June 2, 2009

Sight To Behold

Playing together for what could be the final time, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus shared center stage at Muirfield Village

The wet weather did little to dampen spirits Wednesday at Muirfield Village.

The wet weather did little to dampen spirits Wednesday at Muirfield Village.

DUBLIN, Ohio -- The sky was slate gray, a cool breeze blew across Muirfield Village Golf Club and a light rain started to fall, but Jack Nicklaus was all bright and sunny Wednesday. He had his reason and it was not because he's lost 35 pounds on a fitness diet, not because his Memorial Tournament begins Thursday and not because Tiger Woods is entered.

Nicklaus was happy because he was going to play alongside Woods at Muirfield Village in a pre-tournament, charity skins game, the first time they've played together since the first two rounds of the 2000 PGA Championship.

Nicklaus seemed absolutely giddy about the chance to take on Woods.

"I told him I'd give him a couple of extra shots if he needed it," Nicklaus said. "I'll throw my 98 mile-an-hour club head speed at him."

Anyone looking for a chance to see some golf history didn't have to go too far to find it. The combination of Nicklaus and Woods, perhaps the two greatest golfers ever, is just one of those moments that don't come along too often. And who knows when it'll come along again?

After all, Nicklaus turns 70 in seven months. He hardly plays any golf anymore, not nearly as much as his contemporary, Arnold Palmer, who turns 80 in September and plays just about every day.

Nicklaus said he speaks with Palmer regularly, and their conversations usually revolves around one shared feeling.

"I think we'd both like to get a little younger," Nicklaus said.

As for Woods, he should just about be ready to enter the prime of his career. He turns 34 in December, but that's not the number Woods has on his mind. It's 14, as in how many majors he's won; and 18, how many majors Nicklaus has won.

Woods said playing with Nicklaus, especially if it's maybe the last time, is something to be treasured.

"No doubt ... any time you can play with Jack, obviously, we all know he doesn't play much anymore. For him to get out there and play in front of people, it's ... good."

The skins game started on the 10th tee and Woods was already there when Nicklaus arrived. Woods wore black, foul weather gear, but Nicklaus didn't seem to care much about the rain in his blue wool sweater. They posed for groups of photographers at the tee, and then chuckled, ready to play against Stewart Cink and Kenny Perry.

Camilo Villegas, Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh, the other four players in their own skins game, were a hole ahead. All the players wore microphones, so it was easy to hear Nicklaus after he hit his first tee shot.

"One-eight-0," said Nicklaus, estimating the length of his drive.

A little earlier, Woods recalled the first time he had played with Nicklaus. It was as an amateur, in a practice round at the 1995 Masters that also included Palmer.

"It was pretty cool," Woods said.

He also remembered his 36-hole experience at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club nine years ago. Nicklaus birdied the last hole, just as Woods did.

"I haven't heard a roar that loud in a long time," Woods said. "It was pretty special to see Jack kind of revert back to the old Jack of days past."

Nicklaus even won the first two skins with a birdie at the 11th, and then slapped Woods' hand.

Nicklaus shrugged in self-deprecation.

"Blind squirrels," he said.

Woods and Nicklaus shared an umbrella a few times. They talked about the golf course, the weather, clubs they were hitting and about being fathers. Woods won two skins and it was his turn to slap Nicklaus' hand.

"Thanks, Jack," Woods said.

And so it went, the temperature dropping, the rain falling harder. Not that anything like a little inclement weather meant much to the thousands who followed golf royalty together again. And maybe never again.

Since no one in the group won the 18th hole, the afternoon didn't end until Woods holed a chip from behind the green to win a chip-off and the rest of the skins. He smiled and touched the bill of his cap to recognize the cheers.

Even Nicklaus had to smile at Woods. They shook hands. On this day, it was a nice touch.