Jack Nicklaus admits his golf game isn't as finely tuned as it used to be, but, like he showed Friday, he can still kick it into gear from time to time.
And although the aging "Golden Bear" is now 51 and spending part of his time on the Senior circuit, he is convinced that he's still capable of showing the youngsters a trick or two.Many of them probably would have become discouraged after a watery quadruple bogey knocked them off the leaderboard in a major championship. But Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of his generation and one of the greatest of all time, has too much pride for that.
His face a study in concentration, the veins standing out on his neck, Nicklaus bounced back in the second round of the Masters from a disheartening 7 at par 3 No. 12 with four straight birdies Friday - and, at 68-72-140 is still very much in contention with 36 holes yet to be played.
The man Nicklaus has to catch was his playing partner Friday, Tom Watson, who leads him by 4 shots.
"I usually have one bad round in the Masters," said Nicklaus, the prestigious tournament's only six-time champion. "Normally, especially considering how the course has been playing so far this week, a 72 isn't that good. But after what happened at 12, I guess it was pretty good."
Nicklaus trailed Watson by only one shot going into 12. He hit his tee shot into Rae's Creek that fronts the 12th green, took a drop and hit another ball into the water.
"I committed the cardinal sin (on the first shot)," Nicklaus said. "I aimed the ball over the bunker. I had the right distance, but hit the bank and dropped in the water.
"After the second time, I said 'now, what have you done?' It just kills you. It destroys the golf tournament.
"When I got to the 13 tee, I said to myself, 'okay dummy. You're only 6 back. Let's go play golf."'
The next four holes were vintage Jack Nicklaus. Two putts from 30 feet at par 5 No. 13, a 2-footer at 14, a birdie putt at 15 after an eagle attempt comes up short, and a 30-footer at 16 that has Nicklaus looking skyward and offering thanks.
Four straight birdies and Nicklaus had recovered all the shots lost at No. 12 and was still in contention for what could be his seventh Masters and 21st major championship.
"Hopefully I'll get to play with Tom again Sunday," said Nicklaus, who has had many a dramatic duel with Watson over the past couple of decades. "He says he hopes so too. He'll be trying to beat me and I'll try to beat him. That's the way it's always been."
Mark McCumber, who was playing in the twosome behind Nicklaus and Watson, says he wasn't surprised by Nicklaus' comeback.
"A quad bogey 7 is like a cold slap in the face," McCumber said. "When it happens, you get mad, you throw caution to the winds. That's what happened to Jack.
"It was a special day at the Masters. Train wrecks and Apollo launches. I'm sure Jack's emotions went all around."
If so, Nicklaus, appearing in his 33rd Masters and 130th-or-so major championship, wasn't about to admit it.
"There was nothing unusual today, just some very good golf played," he said. "I've seen a lot stranger things happen around here."
While Nicklaus avoided the subject Friday, he admitted Thursday that each Masters becomes a bit more special because he doesn't know how much longer he can realistically contend.
"I've got to take advantage of my opportunities when they come along," he said. "You never know how many more you will get."
Being four shots back doesn't bother Nicklaus as much as the fact that Watson is only one of nine golfers ahead of him going into the final round.
"There's always the danger that someone ahead of you will have an outstanding round," he said. "When you've got only one or two to chase, the odds are better."