He finished his first Nationwide Tour event -- and first tournament playing with sons Jackie, Steve, Gary and Michael -- at 4-under 283, tied for 45th, 14 shots behind champion Tripp Isenhour.
'I played pretty decent the second 18,' said Nicklaus, who played 31 holes in more than 11 hours of golf. 'I didn't hit too many bad shots. I hit a few that were a little astray, but I don't hit it far enough to get it in too much trouble anymore.'
Early on in this tournament, Nicklaus was hitting it long and straight. He stood just five shots off the lead through 36 holes. The prospect of a charging Nicklaus worried a few of his younger competitors.
But with Steve's role as his dad's amateur partner over and Nicklaus' other three sons missing the cut, the Golden Bear's game fell along with his spirits. Cheered by fans but regretful his children couldn't join him inside the ropes at The Cliffs' Valley Course, he struggled to a 75 in the rain-delayed third round earlier Sunday.
'I got up this morning and said, 'I came here to play with them and I'm the only one playing,'' Nicklaus said. 'That wasn't really what I had in mind. Maybe that's why I couldn't get started this morning. My balloon was a little deflated.'
However, Nicklaus, with 18 majors and 73 PGA Tour victories, found a second wind.
Starting on the back nine, Nicklaus birdied three of his first five holes as people waved Jack's old pictures and magazine covers. Nicklaus faltered some with double bogey on the 16th and a bogey on the 18th. He steadied himself and came in without a bogey the rest of the way.
Nicklaus rolled in a long, curling putt on the third hole for his final birdie, smiling to the cameras.
Jack Nicklaus returns to the Champions Tour next week at the Kinko's Classic of Austin, Texas.
Family outings aside, Nicklaus leaves with more confidence than after the beating he took at Augusta National last month. Nicklaus trudged through the muddy layout for a miserable 85-77, no where close to the cut.
This time, Nicklaus routinely hit fairways and greens. He displayed a revamped putting stroke that led him to 10 straight one-putt greens to end the second round.
'It's getting better,' he said.
But Nicklaus realizes he'll never get his past consistency without playing more. 'Whether I want to do that again at 63 years old,' he says, 'I'm not too sure.'
Nicklaus wouldn't have been at The Cliffs if not for the family outing. But he was more than pleased he came.
The courteous crowds treated the Nicklauses like golf's first family. The tournament presented them with a watercolor portrait of the five Nicklaus men smiling in front of The Cliffs' backdrop. Several Nationwide Tour players like Kyle Thompson wore Nicklaus' signature on their caps. Jack's wife, Barbara, signed a dollar bill for a fan, and the boys posed for pictures as they walked throughout the course.
'I was a little intimidated,' Thompson said of meeting Nicklaus. 'But he's the nicest guy in the world.'
It likely won't be the last time Nicklaus and his sons tee it up here -- the pro shop sold a hat with the logo, '5 Bears, 2003.'
Nicklaus said as long 'as I'm still playing golf, we'll be back' in 2004. Nicklaus and Steve won the pro-am team title when a hail storm Saturday cut short the competition.
'We all had a good time and I think everybody walked away with a good feeling,' Nicklaus said.