ST. ANDREWS, Scotland Jack Nicklaus had to go out this way, the ball curling into the cup for a birdie, the putter thrust skyward with his left hand one last time at the birthplace of golf.
Farewell, Golden Bear.
While Tiger Woods threatened to turn another British Open into a rout today, Nicklaus faded into retirement on an stirring, tear-filled day at St. Andrews, making birdie on the final hole of his competitive career.
The last stroke of the ball didn t matter on the scoreboard Nicklaus s even-par 72 left him with a 3-over 147 for the two rounds, not nearly good enough to make the cut.
But it meant everything to the fans who jammed every nook and cranny of the historic 18th hole, straining to get a look at the greatest championship player in the sport s history.
Numerous players came out on the porch of the Royal & Ancient Club, clapping for Nicklaus every step of the way.
He posed atop the famed Swilcan Bridge in the middle of the 18th fairway, blew kisses and waved to an adoring crowd. Then he called up son Steve, his caddie, and playing partners Tom Watson and Luke Donald and their caddies for a group shot.
Then, all alone, Nicklaus walked the rest of the fairway, wiping away the inevitable tears as he approached his ball.
Woods arrived at the 18th a half-hour later, ready to pick up the torch that Nicklaus left behind.
The golfer who grew up wanting to be like Jack and then surpass him yanked his drive over by the first tee and had to settle for par, failing to beat Nicklaus on one hole, at least.
But Woods cruised to a 67 for an 11-under 133 at the midway point of a tournament that is his to lose.
At this rate, Woods is on pace to break his record-setting performance in 2000, when his 19-under total was the lowest score in relation to par in major tournament history and he ran away from the field for an eight-stroke win.
No one in the clubhouse was within five strokes of the lead when Woods finished.
But Woods quest for his second major title of the year and 10th of his career took a backseat until the weekend. This day was for saying goodbye to the 65-year-old Nicklaus,
You have to admire everything, Woods said. No one played the majors as well. No one was so consistent for so long. He s the greatest who s ever lived in our sport.
Nicklaus had hoped to put off his exit until Sunday, arriving at St. Andrews intent on making the cut. But the booming drives, precise irons and clutch putting that led the way to 18 major titles deserted Nicklaus with each passing year.
Nicklaus rolled an approach at No. 2 into one of the Old Course s 112 bunkers, leading to a bogey, and seemed to sense about midway through the back side that his tournament and career were over.
Nicklaus won the first of three British Opens at St. Andrews in 1970, flinging his club into the air in the most stunning display of emotion in his career.
He won again on the Old Course eight years later.
This time, he was back to call it a career.
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