Nicklaus receives PGA Tour's lifetime achievement award and says he expects Tiger to return for Memorial

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jack Nicklaus sat a few feet behind PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, listening to him rattle off a list of his accomplishments.

"That was pretty glowing," Nicklaus said.

It was just a synopsis, too.

Nicklaus received the tour's lifetime achievement award Wednesday, honored for his extended contributions on and off the golf course and for serving as an "ambassador of the game."

"Clearly, in this sport, Jack Nicklaus is the ultimate lifetime achiever," Finchem said. "I don't believe there's one person who works in, plays, watches or appreciates the game of golf, who can say he or she hasn't been touched in some way at some point in time by Jack's competitive fire, his accomplishments, his gracious sportsmanship or his unwavering leadership."

Nicklaus has 73 tour wins, 118 total victories and a record 18 professional majors. He also helped establish the tour 40 years ago and has spearheaded countless charitable programs.

Already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Nicklaus became the eighth recipient of the lifetime achievement award. He joined Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Jack Burke Jr., Pete Dye and Deane Beman.

"It means I'm getting old," Nicklaus joked. "They don't give you a lifetime achievement award unless it's near the last thing. It was a very nice thing."

Nicklaus, accompanied by his wife and a host of family members, was presented a silver cup and a portrait that will hang in the clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass.

His acceptance speech lasted nearly 15 minutes and included stories about meeting his wife at Ohio State, delving into golf course design with Dye and his decision to turn pro.

"If I want to be the best at it, the only way I could do that was to play against the best," he said. "And the only way you can do that is to play against the pros. I turned pro in fall of '61 and obviously have never regretted it. I've had a wonderful time, a wonderful life."

He also disputed any notions that he was ahead of time and would have been better suited to play against today's competition.

"Some say maybe I played too early, maybe we were in the wrong era," Nicklaus said. "No, I liked when I played. I'd hate to come back and play against these guys today. They're all pretty good, especially one of them."

Finchem read congratulatory letters from that one, Tiger Woods, as well as notes from President Bush and former President George H.W. Bush.

"I had a great time playing golf," Nicklaus said. "I enjoyed it. It carried me to a lot of places. The game has given back to so many."

TIGER'S RETURN: Although Jack Nicklaus hasn't heard anything for sure, he's expecting Tiger Woods to return for his tournament, the Memorial, later this month.

"We're hoping that he's going to be there," Nicklaus said after he received the tour's lifetime achievement award Wednesday.

Woods had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee April 15 and was expected to miss at least four weeks while he recovers. His agent, Mark Steinberg, called Nicklaus the day after the operation and said Woods' intention was to be at Muirfield Village for the Memorial.

Nicklaus hasn't heard anything since, other than talk that Woods was walking without a limp.

"I think he'll be just fine," Nicklaus said. "I don't think you have to worry too much about him."

PINK ON THE LINKS: Fred Couples sported a slightly different look Wednesday, noticeable only after he hit a shot.

There was pink on the bottom of his shoes.

Couples is among some 50 players who are wearing pink-and-white spikes this week, courtesy of Champ Spikes and its "Pink on the Links" campaign to raise money and awareness for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Champ chose The Players Championship because it ends on Mother's Day. The company will donate money for every player wearing the pink-and-white spikes at The Players and the Michelob Ultra on the LPGA Tour.

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