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Golf: Nicklaus Bids Farewell at British Open


He has won 18 major tournaments and is the standard by which professional golfers measure themselves. Jack Nicklaus tees off in this week's British Open for what he has said will be the last major tournament of his career. It is the final major event for the man known as "The Golden Bear."

His first major tournament victory as a professional was 43 years ago. That was when a portly, crew cut Jack Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff to take the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Since then, Nicklaus has won 17 major titles, and finished second in 19 majors.

He has won 73 times on the PGA Tour and 10 times on the Champions Tour for players over 50. Nicklaus played on the U.S. Ryder Cup team six times and was the team Captain twice. He also captained the U.S. President's Cup team twice and holds that honor again this year.

Nicklaus was named PGA Player of the Year eight times and was also the leading money winner eight times. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

During his career, Jack Nicklaus won three British Opens, two of them at the Old Course at Saint Andrews, the host of this week's tournament. His last victory there was in 1978, but Nicklaus says no one should assume that this week is just a ceremonial tournament for him.

"I don't understand sometimes what goes on around in my head," said Mr. Nicklaus. "But my head says 'hey I can play this golf course and I am going to go play it.' And that to me is not ceremonial."

Mr. Nicklaus, 65, last played at St. Andrews in 2000, the year that Tiger Woods blistered the Old Course with a 19-under-par 269, the lowest score to par in a major championship. At that tournament, Nicklaus thought he had walked over the famous Swilcan Bridge for the last time as a competitor.

But the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews decided to play this year's Open at the Scottish course, and Nicklaus said he would give it one more try.

"We will find out whether that competitor can play through to Sunday, you know, and try to do the best he can," he added. "And once the competition is over for me at that point in time it will become something a little different. It will become looking at my last tournament."

Nicklaus last won a major tournament in 1986, when he captured the Masters for the final time in his career. But a hip injury hampered his game and eventually the ailing joint was replaced.

World number one Tiger Woods has said that he wants to break Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles and is halfway there with nine major wins. But Woods says he knows no one will ever replace Nicklaus.

"That desire and that focus to win championships, that's how he got there," said Mr. Woods. "And that's never going to leave you. Even if his body is not what it used to be, but his mind is. It's what has gotten him to the point where he has won more major championships than anyone else, and has won a bunch of tournaments, and been the greatest champion that has ever lived."

Even the Royal Bank of Scotland is paying tribute to Nicklaus, issuing two million, five-pound notes bearing his image from the 1978 Open. The golfer says that he is deeply honored by the gesture.

"I am very flattered that in any way shape or form that RBS [Royal Bank of Scotland] would think of me and to honor me in this way. And not only to do it that way but to do it on currency and do it on something that is so special," said Mr. Nicklaus.

Nicklaus is the only living person ever to appear on the Scottish note other than Queen Elizabeth and the late Queen Mother.

The man dubbed "the Golden Bear" because of his blonde hair and burly physique will tee off Thursday with another former Open champion, Tom Watson, and with rising English Star Luke Donald.

An emotional farewell is expected, and Nicklaus is not expected to make the weekend. But when asked how he would like to end this week, he made the motion of holding the Claret Jug one more time, smiled, and said "just like that."

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