Archive for Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Generation gap evident in golf

July 31, 2002


— Jack Nicklaus held his own against Tiger Woods for three rounds at the Memorial. It took a prime-time exhibition in the California desert to make him realize how much the game has passed him by.

Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, the 62-year-old partners of Woods and Sergio Garcia, hit drivers on the opening hole and were 15 yards short of where the youngsters hit 3-woods.

Woods and Garcia reached the 568-yard 15th hole with a 7-iron. Nicklaus had to lay up short of the green, while Trevino put everything he had behind a 3-wood to barely roll through the green.

"I used to make the par 5s look short," Nicklaus said. "It's a different game. These guys all make par 5s into par 4s. The course is four shots longer for us."

But Nicklaus had one thing in his favor Monday night in the Battle at Bighorn.

"I had a great partner," he said.

Nicklaus contributed with one memorable shot, knocking down the flag with a 7-iron on the ninth hole for a tap-in birdie, part of a four-hole blitz during which he and Woods seized control and breezed to a 3 and 2 victory.

Still, Woods carried the bulk of the load by making nine birdies in 16 holes and not even getting a chance at two other birdie putts inside 10 feet.

If that wasn't enough, Nicklaus spent most of the evening in awe at the sheer power of Woods and Garcia, just two players on a PGA Tour loaded with power.

It was the first time Nicklaus had played with Woods since the first two rounds of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla. He was impressed then, conceding that Woods was a better player than he ever was, and the feeling didn't disappear over two years.

"Tiger has pretty much said he wants to break my records, and he will before he turns 20," Nicklaus said, drawing a laugh from the 26-year-old Woods.

It was only fitting that this version of the Battle at Bighorn feature a match between two generations of stars.

Most of the focus in golf this year has been on the generation gap.

A tour for former major champions between the ages of 35 and 54 was proposed in late February and left for dead a few months later. The argument was middle-aged players stood little chance of contending regularly against Woods, Garcia, Phil Mickelson & Co.

Nicklaus, Trevino and Arnold Palmer were among those who stirred up trouble last month by complaining that Woods didn't have anyone to seriously challenge him. It was different in their era, they said, because there were a number of players who had won majors and were not afraid of playing the best.

At the end of the match, Trevino was asked what would happen if Woods and Garcia had played at the turn of the 1970s, when Nicklaus was hitting his prime and swapping majors with Trevino.

Would Trevino have won 29 times and six majors?

"It's hard to say," he said. "I had enough trouble with Jack."

Would the benchmark for professional majors be 18, the number Nicklaus won during a 24-year span? Would his PGA Tour victory count have been 73?

"I think they would be champions in our era, and we would be champions in their era," Nicklaus said.

The Memorial is the only PGA Tour event Nicklaus has played this year. He was tied with Woods going into the final round, but Woods closed with a 66, while Nicklaus had a 79.

He made it through two senior tour events before back problems caused him to withdraw from the U.S. Senior Open and the Senior Players Championship. He might make another trip to the Masters next year, but even his participation in his own Memorial looks bleak.

"I know now that I have no business playing on the regular tour," Nicklaus said.

Bighorn was a hit-and-giggle exhibition with plenty of chatter by Trevino from the time he ambled toward the practice range and started working the gallery. Still, it might have been the last time Nicklaus performed before such a large television audience.

He showed his age by twice hitting irons so thin they barely got off the ground.

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