A pairing for the books

DUBLIN, Ohio – They played a round of golf for the first time at the 1995 Masters, one of them (Jack Nicklaus) a living legend, the other (Tiger Woods) a heralded phenom.

When they were paired together at the 2000 PGA Championship, their positions in the game had changed. If you don’t think so, ask Nicklaus. He told Woods that year, “This is not a passing of the baton; the baton has long since been passed.”

It was in reference to the fact that Woods that week at Valhalla won his third straight major championship, his fifth overall. Having become an even greater legend, Woods is in a different place in life than Nicklaus, who at 69 probably thought his days of going side-by-side with the game’s best player were over.

That changed when officials at the Memorial Tournament came up with an idea for a skins game in lieu of the usual Wednesday pro-am. Two foursomes were organized, but when Nicklaus saw the pairings, he offered a veto.

“I said, ‘uh-uh,’ “ Nicklaus said. “I said, ‘I haven’t played with him for nine years. I’d like to play with Tiger.’ ”

You think they’re going to over-rule Nicklaus? No way, so it was that Woods, Nicklaus, Stewart Cink, and Kenny Perry were paired together in a goodwill, charitable nine-hole competition at Muirfield Village GC. As they met on the putting green, Nicklaus and Woods shook hands, and smiled at the cold, steady rain.

Two holes later, at the 567-yard, par-5 11th, Nicklaus showed a glimpse of the magic that dominated the PGA Tour for some 25 years. He hit a knock-down 8-iron from 128 yards to 5 feet, made the birdie, and won the skin.

Yeah, it was for charity.

But pride is always at stake.

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