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Nicklaus' pressure putting seals Senior Open win First victory in two years ends torment


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Jack Nicklaus began the week at a "crossroads" in high altitude. At 53, he hadn't won in two years. He was depressed about his game, even embarrassed. His left shoulder was hurting. He talked of taking the rest of the year off, which translates to "Golden Bear In Hibernation" in a British tabloid headline.

But all that changed yesterday.

In winning the 14th U.S. Senior Open -- his second -- by one stroke over Tom Weiskopf, his longtime rival, friend and fellow Ohio State alumnus, Nicklaus regained more than a victor's touch. His swing and enthusiasm have returned. And now that he feels he's not quite ready to be stuffed in mothballs, golf figures to see more of him, starting with this week's British Open.

"This means so much to finally get some fruit from all the hard work," Nicklaus said after shooting a 70 for a 6-under-par 278 at Cherry Hills Country Club. "This gives me the confidence I can still play and makes me want to play more."

Nicklaus had talked of skipping the British Open, which would have ended his record streak of 134 consecutive appearances in major championships, but he decided to go Saturday night after taking a one-stroke lead that day in the Senior Open.

After yesterday's victory, he was excited about going abroad. "If I play anywhere like the way I played this week, I'll be competitive and I'll have a chance," he said.

Nicklaus broke a tie with Weiskopf when he made a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 16 after missing birdie putts inside of 15 feet on the two previous holes. The putt that curled in on 16 put him at 6-under. Weiskopf had been 6-under until he bogeyed the 15th, where he three-putted from the fringe, running the first putt 12 feet by the cup.

"I was moving my head on putts, and I told Jackie [son and caddie] that if I moved my head again to hit me over the head," Nicklaus said. "I didn't lift my head on 16 until the ball was 6 feet from the hole."

Ahead by one shot, Nicklaus played smart and safe on the 540-yard 17th, choosing to reach the green in three shots instead of trying to clear the water in two. After that par, he parred the 18th on two putts from 35 feet, the second from 2 1/2 . That capped a week in which he had no three-putts.

After holing out under loud thunder and a lightning watch, Nicklaus was misty-eyed when he hugged his son. There was a reason.

"I embarrassed myself at the U.S. Open, at Muirfield [Memorial] and in the Senior TPC," Nicklaus said. "I had been thinking about not playing. Why go out there doing this when you're playing this poorly? Let a young kid play and enjoy my spot.

"I've won enough. I'd miss it, but I don't want to torment myself. But that didn't keep me from working hard to make sure it didn't happen."

And now?

"Now I'm stuck for a few years," he said.

Even his shoulder felt good. All week. "Amazing," he said. "I haven't been able to lift it for six months. I thought I might have a torn rotator cuff. I guess that tells how bad I've been swinging."

His victory, worth $135,330, exempts him into the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont (Pa.), where as a rookie he won the first of his 18 professional majors by beating Western Pennsylvania favorite Arnold Palmer in a 1962 U.S. Open playoff.

Nicklaus spent yesterday either a shot ahead, tied for first with Weiskopf and-or Dale Douglass or one shot behind Weiskopf. Weiskopf shot 67 for 279. Douglass, who made three bogeys on the back nine, had 72 for 281, tied for fourth with Chi Chi Rodriguez (69). Texan Kermit Zarley birdied No. 17 and slipped into third place at 280.

Weiskopf charged to the top by birdieing four of the first five holes and five of the first eight. In finally snapping out of a putting slump that plagued him for three days, Weiskopf posted a Senior Open record-tying 30 for nine holes.

"I can't play any better," said Weiskopf, who has spent much of his life in Nicklaus' shadow, including as Masters runner-up to him in 1972 and '75. "The guy is one stroke better than I am all the time.

"He's the greatest of all time. There will never be another Jack Nicklaus. Never."

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