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Nicklaus Using No Lame Excuses

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For three holes Friday, Jack Nicklaus was wondering why he was at Riviera Country Club.

The rough was high as an elephant’s eye, and he was camped there on No. 1 . . . and on No. 2 . . . and No. 3, hacking away.

And that was the best part.

“When I started out this morning, I didn’t think I could walk the first two of three holes,” he said.

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His left hip, which he should will to medical science, was doing its best imitation of castanets: bone on bone, the joint largely uncushioned by cartilage.

A wince when he climbed from the bunker on the second hole, with arthritis sufferers in what passed for a throng Friday wincing along with him.

Then a wince when he missed a putt for a par.

A birdie out of the rough, a bogey from rough to bunker to missed putt and then finally a par.

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And maybe a miracle.

“Whoosh, it went away,” he said of the pain that has dogged him for months, maybe years. “The last 12, 13 holes didn’t hurt at all.”

Maybe, but if that’s the case, the Walter Brennan imitation he did in shooting a one-over-par 72 in the second round of the U.S. Senior Open has become a habit.

So has self-diagnosis.

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“I must have, you know, a piece of cartilage that is moving around in there that’s gotten caught,” he said. “So it’s now in a place that’s very benign. Let’s keep it there.”

So he can worry about putting.

“I’ve putted atrociously both days,” he said.

Never worse than on No. 9 on Friday, when his 18-inch putt for par circled the hole and came back at him. And on No. 10, when his two-foot birdie effort sailed past the hole.

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Then again, his play off the tee hasn’t exactly been scintillating.

“I’ve been in the rough too much, and you can’t be in the rough around here,” he said.

And . . .

“My iron game was terrible too,” Nicklaus said, laughing. “I chipped poorly.”

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On the other hand, “my sand game was great.”

It had plenty of work, because he spent as much time on the beach Friday as a Santa Monica tourist. Nicklaus sprayed the ball all over Riviera, which is the reason he is at 146, four over par, after 36 holes.

That everybody else is spraying on a golf course that requires play on the straight and narrow is why he is still in contention, six shots behind Raymond Floyd.

“Basically, if I had been playing halfway decent . . . " he began. “I have played Riviera enough to know that Riviera, when you play well, you can shoot a good score. And when Hale [Irwin] came back from a bad round and shot a good score [a 68] today . . .”

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The mind begins to take in the possibilities. What could have been collides with what was.

“I had opportunities all day long to do things and didn’t do much,” Nicklaus said. “I played well enough to shoot 72. And you know, 72 is not going to win U.S. Opens.”

It’s going to contend, though, and the thanks you just heard came from the folks at Riviera who want to put on a good show for the USGA and need a drawing card for the last two rounds. Arnold Palmer making the cut and Nicklaus in contention is box office, if there is box office in Pacific Palisades this weekend.


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