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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Open crowd savours Nicklaus swansong
By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport at St Andrews

Jack Nicklaus, with his son and caddie Steve, acknowledges the crowd
Jack Nicklaus, with his son and caddie Steve, birdies the first hole

"On the tee from America, Jack Nicklaus".

Savour that, because it will be one of the last times those immortal words will be uttered at the Open.

A couple of well-rehearsed waves, a touch of the cap and a practice swish and Nicklaus was off and running in his last major championship.

The crowd, eager to catch a final glimpse of the 'Golden Bear', clapped him on to the tee and cheered him off.

They rose to their feet in the grandstand as the 65-year-old waved his way down the fairway.

Nicklaus was insistent that he was here as a competitor, not a monument.

But the fans were intent on repaying their favourite for years of pleasure.

The three-time Open champion quickly proved he was not here merely to lap up the applause.

A birdie three on the first was treated to a throaty "yessss" from the gallery, as if he had just won the Claret Jug.

Jack Nicklaus with Tom Watson (left) and Luke Donald (right)
Jack Nicklaus with Tom Watson (left) and Luke Donald (right)

Significantly, the putt also elevated the Nicklaus name to the top of the leaderboard for perhaps the last time.

Old sparring partner Tom Watson also took three, while England's rising star Luke Donald, the third member of the group, had to settle for par.

It was as if old-timers were just offering a gentle reminder to the next generation.

Point made, the two Americans dropped shots at the second and Donald went ahead of them with a birdie on the third.

The Englishman's tighter iron control began to show through as Nicklaus battled to stay on top of his game. Watson ploughed serenely on, that genial, wide-mouthed smile ever present.

Nicklaus' set-up was the same as ever; a wiggle, a look at a mark in front of him, a glance at the target, a shimmy of the hips, the familiar head tilt backwards and then bang.

But length off the tee was a problem despite only a gentle cross breeze.

"Go" he shouted at his ball on the fifth tee. A rueful shake of the head belying the crowd's roar as Nicklaus' course knowledge told him sand lurked short.

He got away with it that time but hit a weak hook on the sixth.

"Jack, goodness gracious," he admonished himself.

Donald, by now two under and joint leader, smashed another good drive, to one of Nicklaus' numerous subtle nods or winks in his direction.

Nicklaus found his form again on the seventh tee, prompting Watson to crack "better than the last one".

Jack Nicklaus with the Claret Jug in 1978
Jack Nicklaus celebrates his 1978 Open win at St Andrews

The gallery breathed a collective sigh of relief and the old master steadied his ship with a fine birdie to go back to level par and keep alive hopes of making the cut.

Ominously, three groups back the pretender to his throne, Tiger Woods, was making a charge which could ultimately sink Nicklaus' fortunes.

Watson and Nicklaus reached the turn in 36 to Donald's 33, in a business-like atmosphere as each player fought towards his personal goal, though the crowd were afforded a gentle titter when Watson's caddie fell over on the 11th green.

At one point Watson offered his old buddy a swing tip, but the real advice Nicklaus needed was on the greens as he endured a host of three-putts to slip to three over.

But he reached 18 with no further damage and launched a beauty to within 20 yards of the green.

Every vantage point was filled with spectators, but Nicklaus was in no mood for sentimental poses on the Swilcan Bridge. That would come soon enough.

He did, though, doff his cap to the heartfelt cheers and applause from the loving galleries, as well as the clapping Darren Clarke and Ernie Els, who were walking down the first.

But Nicklaus still had work to do, and a four at the last gave him a 75 to match Watson, while Donald ended with a 68.

Monument he may be soon, but in the first round of the 134th Open Championship, Nicklaus showed why he was, and is, the greatest competitor.


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Interview: Jack Nicklaus



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