The week after his playoff victory at the Tradition three weeks ago, Nicklaus shot 67 in the first round of the Masters, then shanked and three-putted his way out of the running with a second-round 78. "It's very frustrating, particularly when that one tournament was what I really was pointing to this year," Nicklaus said Wednesday. "To get myself ready for it—and I thought I had myself in pretty good shape—then to shoot a good opening round and then do that. Yeah, that's frustrating, very much so, and disappointing, because you know you're not going to have that many more chances to do it, if anymore at all."
On Friday, on the 6th tee at PGA National, Nicklaus was six over and in danger of missing the cut. He played the next 10 holes in nine under with two eagles and five birdies. With a 66, he finished the day four strokes off the lead held by Colbert at six under. Nicklaus's scorecard had 10 3s and a 2, with only 22 putts—his alltime low. "I've had so many periods when I've played well, it's kind of unusual—actually, it's kind of fun—to all of a sudden not know what's going to happen," Nicklaus said. "I'm not sure which Jack Nicklaus is going to show up tomorrow."
The Nicklaus who showed up Saturday was the rock-steady Nicklaus of old. With an up-and-down birdie from a fairway bunker at the par-5 18th, Nicklaus shot 68 to finish at six-under 210, three back of Floyd. Tied for 79th on Thursday night, he had climbed 76 places to third. "A third guy showed up today, not the one who showed up the first two days," Nicklaus said. "If somebody had told me I'd be in the last group the last day after shooting 76 on Thursday, I would have said. 'What have you been smoking?' "
It took until Saturday for Floyd to shake his Masters hangover, but when he did, he shot 67 for a two-stroke lead over Colbert. That set up the final Sunday group of Floyd, Colbert and Nicklaus, with Trevino and Jim Albus, both at five under par, in the next-to-last group. No one made a run at Floyd, who all but put the tournament away with a 34 on the front nine Sunday. Nicklaus bogeyed the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to shoot 74 and finish eighth. "My golf game needs a rest," he said. "You saw that on the back nine. I think I started resting a little early."
The names on the leader board Sunday had made it seem like a major championship. But those tacky corporate flags, the Oldsmobile behind the 17th tee and that giant box of Advil near the 18th tee simply have to go before the PGA Seniors' feels like a major. You would never see those things at a Senior Open.