Originally created 02/26/03

The Bear will pair with sons



CARLSBAD, Calif. - Jack Nicklaus hasn't decided yet if he'll compete in the Masters Tournament, but the Nationwide Tour will bring a full-scale Nicklaus invasion to South Carolina three weeks later.

Nicklaus and all four of his sons - Jack Jr., Steve, Gary and Michael - have agreed to compete in the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs in Greenville, S.C., the week of April 28-May 4. The Nationwide Tour event will mark the first time that Nicklaus, a six-time winner at Augusta National, has ever played with all four of his sons in the same tournament.

"Two of my loves are competitive golf and having the chance to play golf with my sons," Nicklaus said. "To be able to combine the two is truly special for me. Our family looks forward to getting to Greenville, and we appreciate all those involved with the (tournament) for inviting us."

Nicklaus is getting excited about his competitive golf for the first time in several years. His back problems were so bad in December when he played in a father-son event in the Bahamas that he fretted about his future playing potential.

In three Champions Tour events this season, Nicklaus is gaining confidence in his health and the state of his game. After shooting a final-round 69 on Sunday and finishing 15th at the Verizon Classic in Tampa, Fla., he was described as "almost giddy."

His chances of playing at the Masters were boosted Tuesday when he signed up to play in next week's Ford Championship at Doral. Nicklaus has said he would have to play in at least one PGA Tour event before playing at Augusta.

"I'm back playing golf again," he said Tuesday.

The week before, Nicklaus was skeptical of his chances to play at Augusta.

"I don't know at this point," he said. "The Masters is probably just too difficult for me anymore....If I can play golf, I'll play. If I can't play golf, I'm not going to play."

Nicklaus didn't play in the 2002 Masters, citing health problems that kept him from being able to hit the ball long enough to compete in the lengthened Augusta National course. He says the equipment changes in the last year have boosted his ability to compete.

"With the golf balls this year and the equipment changes, I'll be back to where I originally was," he said, meaning within mid-iron range of Augusta National's greens. "Last year with the equipment we had, I couldn't play Augusta. With the new ball I'm playing this year, I'm not sure I couldn't play. The ball has gotten that much better."

Nicklaus said he will probably make a final decision about the Masters the week or two before the tournament begins April 9.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.