SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Bear is growling again, and although Jack Nicklaus may not be happy with his golf game, he can still beat the best on the Senior PGA Tour.
Nicklaus turned back the challenge of tough Isao Aoki on the third playoff hole yesterday at Desert Mountain to win his third Tradition.
"I was tickled pink," Nicklaus said. "I hadn't won in two years, and this was tough. It just shows that hard work can pay off. I played better today, and winning makes it great. It's a great finish when all three in the final group shoot 67s. I'm very encouraged."
Jim Ferree, who completed the threesome, finished third.
After Nicklaus and Aoki had battled on even terms for the last three of the 72 holes, they did the same on two playoff holes.
But playing No. 18, a 531-yard par-5 for the third time in half an hour, Nicklaus broke the match open when his second shot rolled just through the green. Aoki then fell apart after laying up. His third shot went over the green into the trap, and his next went over the green into another trap, and it was all over. Just to make sure, Nicklaus birdied as Aoki settled for a bogey-6.
The Cochise Course's 18th was the first playoff hole, and by then the wind was blowing hard. They parred and did the same on the par-3 17th.
"I got into the game when I sank the wedge for the eagle, but on the last hole I mis-clubbed on my approach, and that cost me," Aoki said.
Now Nicklaus, still a bit erratic, will head for the Masters, assured that he isn't losing his competitive edge. Although he had three early bogeys to go with eight birdies in the final round, it was still his putting that saved him.
This was the second senior playoff for Nicklaus in a major event. At the 1991 U.S. Senior Open, he beat Chi Chi Rodriguez in a playoff. He has played in 29 events on the 50-and-over circuit and won eight of them. He won the Tradition in 1990 and repeated the next year.
But he came here concerned about his game. He had played poorly in two consecutive tournaments on the PGA Tour and had a ninth place and a tie for fifth on the Senior PGA Tour this year.