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BRITISH OPEN : A Farewell to Arnie in Britain : Golf: No one wants to miss the moment when Palmer plays his final round at St. Andrews, 35 years after his first one.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

They were looking out the second-floor windows of the St. Andrews Woolen Mill and the Tom Morris Golf Shop and the Links House. They were standing on the balconies and hanging over the polished brass railings of Rusacks Hotel, where he had stayed in 1960, the first time he was here.

Every window in every gray stone building was filled by people watching Arnold Palmer walk up the 18th fairway for the last time at the British Open.

They were lined eight deep along the 18th fairway and they filled the grandstands on the side of the green, waiting to see a 65-year-old legend play his last shot on the last hole of his 23rd and last British Open.

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Palmer removed his visor and waved, acknowledging loud applause. On his way over the ancient stone bridge that crosses the famous Swilcan Burn, he stopped and posed for pictures.

Palmer did not walk quickly, as he had done 35 years ago.

“As I was coming up 18, I kept thinking about 1960 and what it led to,” Palmer said later, his voice cracking with emotion. “A lot of great years and a lot of happy times.”

Palmer played his first British Open here in 1960. He had already won the Masters and the U.S. Open. But he still had to qualify for the British Open.

“I tell the young players that and they don’t believe it,” he said. “They don’t think Arnold Palmer had to qualify for any tournament.”

Palmer finished second to Kel Nagle here in 1960, then, after having won at Royal Birkdale in 1961 and Troon in ‘62, came back to St. Andrews in 1970, ‘78, ’84 and ’90.

The sun broke through the clouds and shone brightly Friday as Palmer hit his second shot to the back of the 18th green. He struck a bold putt that rolled three feet past the hole.

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Ian Baker-Finch and Peter Baker, the two other players in Palmer’s group, finished first so Palmer could be the last to hole out. He leaned over his putt, hunched over in his usual pigeon-toed fashion, then gently nudged the ball into the hole.

Palmer smiled, shook hands with Mark McCormack of International Management Group, Michael Bonallack of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, waved to the crowd once more and was gone.

“It’s over,” Palmer said.

He signed a scorecard that read 75, which was a lot better than his first-round 83, but not nearly good enough to make the cut.

“I felt I might play a little better than I did this week, but the first two holes Thursday just destroyed me,” he said.

Palmer was three over par after two holes Thursday, including a double bogey on the second when he four-putted from the fringe.

“That took a lot of the edge away and made it difficult to focus on what I should have been,” he said. “I was thinking of things that had nothing to do with my golf and you cannot do that.”

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Palmer’s golf game won’t be seen around these parts again. Maybe that’s why Nick Faldo and a group of other players--Brad Faxon, Steve Elkington and David Duval--sat on the stone steps of the clubhouse and watched Palmer finish. Duval had a camera and took pictures.

Next year, Palmer said, he plans to be among the spectators.

“Since I played like one this week, I might as well act like one,” he joked.

With his British Open farewell tucked safely in his bag, where it rests beside his U.S. Open goodby performance from last year at Oakmont and the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, Palmer is down to one major--the Masters.

“I’m not going to draw any lines on the Masters,” Palmer said. “The chairman [Jack Stephens] told me he wanted me to play until I’m 100. I told him if I made 100, I’d play.”

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