Vintage Nicklaus

DARREN FRIESEN -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

WHISTLER, B.C. -- Early in the day, a black bear was chased off the fourth green.

Late in the afternoon, a Golden Bear was welcomed with roaring applause.

This was the scene yesterday at the Nicklaus North Golf Course, as Jack Nicklaus -- the game's greatest champion -- sank an 11-footer for birdie on the par-4 fourth to take the front-nine lead at the Telus Skins Game.

Playing alongside Calgarian Stephen Ames, Vijay Singh and John Daly, Nicklaus won four skins for a total of $60,000 yesterday at one the many courses he's designed.

"I knew that with Stephen, Vijay and John, I was going to have some pretty good competition but I hope they give me some tomorrow," joked Nicklaus.

Ames, who's playing in his first Skins Game, took home the second biggest pot yesterday after he birdied the 362-yard, par-4 seventh hole to take two skins and $35,000.

Money aside, Ames admitted the biggest thrill was his playing partners.

"I was just nervous getting off the first couple of tees," said Ames, who carded the low round of the day with a 32.

"I was competitive out there. It's an honour to play with these two guys but also to play with Mr. Nicklaus himself. If a couple putts go in the hole and I get a couple of skins, it's a bonus for me."

Playing in his fifth Skins Game, John Daly grabbed the only other skin ($15,000) on No. 5, while last year's PGA Tour money winner Vijay Singh was held off the board.

"Jack played well," admitted Singh. "This golf course isn't just for long hitters, it's for everybody. He hit a lot of good shots and I don't think he was out of any hole. That's why it's called golf."

At 65, Nicklaus's game isn't what it used to be. However, after sticking a 5-iron close from almost 200 yards out on the fourth hole, fans were once again treated to the Jack of old.

"They all hit wedges and I hit a 5-iron," said Nicklaus in reference to his approach shot. "I actually hit a really good drive as well but I was about 195 yards out and a little down wind. I obviously hit it nice and solid and left myself with about a 10- or 11-foot putt."

Nicklaus, who said at the start of this season he will make the British Open his final round of competitive golf, said the Skins Game is a good warmup.

"I hadn't been up here for a while and it was a week before the British Open and I wasn't going to play in any competition and wear myself out," he said. "I thought it was just common sense.

"This golf course is a length I can play and that's one of the reasons why I picked St. Andrews to finish on. Although they've lengthened a few of the holes, it won't be too long for me, so I can play it and enjoy it."

Originally opened in the summer of 1995, the Whistler track hosted this event back in 1997. But Nicklaus admits the design no longer holds up to championship pros.

"It shows you exactly what's happened over the last 10 years," he said. "There really isn't any strategy in play. For these guys, there's nothing in play."

And yet somehow, they're all chasing the master.


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