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Player, Charles bid farewell to Open

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- When Gary Player walked onto the 18th green for perhaps the final time at a British Open, not only did the crowd respond with a loud standing ovation, Paul Lawrie stopped and clapped as well, then shook the hand of his competitor.

"He's a legend, isn't he?" Lawrie said. "If this is his last Open, you should treat him with the respect he deserves."

Player is 65, the Open's age limit. He could be given a special exemption to return next year, but the Black Knight declined to say whether he would accept the invitation if offered.

"I think we should wait and see," he said. "Let's cross that bridge when we come to it."

Bob Charles, who played his first British Open here in 1958 and won the title here in 1964, definitely closed out his Open career when his 7-over 149 after two rounds left him short of the cut as well. He also is 65.

"Did I have any special thoughts on the last hole?" Charles said. "No. I just wish I was 30-odd years younger."

Player and Charles aren't alone. Seven other former champions failed to make the cut.

If this was the end for Player, he went out in a disappointing way. He played an awful final round, shooting 82 to fall to 17-over for the two days.

"It has been a difficult month for me because I've played the worst golf of my life," he said. "Prior to that I was playing very well, and right now it's probably the worst it's ever been. It's strange because I'm very athletic still and my nerves are good and I can still play and continue to win tournaments."

Player won the Open in 1959 at Muirfield, in 1968 at Carnoustie and in 1974 at Royal Lytham with a memorable finish when his ball struck the clubhouse wall on the 18th hole. That forced him to play it left-handed while a club member stared at him from an open window.

Asked whether he said goodbye to the wall, Player replied, "I went out and kissed it on my practice round."

Should Player not return, he would be the second notable British farewell in as many years. Jack Nicklaus played his final Open last year.

"I've had 47 wonderful years of this tournament, and I must say I've loved my times over here and I've supported this tournament to the hilt," Player said. "I love what it stands for. It's the oldest major championship, history is attached to it to a large degree."

Lawrie said he expects to see Player still attached to it as well. Player won't even need a special exemption if he wins next week's Senior British Open, which he's won three times and which gives automatic entry into the British Open.

"He'll be back, I think," Lawrie said. "He was talking about winning next week."