Now Nicklaus bids farewell

On Friday, Jack Nicklaus watched Arnold Palmer reach the end of his 35-year association with the Open Championship, and yesterday indicated he was coming to the end of his own Open career when he said he is unlikely to return for next year's tournament at Royal Lytham.

"I think I've played my last regular Open," the 55-year-old Nicklaus said. "When I say regular I mean in a row. I've played here every year since 1962, the USPGA since 1962, the Masters since 1959 and the US Open since 1957. It's a lot.

"My plans are not to come back next year. That doesn't mean to say I won't. I'm planning on coming back here to St Andrews in 2000."

The third member of the great triumvirate of the 1960s, Gary Player, has no intentions of bowing out just yet. But he did say that the 2000 Open at St Andrews could be the last tournament he ever plays.

The 59-year-old South African, whose first Open was in 1955, said after finishing his 41st Open on seven over par: "I plan to make my last tournament the Open here. Bob Charles and I have agreed on that."

It was Nicklaus's recent Open record that has persuaded him it may be time to take stock - he has missed the cut in each of his previous three visits to the Open. "Right up to 1980 it was pretty good, since then it's been pretty dismal," he said.

Even a closing round of one-under-par 71 with a birdie at the last failed to persuade the three-times Open champion to change his mind. He confessed he was having increasing difficulty dealing with the colder weather and wind in Britain, but still has warm memories of his Open triumphs in 1966, 1970 and 1978.

"I was very proud of the win at Muirfield in 1966 when everyone said, 'Jack won't have a chance here'. In 1970 I thought the Championship was lost until I happened to glance up and saw Doug Sanders miss his putt on the 18th. And in 1978 I'll never forget the reception I had coming up the 18th."

His record of 18 major titles, two US amateur championships and 70 PGA Tour victories ranks as exceptional in any era and memories of his competitiveness will survive any decline in his scoring average.

"He couldn't hit the ball as well as some others, but my goodness that man had a mind supreme," Player said.

Player set a record on Friday by becoming the oldest man ever to make the cut in the Championship. "That was important to me," he said. "It's a sign of longevity, something we are all searching for."