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At 55, Nicklaus Slowing Down

March 30, 1995|DAN HAFNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Traditionally, the Tradition, the first major event each year on the Senior PGA Tour, brings out the biggest names and best players on the tour.

The $1-million, 72-hole tournament begins today on the rugged Cochise Course at Desert Mountain, with Raymond Floyd trying to repeat as champion.

This event, in its seventh year and quickly becoming the most prestigious senior tournament, is played on a course designed by Jack Nicklaus to be a difficult test. Nicklaus, who won here in 1990 in his senior tour debut, will be among Floyd's challengers.

Also in the field are Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Dave Stockton, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Dale Douglass, who lost to Floyd in a playoff last year, and George Archer, who ended a slump by winning at Mesa Verde two weeks ago.

There is speculation that this will be the final Tradition for Nicklaus, who also won in 1991. The acknowledged greatest golfer in history, disappointed in his play last year, seems to be losing his competitive edge.

When Nicklaus turned 50 in January of 1990, he could still compete on the PGA Tour. His goal was to win an event on each tour in the same year. He failed, and in 1992 Floyd became the only one to accomplish the feat.

Back problems and other ailments apparently have taken their toll. Nicklaus' drives are 30 yards short of what they were three years ago.

"I said before the season began, that this will be the year I start playing well again or quit playing competitive golf," Nicklaus said. "Last year was no fun at all."

Nicklaus has not won a tournament on the regular tour since the 1986 Masters. Last year, he earned only $11,000 and missed the cut regularly.

"To make the cut, to be in contention, to have a chance to win--that's why I play golf," Nicklaus said.

After a tie for sixth at Pebble Beach to start this season, Nicklaus has performed poorly in three PGA Tour events. He missed the cut at Doral. Then, after shooting a 79 in the first round at Bay Hill, he started poorly on Friday and withdrew. Last week in the Players Championship he shot 76-79, missing the cut by six shots.

He no longer even dominates the seniors. In 1991, at 51, he won three of the four senior majors--the Tradition, PGA and U.S. Senior Open. But he has won only two tournaments in the last four years: the 1993 Open and the 1994 Mercedes Championships. After winning the first event of 1994, he played in five other senior tournaments, and a tie for fourth place here was his best finish.

This year, he finished ninth in the Tournament of Champions in January and tied for fifth at Tampa last month. In all, he has seven victories in 28 senior events.

His success as a designer and builder of golf courses is among the reasons Nicklaus, 55, appears to be losing his desire to compete.

"I think that when I play competitive golf, I have to make the world revolve around me," Nicklaus said. "If you want to be the best at something, you have to make it revolve around what you're doing. I seem to be having trouble doing that."

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