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Last Updated: Friday, 15 July, 2005, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Golden farewell
By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport at St Andrews

Jack Nicklaus
Witnessing Jack Nicklaus' final farewell at St Andrews will rank as one of the great sporting "I was there moments" - for me, and a privileged 50,000 others.

As the Golden Bear paused on the Swilcan Bridge and then made his way up the 18th in glorious summer sunshine, the out-pouring of affection was overwhelming.

The amphitheatre that is created by the grandstands, the R&A clubhouse and the houses and hotels lining the fairway reverberated with cheers, whistles and heartfelt applause from a kaleidoscope of people craning from every vantage point.

This was a man who had transcended sporting generations and touched all of them, and they were here to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.

"The people have been wonderful. They gave me a lot more than I deserved," said Nicklaus, in the self-effacing way that has endeared him to so many.

My biggest fear coming here was shooting a couple of 80s but I was a golfer today
Jack Nicklaus
The no-camera rule was ignored with carefree abandon by virtually every soul in the place as we jostled to record the moment.

And what a moment. A birdie on the last sparked a thunderous roar, Nicklaus thrust his putter in the air, and we savoured one last flashback to the old days.

From the final photo on the bridge to the lingering embrace with old sparring partner Tom Watson by the side of the 18th green, the send-off was perfect in every way.

Like many people, my introduction to the sport at an early age was down to a golf-mad father and his library of Jack Nicklaus tutorial books.

My dad, who is the same age as Nicklaus, is still crazy about the game and has texted me every time the great man has made a birdie or bogey over the last two days - "Great shot, Jack" or "Bad luck, Jack."

So it was my duty to walk the Golden Bear in. And to be honest, it was more tear-jerking on the closing few holes than the final act of mass celebration on the 18th.

Fans at St Andrews paid tribute to their hero
Fans at St Andrews paid tribute to their hero
Each successive grandstand rose as one to greet Nicklaus, and the galleries cheered in wave after wave.

And the fact that he was still in with a shot at making the-cut only added to the drama.

But the game was up after a bogey on the 17th finally sunk his chances of making it to the weekend in his last major.

"My biggest fear coming here was shooting a couple of 80s," Nicklaus said afterwards.

"But I was a golfer today. I played golf all day until it was quite obvious I wasn't going to make the cut on 17.

"That was the first time I stopped being a golfer. Maybe I should stop being one more often because I birdied the last."

Nicklaus' final news conference was overflowing with bodies, but I managed to secure a place on the floor with my nose next to someone's knee.

I heard him say he was happy his wife dressed him better than at the 2000 Open, that his legacy with his family was more important than what he achieved in golf, and that he was grateful to the press for their kind support over the years.

He also added: "I enjoyed what I did but I wouldn't want to do it again. Once you've got it in the bag that's pretty good."

And with that we trooped out, a huge chapter of sporting history wrapped up. As my dad said: "Bye, Jack".

I just wonder whether Tiger Woods will evoke the same love and warmth from the golfing public when he retires.




WATCH AND LISTEN
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Interview: Jack Nicklaus


Interview: America's Tom Watson


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