Nicklaus Bows Out at British Open

Tiger Woods posts a remarkable two-round score at St. Andrews, but the story of the 2005 British Open so far is the departure of golf legend Jack Nicklaus. At 65, Nicklaus shot an even-par 72 Friday, just missing the cut in what he says will be his last major competition. Scott Simon and Ron Rapoport talk sports.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Let's go now to sports. As golf returned to its roots in Scotland this week--all right, I'll drop the crazy accent. The great Jack Nicklaus returned to St. Andrews to play in his final major tournament. He won the British Open there in 1970 and 1978, and over the years has become as much a local favorite as haggis. But Harry Potter must have sucked up all the magic in Britain this weekend. Mr. Nicklaus missed by the cut by two strokes, playing his last hole of competitive golf in the place where the sport was born and his reputation made. Ron Rapoport joins us now from Chicago.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON RAPOPORT reporting:

Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Not a dry eye around, was there?

RAPOPORT: No, no. That was quite a way scene at the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th fairway, Scott. As Nicklaus waved goodbye--first by himself and then gesturing for his playing partners, Tom Watson and Luke Donald, and then their caddies--Scott, the...

SIMON: Caddy was his son.

RAPOPORT: ...caddies were wal--yeah, right, it went on for so long I was afraid they were going to penalize him for slow play there.

SIMON: What...

RAPOPORT: But yet, you know, then he--that birdie putt at 18. What a way to go out, a long birdie putt...

SIMON: Oh, boy. Yeah.

RAPOPORT: ...raising his arms to the sky. It was great stuff.

SIMON: What made him the greatest golfer of all time, particularly for people who haven't seen him win a tournament in a few years?

RAPOPORT: Well, he hit the ball a ton, and all really good golfers putt like crazy. And Jack was just a wonderful putter. But I'll tell you what, Scott. It was really his staying power more than anything, I think. He--I remember covering him when he won the 1980 US Open at Baltusrol in New Jersey, and he was 40 years old. And we were all thinking, `Hey, 40 years old, winning a major tournament. That's pretty good.' Well, six years later we were at Augusta and he did it, you know, and he won the Masters at age 46. I mean...

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: ...imagine winning major tournaments for so long. That's what set him apart.

SIMON: Yeah, and it was funny: We can forget that he was considered kind of a chubby clown when he first began on the tour.

RAPOPORT: Well, and also the challenger that--Arnold Palmer, who may have been the most beloved golfer--certainly among writers and broadcasters and people who were talking about this sport--ever. And so he was considered Palmer's challenger, and people thought there was bad blood between them. They didn't like the idea. So it's interesting to see the emotional response to Nicklaus over the years and now that he's leaving. And it was interesting in the clubhouse afterwards, in the press tent afterwards, Nicklaus turned and said hello and good going to another pretty good young golfer who had just come in off the course, Tiger Woods.

SIMON: Yes, who tees off with a four-shot lead this morning. Why is St. Andrews so congenial to his game?

RAPOPORT: Well, he just--I--you know, he stayed out of the bunkers entirely when he won there a few years ago, which is a pretty good way to win there. He hasn't done quite as well, but, you know, it rewards long, straight play, and he's--I think it--any course would be congenial to the way Tiger's playing now. You know he won the Masters. He lost the US Open only because the putts weren't falling for him pretty well. And he's just playing tremendous, tremendous golf. Here's Colin Montgomerie--came out the course today and he's in second place--and he said, `You know, we're all playing for second. If Tiger continues to play like this there's no point to thinking we can win.'

SIMON: Finally, yesterday, Victor Conte, the founder of BALCO who brought you steroids, reached a plea agreement. He faces up to six months in prison but doesn't have to cooperate with federal prosecutors. Does this mean Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Marion Jones and other people who've been mentioned can breathe easier today? Is that good?

RAPOPORT: Well, this is good news for them because they don't have to testify in open court. They don't have to open themselves up to prosecution by testifying whether they took drugs or not. You know, whether this is really good news for them or not, I suppose it is, although the case of Marion Jones, for instance, the fact the way that she's been running lately has to be of greater concern.

SIMON: Yeah, running presumably without benefit of anything she might have taken before.

RAPOPORT: Well, she's never failed a drug test. But she hasn't been running well at all.

SIMON: OK, thanks very much. Ron Rapoport, who's also a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, our sports man here on WEEKEND EDITION.

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