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Jack Nicklaus returns to action

Jack is back -- for the 27th year in a row.

Jack Nicklaus made it official Wednesday that he would tee it up in Thursday's first round of the Memorial, continuing his streak of playing each year in the tournament he founded.

``I'm not going to be great,'' said Nicklaus, bothered by a variety of aches and pains, mostly in his lower back. ``Hopefully I'll be decent. I have no expectations.''

The 62-year-old Nicklaus arrived in Ohio on Friday and hinted that unless he felt better and played better, he wouldn't take up a spot in the field. He was still undecided on playing even before his final tuneup at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

``I just didn't know how I'd feel today,'' he said after playing nine holes with son Gary, who also is in the field. ``I felt better every day. I don't know what my golf game will be. I hit a lot of decent shots today.''

Nicklaus has won the Memorial twice, but has finished in the top 10 only once in the last 15 tries. The Golden Bear does not envision tracking down Tiger Woods on Sunday.

``I don't think that is my game,'' he said, stifling a smile.

WEATHER MEN

For a change, sunburn might be more of a problem than mud at the Memorial Tournament.

In the tournament's 26 years, 25 of the 104 rounds have been delayed, interrupted or canceled because of weather. Heavy rains, lightning and monsoon conditions have shook the Muirfield Village Golf Club in four of the last five years.

Even though Ohio has suffered through a particularly wet and chilly spring, no rain fell on the course in the three days leading up to Thursday's opening round. No precipitation was predicted to hit until after the second round, with intermittent storms expected over the weekend.

Three-time defending champion Tiger Woods said the dry conditions will be a new experience for many in the field.

``When it was fast, the fairways narrow up quite a bit and a lot of these flags that you can generally get at, you just don't fire at because there's just too much danger,'' Woods said. ``Generally, you fire at most of the flags if it's soft.''

Course designer Jack Nicklaus said the lack of rain should favor the better players.

``Any time conditions are easy, more people have got a chance to win,'' he said. ``They're not scared of it.''

STILL COOKING

John Cook grew up in Ohio, played at Ohio State and has always been considered a favorite son whenever he plays in the Memorial Tournament.

Cook used to live on the course at Muirfield Village Golf Club, so it's always special when he returns for the Memorial.

He is back for the 22nd time and is hopeful of having a good showing in front of friends and family.

``I'm playing OK. I had a good couple of rounds a couple of weeks ago in New Orleans and I only had one bad score at Colonial,'' said Cook, 28th on the money list in his 23rd year on tour.

Despite his familiarity with the course, Cook has finished in the top 10 only three times -- finishing third in 1994 -- matching the number of times he's missed the cut.

DIVOTS

Tiger Woods tees off just after noon in the opening round and is paired with Shigeki Maruyama and Carlos Franco. ... Ernie Els spent last week boating, snorkeling and swimming on vacation in the Bahamas. Asked for a highlight, he said, ``The whole week was a highlight.'' ... The Memorial Tournament honorees this year are four-time British Open winner Bobby Loke and LPGA Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth. ... Roger Maltbie, who won the inaugural Memorial in 1976, also is set to make his 27th consecutive appearance in the tournament. ... Ben Crane withdrew from the Memorial on Tuesday but had a good excuse. He got married Saturday.


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