Nicklaus, Palmer to Compete in Skins Game

Friday, January 30th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WAILEA, Hawaii (AP) _ For the last four decades, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have been the fiercest of competitors and the best of friends.

That rivalry and mutual admiration will be showcased at the Champions Skins Game, which begins Friday.

``Every time we play it's fun and special because you never know how much golf we'll play together,'' Nicklaus said Thursday. ``Even 40 years after we started, we're still trying to drum each other.''

Nicklaus and Palmer, who is playing in his 50th professional season, are joined by fellow World Golf Hall of Famers Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.

The foursome has combined to win 258 events on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, including 39 majors and more than $51 million.

``It's an honor to play with these three great players,'' Watson said. ``Arnold Palmer has done so much for the game, as well as Jack. Lee has been one of the greatest entertainers as well as golfers that the game has ever seen.''

This is the 16th Skins appearance in 17 years for Palmer, who won the event in 1990, 1992 and 1993. Nicklaus, who won in 1991, is playing for the 14th time.

Despite a sixth-place finish Sunday in the Champions Tour's season opening MasterCard Championship, Nicklaus said he's evaluating how much golf his year will include.

``My goals for this year is try to figure out if I can play golf or not,'' said Nicklaus, who turned 64 last week. ``If I couldn't play, I was planning on doing a lot of fishing.''

Nicklaus said he will play in the ACE Group Classic at Naples, but will skip the following tournament in Tampa.

``I love to play the game, but I don't want to be just out here,'' he said. ``If I can play well and be competitive, then it's a lot of fun. But for me to go out and finish 20th, I'd just go fishing.''

He doesn't see the 74-year-old Palmer giving up the game any time soon _ or ever.

``Arnold's going to play until you put him in the ground and that's fine because that's what Arnold wants to do,'' Nicklaus said. ``This is not only Arnold's vocation, it's his avocation, his hobby, it's his life. That's what he does _ play golf.''

Palmer will again play a limited schedule this season.

``I will play here and there, some special events,'' he said. ``I'll play the Masters the last time this year and that's pretty much it.''

As much as Watson, the 2003 senior player of the year, respects and admires his three older opponents, it doesn't mean he will take it easy on them.

``Arnold wants to beat me just as badly as I want to beat him,'' Watson said. ``I may have the advantage in my length, but I certainly don't have any advantage in the will to win.''

Last year, Trevino holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole to finish with six skins and $240,000, preventing Hale Irwin from claiming his fourth straight title.

Irwin was second with $200,000, and Nicklaus made $160,000. Palmer failed to take a skin for the second straight year.

But Palmer said he's looking to win this time.

``We're trying to beat each other, that's the name of the game,'' he said. ``The money and everything is important but winning the competition is the most important.''

Watson is probably the one to beat.

He has won 39 times on the PGA Tour, including eight majors. He won the Senior British Open and the Tradition last year, two majors on the Champions Tour.

``I didn't play as well from tee-to-green last season, but I putted well,'' he said. ``That putter makes up for a lot of mediocre shots.''

The $600,000 Skins Game is being played at Wailea Golf Club's scenic Gold Course, which features an ocean view from almost every hole and runs along the base of the dormant volcano Haleakala.