Nicklaus and Woods attract thousands in the rain and deliver a showBy Doug Ferguson, Gaea News Network
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Tiger & Jack play again, with a familiar outcome
DUBLIN, Ohio — Beneath a gray sky and dreary rain, thousands of colorful umbrellas framed both sides of every fairway at Muirfield Village. On a miserable day to watch golf, no one was about to miss a single shot.
Not with Jack Nicklaus in his familiar crouch, grinding over a birdie putt that everyone wanted him to make. Not with Tiger Woods, down to his last shot, delivering in the clutch with a 12-foot par everyone knew he was going to make.
The final cheer and the biggest prized belonged to Woods.
This might be Jack’s course, but this is Tiger’s era. In a closest-to-the-pin chipping contest on the 18th hole, Woods won the Memorial Skins Game on Wednesday by holing his chip from 25 yards in the rough.
“Didn’t surprise me,” Nicklaus said. “Didn’t surprise him.”
They first played with each other at Augusta National in a practice round before the 1996 Masters, after which Nicklaus predicted 10 green jackets or more for Woods. They last competed against each other in the opening two rounds of the 2000 PGA Championship, which Woods won in a playoff for his third straight major.
“Do you remember what I said that day?” Nicklaus recalled. “I said there is no more passing of the baton. It’s been taken.”
The record still belongs to Nicklaus, who set the standard in professional golf with 18 majors. Woods is closing in, capturing his 14th major last summer at the U.S. Open.
Nicklaus believes Woods will break his record in the next three years.
Wednesday was more about charity, and the rare occasion to bring together the best of their generations. The Skins Game replaced the traditional pro-am when sponsor Morgan Stanley withdrew its presence this year because of scrutiny over corporate entertainment.
“That’s one of the great things about our sport,” Woods said. “Guys from past generations — not just one generation removed, but a few — can still compete out here. Not at the highest level, but for nine holes. A few holes, they certainly can play with us, and even beat us.”
Nicklaus did just that on the par-5 11th, hitting an 8-iron to 4 feet for a birdie to win two skins. Woods answered on the 13th hole with a 25-foot birdie putt to win two skins. Stewart Cink collected a skin with a birdie on the 14th. Kenny Perry, the defending champion at the Memorial, looked like he would take four skins on the 18th with a par save from the bunker until Woods made his 12-footer.
That’s when the fun began.
Woods was the second to play, and his chip was landed perfectly and began rolling toward the cup until it disappeared, a shot Nicklaus has seen him make before at the Memorial.
Nicklaus was next, and chip looked good until the final few feet when it broke below the hole. Woods figured he would make it, just like Nicklaus made birdie on his final hole at the PGA Championship nine years ago, just like the Golden Bear made birdie on his final hole in a major championship at St. Andrews in 2005.
“Oh, yeah. Are you kidding me?” Woods said. “He was eyeing it, too.”
Perry, the only player without a skin, was last to hit and watched his chip burn the right edge of the cup. The other foursome included British Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and Camilo Villegas.
But as far as the fans were concerned, there really were only two players on the golf course.
The umbrellas, brightly colored, provided quite the contrast to the gray sky. On the 18th hole, fans covered some 30 yards up a hill away from the fairway ropes to watch Woods and Nicklaus finish the game.
There were more cameras than umbrellas, a photo opportunity that doesn’t come around very often.
In each of the last four majors that Nicklaus played for the last time, Woods won them all — the Masters and British Open in 2005, the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 2000.
He figured that Friday at the PGA nine years ago would be the last time they played against each other.
And while the 69-year-old Nicklaus struggled to reach some fairways, Woods expected him to be as competitive as ever. Nicklaus lived up to his reputation, grinding over shots, only taking himself out of three holes.
“Anyone who has ever played at the highest level always wants to play at the highest level,” Woods said. “I hadn’t seen it since 200, but I remember in 2000 it was definitely like this.”
Nicklaus provided plenty of self-deprecating humor about his game, such as the 17th tee, when Cink asked Woods how far it was to carry the fairway bunkers, some 270 yards away.
“You weren’t talking to me, were you?” Nicklaus said, grinning.
A proud champion, though, always wants to be at his best, even if his best leaves him 35 yards behind everyone else.
“I don’t care if I’m playing against my wife, my competitive juices are flowing,” Nicklaus said. “That’s just me. But I know what my game is, and there’s no way I can compete with these guys. Put me on the front tees and then I can compete — not from back where we were. But we had a good time. I played a few decent holes, and that was good.”
Walking up to the 16th tee, Nicklaus said to no one in particular, “What a miserable day.”
Such a dour assessment came with a wry smile, for Nicklaus felt the same as Woods, Perry and Cink, not to mention some 5,000 fans who trudged through the rain for 2½ hours and didn’t want to leave.
It was a blast.
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