AP golf writer
Jack Nicklaus always keeps everyone guessing about when the next round of golf will be his last.
Some thought it might have happened last year at the Memorial. Nicklaus showed more emotion than usual when he made a tricky putt on the 18th hole of the final round to shoot a 1-under 71.
''If that was my last round, I was very pleased with shooting under par the last round I played in a tournament,'' Nicklaus said that day. ''And if I play again, then that doesn't mean anything.''
He played again at this year's Masters.
Nicklaus shot 77 in the second round, missing a 4-foot birdie putt on his last hole and missing the cut by a mile. Wiping tears from his eyes as he walked off the ninth green, he said after signing his card that he was done competing at Augusta National.
''I have the ability to come back,'' Nicklaus said. ''Billy Casper came back after how many years? He just wanted to come back, and he wanted to play one more round. I don't think I'll do that. But I have the right to do that.''
This summer, he has no choice.
Nicklaus will play the British Open for the last time because former champions are no longer exempt beyond 65.
The Golden Bear, golf's greatest champion, thought he had said goodbye in 2000 at St. Andrews when he waved to an adoring gallery from the stone bridge over the Swilken Burn as he walked up the 18th fairway. Everyone thought they were part of a historic moment.
''I'll go home and tell everybody how I saw Jack Nicklaus go over the Swilken Bridge for the last time dressed in his yellow shirt on a sunny day,'' said one fan, Carol Anne Doig of Canada. ''It doesn't get any better than that.''
Jack is back.
The Royal & Ancient Golf Club simply made Nicklaus an offer he couldn't refuse. St. Andrews is his favorite links course on earth, and the R&A rearranged the rotation to make sure that when Nicklaus turned 65, the British Open would be held on the Old Course.
Once again, Nicklaus will pause atop the Swilken Bridge, preferably on a Sunday, and take one last look at the Old Course where he won two claret jugs. That scene will set off enough cameras to make Prince Charles blush.
And then the guessing game will resume.
Nicklaus stopped by London on his way home from a golf course project in Spain, and he told reporters Monday that the British Open will be the end of his competitive career.
''From a tournament standpoint, that will be it for me,'' Nicklaus said.
It wasn't clear if Nicklaus was talking about any tournament, or just major championships. He stopped playing the PGA Championship in 2000 at Valhalla (a course he designed), and even though he is exempt for life, it's highly unlikely Nicklaus would take up a spot in the 156-man field.
Still to be determined is whether he plays the Masters, although signs point to him showing up only for dinner.
The emotion at Augusta National was genuine, but the circumstances were strange.
Nicklaus said he played only because Masters chairman Hootie Johnson asked him to come back and say goodbye. If that was the case, why did tournament officials have Nicklaus finish the second round at No. 9, instead of allowing for a traditional farewell on the 18th?
And then there's the Memorial. Nicklaus created this tournament, one of the purest events on the PGA Tour, won it twice and serves as the tournament host. It has a limited field, so he is not taking a spot away from anyone.
He made the cut last year at age 64, the second-oldest player to do that in PGA Tour history. Told that Sam Snead was 67 when he made the cut at the 1979 Westchester Classic, Nicklaus joked, ''I'll be back when I'm 68.''
Nicklaus also is playing on the Champions Tour outside Kansas City, Mo., next month, but only because he designed the golf course and can play the pro-am format with his son. Already, there is talk that Kansas City might be his final appearance in the United States except for silly season events.
Nicklaus has never felt obligated to tell anyone when he will stop playing for good.
It shouldn't matter.
Ben Hogan's professional career ended when he drove off in a cart at the 1971 Houston Open. Byron Nelson eased into retirement after he earned enough money to buy his ranch, and played his final Masters in 1966.
Besides, Nicklaus has never been about ceremony. R&A executive Peter Dawson was asked earlier this year whether officials planned any kind of tribute for Nicklaus playing in his final British Open.
''Jack is not one for that sort of thing,'' Dawson said. ''He'd rather be treated like a competitor than a monument.''
Maybe that's why Nicklaus was coy last year at the Memorial about his future in tournament golf.
''You'll be in suspense, hopefully, for a lot of years,'' Nicklaus said. ''Because you never know when I might show up.''
He'll be at the British Open, and then he'll be gone.