handle it,' he says with honesty.
'I like to fish and hunt. I enjoy those things, but I never seem to have enough time to do those things. I catch a day here and there. There are a lot of places I haven't gone and a lot of things I haven't done.'
Nicklaus looks back at his life and knows it was golf and time for nothing else.
'All my life, my whole schedule revolved around my next golf tournament,' he said. 'What do I have to do to prepare for it? What do I have to do to prepare my body? What can I do here and now?
'When it happens,' he says, 'I will get plenty of challenge out of other things. As my kids kept me playing when I was ready to slow down in my early 40s, now my grandkids come along and they play golf and say, `Hey grandpa, take us to the golf course!
'So you never know. Life changes, and I change with it.'
This grandpa sounded pretty convincing. You know, he just might really do it. But perform in a regular golf tournament, just so people can see the swing, see him? No, that just isn't Jack Nicklaus.
Watch: Jesper hits rock, flies bridge, makes par
It's not often you'll hear an accomplished professional declare that he made one of his greatest par saves on a par-3 course. But Jesper Parnevik can - and did - make that claim.
Playing the Top of the Rock layout on Day 2 of the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, Parnevik's tee shot at the 130-yard sixth, his 15th hole of the day, flew the green. It bounced off a rock, caromed over a bridge and landed on dry land. He then chipped over the bridge, but underneath a tree limb, and got his ball within 15 feet from the hole. He then converted the putt.
What made the par save more impressive was the fact that his partner, Jeff Maggert, had already hit his tee shot in the water during the fourball portion of the event. And in a team event, you just can't drop shots.
McIlroy on winning the Masters: 'It'll happen'
Nearly two weeks after letting a shot at a green jacket slip through his grasp, Rory McIlroy remains confident that he'll still someday find a way to capture what for him has become golf's most elusive prize.
McIlroy had a spot alongside Patrick Reed in the final pairing at the Masters, and he insisted that all the pressure was on his counterpart who was seeking his first career major title. But from his first wobbly tee shot, it was clear that McIlroy was feeling plenty of heat himself as he looked to round out the final leg of the career Grand Slam on a course where he has come up barely short a number of times in recent years.
McIlroy started the day three shots behind Reed, but he never challenged once the pair hit the second nine as Reed beat Rickie Fowler by a shot while McIlroy fell into a tie for fifth, six shots off the pace.
"I got onto that first tee, and I was quite nervous. Even though I was three behind, I still felt like there was a little bit of pressure there for some reason," McIlroy told CNN's Shane O'Donoghue. "I just couldn't get into my rhythm like I could the first three days."
Given time to reflect, McIlroy has adopted a positive outlook on his week in Augusta: another chance to contend on a major stage, another sign that his game is, for the most part, where he wants it to be heading into a busy summer stretch.
For McIlroy, the disappointment was not in failing to win major No. 5, it was in his inability to make Reed work for it during the early stages of their round together as McIlroy failed to mount much of a challenge after missing a 4-foot eagle putt on the second hole that would have given him a share of the lead.
"I was just disappointed that again I didn't put any pressure on the leader. I guess that was my thing," McIlroy said. "If I had just put a little pressure on, it might have been a different outcome."
Instead, McIlroy left with a respectable yet unsatisfying result from the season's first major for the fifth year in a row. Left to wait another 11 months before his next crack at a green jacket, his belief is unwavering that he'll one day join Reed among the tournament's decorated list of champions.
"Look, it'll happen. I truly believe it'll happen," McIlroy said. "I play that golf course well enough. I've five top-10s in a row, I've given myself a chance. It didn't quite work out. But just, the more I keep putting myself in those positions, sooner or later it's going to happen for me."
Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum
SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.
Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.
''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.
Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.
''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''
Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.
Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.
Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.
He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.
''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''
Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.
''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''
Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.
Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.
But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.
''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''
LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1
LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.
Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.
Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.
Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.
''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''
That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.
''Too many,'' Park said.
The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.
''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''
The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.
Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.
Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.
Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.
''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''
Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.
She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.
''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''
ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.
Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.
Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.
The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.
Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.