Nicklaus fails to get the right breaks

Jack Nicklaus watched in disbelief as his six-foot birdie putt headed straight for the hole, only to slide by on the edge and finish a foot past the cup. As the crowd groaned, Nicklaus' body sagged. Frustration was etched across his face.

Jack Nicklaus watched in disbelief as his six-foot birdie putt headed straight for the hole, only to slide by on the edge and finish a foot past the cup. As the crowd groaned, Nicklaus' body sagged. Frustration was etched across his face.

"I played very well, I just didn't get the ball in the hole," he said. "To be two over par at this point is a little disappointing."

Nicklaus has not been a serious contender here since 1998, when he finished sixth. At 64, the six-time champion hinted earlier in the week this might be his last visit as a competitor. What he did not want was some warm-and-fuzzy farewell tour. And if Nicklaus cannot leave as the winner, the least he wanted to do was give the younger guys a run. If he had made a few of those putts yesterday, he might have been in contention. Instead, Nicklaus found himself at two-over after 17 holes.

"I hit the ball very well, played well," he said after his round was halted by darkness. "But this is a golf course where you've got to make some putts, and I didn't make putts."

If the Golden Bear can find a way to do that, it could still be an interesting finish. Considering some of the power-hitters on tour now, his drives no longer draw raves. But what Nicklaus lacked in distance, he made up for in accuracy. At the par-four 14th, his drive went 310 yards before landing in the middle of the fairway. His second shot landed 30 feet to the right of the pin, and it looked as if he would read the tricky break perfectly as the ball rolled right at the cup. But it kept going - even as he yelled, "Break!"

When the ball finally stopped five feet past the hole, Nicklaus looked at the gallery and said, "That wasn't good, was it?" At least he tapped in for par, just as he did after missing birdie putts on the 13th, 14th and 16th holes.

Nicklaus was not as fortunate on 17, however. His drive hit a fir tree on the left side of the fairway and landed behind another, shorter tree. He skimmed the branches with a beautiful, low shot that climbed to the front edge of the green, about 35 feet from the pin.

The fans whooped and whistled, and Nicklaus rolled his first putt to within four feet of the cup. But instead of a par, his next putt hit the back edge of the cup and skipped about three feet away, forcing him to settle for bogey.

At 64, Nicklaus feels as if he is playing a totally different course than the one where he had so much success. "Hitting good shots and putting well has not changed," he said, "but the golf course now does not have room off the tee. You must drive the ball straight."

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