Others stuck around and looked for ways to get the ball in the hole. Amateur Hunter McDonald, 17 times the club champion at Oakland Hills, put his local knowledge to work and shot a first-round 71. Trevino, a winner by two shots over Nicklaus in last year's Senior Open, at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., gripped the putter between the middle and index fingers of his right hand; this so-called fork grip helped him to a one-stroke lead after three rounds.
Of course, all that was history once Nicklaus and Rodriguez teed it up in the playoff. The man in the Panama hat played well enough to win, shooting a flashy 69, but Nicklaus ran the table. The Bear had three birdies in five holes before thunderstorms interrupted play for almost two hours. Starting up again in a drizzle, Nicklaus bogeyed number 6, but he birdied 7, 8 and 12 to go five under—the lowest red number of the tournament. That put Rodriguez squarely behind the eight ball.
The rest, as pool-hall wizard Steve Mizerak used to say, was "just showin' off." Striking shot after shot with a purity that evoked his glory years, Nicklaus had the gallery enthralled. Birdie putts of five and six feet slid by the holes on numbers 14 and 15, respectively, but word quickly spread that Nicklaus was a shot off the Oakland Hills tournament one-round record of 65, shared by George Archer and T.C. Chen.
"Come on, Jack, shatter that record, baby!" one man shouted on the 16th tee.
He almost did. A near hole in one on the 17th—Nicklaus tapped in for a birdie—put him at six under, and only a final-hole bogey kept Nicklaus from clearing the rack.
"I never think of course records," he said afterward. "I don't have a clue what it even is."
Rodriguez was more awed than disappointed by Nicklaus's feat. "He played the best golf I've seen him play in 15 years," said the erstwhile hustler. "I don't think anybody could have beat him today."
Nicklaus is still the toughest stick around.