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Golf was never far away from the thoughts of Jack Nicklaus, even as he lay on an operating table just before hip replacement surgery.

"I would rather be one down walking up the 18th fairway in Augusta than be here," Nicklaus said he told the doctor.

Thanks to his new ceramic left hip, Nicklaus might get that chance yet again.

After surgery Wednesday in Boston that his doctor described as a success, Nicklaus will be on crutches for the next six weeks. He will miss the Masters in April for the first time in 40 years and possibly the U.S. Open in June, but Dr. Benjamin Bierbaum said there was no reason to believe Nicklaus would not be competitive again.

"Everything went well," Bierbaum, head of orthopedic surgery at New England Baptist Hospital, said after the 1-hour, 45-minute operation. "No complaints. No surprises. I was pleased with how everything came along."

Nicklaus had a degenerative left hip that had troubled him for years. He tried to avoid hip replacement surgery with a rigorous exercise routine, but finally yielded when the hip began to affect his quality of life as well as his game.

Nicklaus was resting after surgery and unavailable to comment.

In other golf news: Karrie Webb and Juli Inkster each shot 5-under-par 67s to take the first-round lead in the Office Depot Golf Tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla. Webb had six birdies and a bogey; Inkster had five birdies in a bogey-free round.

Tied for third at 68 were Kelly Robbins, Tammy Green, and Michele Redman.

The tournament began a day earlier than most 72-hole LPGA events, in order to end on Saturday and avoid conflict with the Super Bowl.

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