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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Nicklaus feeling good, and in the hunt, again

 •  Quigley outlasts Nelson at Hualalai
 •  Hilo's Veriato opens with sixth-place finish

By Bill Kwon
Special to The Advertiser

KA'UPULEHU, Hawai'i — Look out, the Golden Bear appears to be coming out of hibernation and the Champions Tour can't wait.

Shooting a 6-under-par 66 yesterday, he looked like the Jack Nicklaus of old in delighting the gallery at the MasterCard Championship at the Hualalai Golf Club. He finished tied for 11th with a 54-hole score of 206.

"I feel great. It's nice to be out instead of sitting around the house and doing nothing," said Nicklaus, who last year played in only two official senior tour events and one PGA Tour event, the Memorial Tournament, which he hosts.

"My body is coming back. Better than I thought it would," said Nicklaus, who has had back problems and hip replacement surgery in 1999.

Nicklaus feels so good now about his game, including his showing in the Skins Game last week at Wailea, that he has decided to play in the Ace Group Classic in Naples, Fla., in two weeks,

His 2003 schedule will be determined on a week-to-week basis, Nicklaus said. "Each week I will make up my mind. Each week as they go," said Nicklaus, who'd be a welcome sight at any tour event.

The Masters?

"I think that would be way too far to talk about the Masters," said Nicklaus, owner of six green jackets. Still, you know he has Augusta, scene of some of his greatest triumphs, in the back of his mind, having played in 42 Masters.

And when Nicklaus puts his mind to something, who knows what can happen.

Such was the case yesterday. He had dinner the night before with Gary Player, who had just shot his age (67).

That gave the 63-year-old Nicklaus, who never thought of trying to shoot his age before, the idea to do the same.

"If Gary Player can shoot his age, I can shoot my age," Nicklaus said. "That was my goal when I went out on the golf course today. Let's go see what I can do."

Having that goal helped him in his round yesterday, according to Nicklaus.

"A lot of times when you take a positive attitude, trying to make birdies on every hole because that's what your goal is, all of a sudden, pars come a lot easier and you don't even think about bogeys."

Nicklaus had a very realistic shot at it with putts for eagles at all four par-5 holes. He got one at the 10th to go 5-under. After three straight pars, he left an eagle putt short but got his bird at 14 to go 6-under for the day.

"Then I screwed it up with a bogey at 16," said Nicklaus, who failed to save par from the bunker.

He birdied the signature par-3 17th on the golf course he designed and parred 18 to finish with a score he'd love to shoot three years from now.

"But shooting a 66 is not all that bad," he said.

It was Nicklaus' best round since he posted back-to-back 65s in the 1996 Tradition, and his best finish since tying for fourth in the 2001 U.S. Senior Open.

"Jack showed he can be a threat out here," said Jim Colbert, paired with Nicklaus yesterday. "He was hitting the ball well. But the thing was, he was walking normal, like the Jack before his surgery."

A healthy and more active Nicklaus can provide a marquee name that the newly named Champions Tour could use.

Considered the greatest player in the history of the sport, Nicklaus had never played in more than seven events a year since joining the senior circuit in 1990.

It should be a different story in 2003. Figure on Nicklaus playing in a lot more tournaments, now that he's trying to shoot his age.