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Nicklaus talks of quiting tournament golf

Jack Nicklaus' days as a competitive golfer may soon be coming to an end.

Saying he doesn't want to be a ceremonial golfer, Nicklaus said today he would stop playing in professional tournaments unless his game improved.

This is not the first time the 61-year-old Nicklaus has talked about walking away from the game he dominated in his prime, but his comments on the eve of the Senior PGA Championship were a frank admission that he is not playing up to his own standards.

''I'm probably about done playing tournament golf myself,'' said Nicklaus, who hasn't won an individual event on tour since 1996. ''I'll play a little bit more, but not much, only because I'm not competitive.

''I don't think I can play and be out there,'' he said after a practice round at the Ridgewood Country Club. ''I've tried being a ceremonial golfer before, and it just drives me crazy. Frankly, if I can't compete and be halfway competitive, then I really don't think I have a desire to be out there.''

Arguably the greatest golfer of all time, Nicklaus has played in seven events on the PGA tours this year. He missed the cut in all three PGA events, including the Masters. He's played better in four Senior PGA Tour events, finishing fourth once and in the top 20 the other times.

But that's not the kind of game Nicklaus expects after a career that includes wins in 18 professional majors, the most by any golfer.

Nicklaus joked about seeing himself hitting a ceremonial first ball at the Masters sometime down the road.

''I may have played my last Masters this year,'' said Nicklaus, who doesn't plan to play this year in the other three majors, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.

''I may play again next year,'' he added. ''I don't know. I'm certainly not going to play very much more.''

For the first time in years, at least since hip surgery more than two years ago, Nicklaus said he is starting to feel that he can swing at the ball.

However, the problem is he made adjustments to his swing because of the hip so he is relearning the game of golf.

''I've worked probably harder this year than I have any year in a long time because I was able to,'' Nicklaus said. ''I haven't had good results. Does that mean I am going to stop trying? No. I'm not going to stop trying. I love to play the game of golf. I enjoy playing golf and I love to play competitive golf.

''But competitive golf is not shooting 72, '3, '4, '5 kind of stuff,'' Nicklaus added. ''That's just not acceptable when you get to a tournament anymore.''

When it was mentioned that Arnold Palmer still plays at least partly because of the fans and his interaction with them, Nicklaus made it a point of saying that he and Palmer are different.

''Arnold, he likes that,'' Nicklaus said. ''I don't think I could do that.''

While his driving is fine, Nicklaus said his putting and ability to hit greens have declined.

It's not the type of game that carried him to 70 PGA Tour wins and 10 more on the Senior PGA Tour.

Nicklaus didn't seem to make much of his chances in the Senior PGA, which is being played outside Florida for the first time since 1940.

A field of 144 golfers will tee off Thursday on the traditional tree-lined course that was the site of the 1990 U.S. Senior Open.

Doug Tewell is the defending champion, heading a field that includes Bruce Fleisher, Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, Allen Doyle, Palmer and Gary Player.

Nicklaus smiled when asked whether he would know what to do if he got himself into position to win again.

''I think I might play golf,'' he said.

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