Originally created 12/22/99

Nicklaus ready for tournament golf



NORTH PALM BEACH, Fla. -- As a boy, Jack Nicklaus used to wonder whether he would live to see the 21st century. Now he wants to find out if he still can play well enough to win another major.

It won't be from lack of effort.

In addition to the four majors on the PGA Tour and Senior Tour, Nicklaus said Tuesday he plans to devote himself to tournament golf more than he has in the past 15 years.

"I don't know how successful I'm going to be, but you never know unless you try," he said from the patio of his south Florida home, where he spoke for about two hours. "I'd like to give it a try for a season and see what I've got. I think I may fool some people. I think I may even fool myself."

Nicklaus is one month from turning 60, but he had the enthusiasm of a man 20 years younger as he looked toward the 2000 season. Part of his incentive to play more comes from his 30-year-old son Gary, who earned his card in qualifying school last month.

Part of it comes from the competitive juices that have flowed freely in a man regarded as the greatest player.

"It's a lot better to work for something than to wait for your life to end," Nicklaus said.

Nearly a year removed from hip replacement surgery, he thinks his health no longer is an issue.

Nicklaus estimates he will play 20 events on both tours this year, starting with the MasterCard Championship and Senior Skins game in Hawaii next month, followed by the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am the first week of February.

"At the end of the three weeks, I ought to have a good idea what kind of a golf game I've got started for the year, and where I can go with it," he said.

He has played four events over the past two months and won three of them -- the Three-Tour Challenge, the Father-Son Challenge with Gary, and the Diner's Club matches last week while paired with Tom Watson.

The competition will be a little stiffer next year.

On the Senior Tour, he will have to confront the likes of Watson, Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins, the latest rookies on the 50-and-over circuit. At tournaments like Pebble Beach, the Masters and possibly the Nissan Open in Los Angeles, he'll be up against Tiger Woods and David Duval.

"I'm not going to have a grandiose belief that I'm going to whip Tiger Woods and David Duval," Nicklaus said. "I would say the odds are relatively slim that I win again. But you never know. I had a chance on one leg to win the Masters. I'd like to go back on two legs and see what happens."

With a bad left hip at Augusta National in 1998, Nicklaus made yet another Sunday charge that got him into contention. He finished with a 68 and tied for sixth, making him the oldest player to ever finish in the top 10 in the Masters.

Nicklaus has planned all along to play the four majors in 2000, particularly because of their venues. He won the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the 1970 British Open at St. Andrews, while the PGA Championship is on a course he designed (Valhalla).

He received a special exemption to play the U.S. Open next year, and while he is exempt to the British Open until he turns 65, Nicklaus said 2000 may be the last year he plays the two Opens.

Unless ...

"Maybe," he said with a wink, "I'll have to go back to defend."