Simple goodbye from six-time Masters champ

Updated: April 9, 2005, 3:32 PM ET
Associated Press

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Jack Nicklaus climbed to the top of the ninth green, gave a small wave to the cheering crowd and dipped his head to brush the tears from his eyes.

Jack Nicklaus
Nicklaus most likely played his final competitive round at Augusta National on Saturday.

This was the way the six-time Masters champion wanted to leave. No drawn-out sendoff, just a simple goodbye. After a tap-in for one last par and some smiles for the fans, he was gone. And the 65-year-old says it's for good.

"I don't think I'll venture out on the golf course for a tournament round again," Nicklaus said Saturday after shooting a 4-over 76 and missing the cut. "Unless I can gain 10 mph more club head speed, I'm not coming back.

"I don't think that's going to happen."

Unlike Arnold Palmer, Nicklaus never wanted a ceremonial sendoff at Augusta National. He had planned to make 2004 his last year, preferring not to play if he wasn't competitive. But he was urged to come back one more time by chairman Hootie Johnson a few weeks after the drowning death of his 17-month-old grandson. And after playing several rounds with his sons the last few weeks, Nicklaus agreed.

"If I'm ever going to come back, I've got as good a chance of not embarrassing myself this year," he said. "`Suck it up and get it over with.' That's how I looked at it."

And for awhile, it looked as if Nicklaus might make a grand farewell. When he started his second round on the 11th hole Saturday morning, his mind was on the three birdies he thought he would need to make the cut.

So he set out with son and caddie Jackie planning to stay until Sunday. But he bogeyed three of his first four holes, all but ending his chances.

When he approached the ninth green, he knew there was no tomorrow and his emotions got the best of him.

He looked out at the crowd as if to soak in the memory, then bowed his head to wipe away the tears and compose himself. After all, he still had a putt to make -- and a birdie chance, at that.

Nicklaus missed the 4-footer, and looked at the fans in exasperation. After he tapped in, the crowd stood for one last salute. Playing partner and good friend Jay Haas hugged him and then Nicklaus was gone, disappearing into the crowd as he walked to the scorer's hut to turn in his last Masters scorecard.

"I think," he said, "you say goodbye when you can play a little bit."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press