Golden Bear bids fond farewell as rejuvenated Monty chases Tiger

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In the evening sunlight the importance of that life, the sheer scale of its achievement, swept beyond the meaning of all else in another absorbing day's play in the 134th Open, and that included even the extraordinary resurrection of Scotland's 42-year-old native son Colin Montgomerie.

Monty's second-round 66 put him in second place and into a third-day pairing with Woods, but for a little while the world of golf stood still in tribute to The Golden Bear. Nicklaus, did not want to settle for mere acclaim, however heartfelt, and a weekend of calm reflection on one of the greatest of all careers in sport. He wanted another 48 hours on the edge, one last surge of the blood and the adrenalin.

But if he had to settle for the acclaim ­ he knew that he did, finally, when he blocked his second shot at the famous Road Hole ­ one he needed to eagle in some final mind-and-soul expanding moment of unlikely achievement to have a chance of making the cut, there was a supremely appropriate moment of farewell. It was the perfect solace for that cruel moment of reality when he was obliged to take a bogey on the 17th. It was a birdie putt on the 18th green ­ it was the last sword stroke of a master and it brought t the satisfaction that he if he could not conquer he could at least co-exist with the golf course which for 35 years has coloured all his dreams.

At 65, he had finished with par around where he had once carried off two claret jugs, the second of which he commemorated when he walked on to the first tee with a reproduction of the blue-and-white-diamonded sweater which he wore in 1978 (it is now selling at £600 in cashmere) and hoped, right down to his bones, that it might just be sprinkled with some of the old stardust.

It wasn't, as it happened, but that did nothing to staunch the flow of celebration for a sporting life that had enriched, in a deeply personal way, all those who had been privileged to witness some of his triumphs ­ the great mountain of success which Tiger Woods, marching so imperiously here, still has to rival.

On the Swilken Bridge Nicklaus stood alone to give the salute of a sporting Caesar, then summoned his long-time rival, Tom Watson, who missed the cut by one shot, and the young British contender Luke Donald, who had operated with tremendous concentration on this parade of the champions. He then called up his son and caddie, Steve, and they hugged in a moment of almost unbearable sentiment.

Later he said: "I was a golfer today until it was quite obvious I wasn't going to make the cut on the 17th hole. I should stop being a golfer more often because I birdied the last hole. But then I just sort of let my emotions go with it. The people were fantastic. Walking down the last holes, I thought, man, I can't to through this again. Maybe it was just as well I missed the cut. The people gave me a lot more than I deserved."

However, it was the putt on the 18th that was most eloquent. It spoke of consistency of spirit and effort ­ of seeing out the job in the best way you can.

Nearly five hours earlier, before all the waves of emotion that would sweep across the Old Course, there was a moment that transcended the passions of a gallery that packed every available vantage point, including the balcony of Rusack's hotel, which overlooks the first and 18th fairways, and the upstairs windows of the Tom Morris golf shop.

It came when Nick Price, a double majors winner, and Chris DiMarco, who chased Woods so hard into a play-off in this year's US Masters, came to the 18th green as Nicklaus arrived on the first tee. Both walked to the tee to shake his hand, but the gesture for the ages came from Price, the tough old pro from Zimbabwe.

As Price approached Nicklaus he slowly raised his cap. The moment will surely be frozen in the annals of an ultimately individualistic sport. It was one pro saying to another that he had created the game's most daunting standards ­ and its best values. This was not about the mere winning of trophies, of extending the boundaries of a game. It was about the spirit and the meaning of one sportsman's life, how it could set, in the course of a few decades, standards by which everyone had to live

Nicklaus's wife, Barbara, matriach of the family smitten with grief earlier this year when one of the great brood of grandchildren, Jake, died in a swimming pool accident earlier this year, fought back a tear, and the boy's father, Steve, who was carrying his father's bag, reached out a hand to guard against some early emotion running too high.

It was a scene worthy of the presence of the fine artist and friend of Nicklaus, Harold Riley, who studied under the great L S Lowry and was on hand now to sketch the last competitive hours of a man some consider the greatest sportsman of the 20th century.

That certainly was the considered view of Nick Faldo, the holder of six major titles, three Opens and three US Masters. Said Faldo: "Jack was my inspiration. Through the years I've learned a lot from Jack about shot-making... and crumbs. Words are really not enough for Jack; they should make him out of gold and stick a little Jack on every tee box."

But if the crowd and the artist, and the Old Course's most beautiful face, was in place, a last vein of gold was elusive. The Golden Bear's need to shoot a 69 became a mountainous task as early as the second hole, where, after hustling a save at the first, he was left with an eight-foot putt to avoid a double-bogey. He managed that, and then struck back with a birdie at the sixth.

Another came at the 10th, after he had created birdie chances at the ninth and 10th, but as the emotion built around him the vital additional birdies would not come. He bogeyed the 12th after playing sideways out of a bunker, and then when reality announced that he was playing just for sentiment now, for a respectable parting with the great course that became his spiritual home, he played a quite beautiful approach shot at the 16th.

It was a stirring prelude to the final drama on the 18th. It said that the Golden Bear would leave with one last roar. When he left the course, when the emotion was spent, the Tiger reappeared, as commanding as at any time in the last few years. Monty, too, was fighting hard to re-state his right to a place among the golf élite. But nothing anyone could do would touch the reality that for one last day Jick Nicklaus was again the very heartbeat of the game.