Nicklaus the competitor returns, for one day at least

June 03, 2009

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Jack Nicklaus trudged into the locker room at his own Muirfield Village GC late Wednesday afternoon feeling cold and drenched, but there seemed to be a bounce in his stride even after playing nine holes in a chilling rain and then talking about it for 30 minutes.

Nicklaus had just wrapped up interviews after the Memorial Skins Game, a 9-hole exhibition preceding his own Memorial Tournament that pitted the 69-year-old Golden Bear against Tiger Woods, Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink. Nicklaus long ago stopped competing, and he plays golf about once a month, at most. He and Woods had not competed against each other since the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, Nicklaus' last in the event he has won five times as part of his collection of 18 majors.

It was a miserable day, weather-wise, but Columbus fans were out in force to see the pairing of Nicklaus and Woods, arguably the two greatest players in the game. "Everyone sticking it out for the whole day," that was neat," said Woods, who got a kick out of seeing the "old Jack" come out during the Skins Game. "He's a competitor. You could see it on certain holes, certain shots. It was neat to see."

Nicklaus tried to downplay his performance, which netted him the first two skins with a 2-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole at Muirfield Village. "I didn't really have a lot of business out there," he shrugged. "I can't hit it out of my shadow. Cold, wet, rainy ... I hit driver, 3-wood at the first hole (No. 10) and I still have 70 yards to the green."

He says all this, but there is a wide grin on his face. You could see that weather aside, he enjoyed the competition, enjoyed playing with Woods, and certainly had to enjoy showing off a bit of his talents, rusty though he may be.

He stopped briefly to talk to Perry, who was sitting on a couch talking to a reporter. "I was impressed," Perry told him. "Sixty-nine years old ... that was a show. I hope I'm still alive when I'm 69. That was amazing. He's unbelievable."

He also hasn't lost his competitive zeal. Reminded that he won the first two skins, Nicklaus smiled and nodded. "And I probably should have won a few more, too." He laughed again as he said it, but you know he was partly serious, too. That "old Jack," never forgets how to compete.

-- Dave Shedloski