Golden eagle has landed

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JACK NICKLAUS ruefully turned up for the most ignominious round of his long and glorious US Masters career yesterday and transformed it into a historic lap of honour. He sent his 163-yard second shot on the fifth straight into the hole for his second eagle there in three days, a feat never before achieved. Only four eagles had ever been scored on the fifth in the 59-year history of this event.

Only Nicklaus can do this. Having made the cut by the skin of his teeth on Friday night he found himself in the position of tail-end Charlie or, in golf terms, front-end Charlie, which means going out first with a marker.

Some golfers would prefer to miss the cut than go out solo to break the course in while the galleries are still jostling for the best vantage points. Nicklaus being Nicklaus, the main contenders were temporarily forgotten and there was an enormous following crowd as he set off with his marker, Danny Yates, a leading American amateur doing his best to look inconspicuous.

Over the first few holes, Nicklaus looked as if he meant the ball to take the punishment for this slight to a 37-year-old Masters record that will never be surpassed. He lashed it left, right and rarely centre and if it were not for some classical scrambling around the greens he might have been covered in even more embarrassment.

Since he birdied in his great round of 67 on Thursday, Nicklaus had gone 25 holes without breaking par. That was to end dramatically. He took a seven-iron for his second shot of 163 yards on the fifth and was walking towards the hole when the ball pitched six yards in front of the hole and bounced in. He sank to his knees in disbelief and cried: "I don't believe it." After he took the ball out of the hole he threw it to his son Jackie, who was caddying, and said: "Put that ball somewhere safe, I'm going to put it in the Masters trophy room."

It was the perfect punctuation to the nightmare that had pursued Nicklaus since Friday morning. When the 55-year-old returned with a 67 on rainswept Thursday all Augusta was electrified with expectation that he was ready to add one more to his six Masters titles. Instead he produced one of the worst rounds in his long domination of this first major championship of the year.