AS coincidences go, this one was hardly run of the mill.

The most charismatic figure in world golf and the most charismatic figure in European golf both marking time in the same week. Jack Nicklaus saying he has no plans to play in a competitive event after hosting the Memorial, and Seve Ballesteros admitting he'll probably never play again ? period.

Nicklaus' revelation came as no great surprise. Troubled by back and hip ailments, his withdrawal from competition has been flagged for some time. Unlike Ballesteros, who can barely crawl out of bed the day after hitting a couple of hundred balls, Nicklaus could have toiled on in the mould of Arnold Palmer, but the impression that he's intensely frustrated by his faltering game has been all too evident.

When someone who has won 18 major championships says he's only interested in competing if there's a chance of winning, you have to take him seriously. Watching Nicklaus limp home in the latter stages of a round, it has been easy enough to arrive at the conclusion that he must realise he's only making up the numbers.

That, of course, would be a serious mistake. Even at 64, every time Nicklaus has teed it up he has believed he can win. It's that unwavering selfbelief, the extraordinary selfconfidence that made him the greatest player of all time.

For Jack, the body may have been weak, but the mind was strong.

Until recently, that is. "Winning is all I've ever played for and that's why I probably don't want to play any more, " was how he explained his decision to quit competition after this week's Memorial.

Admitting defeat for a player who backed up an occasionally irritating know-all attitude off the course with his remarkable performances on it must have been unbearable.

At least Nicklaus' career, which included a grand slam of majors, ran a full course, and to prolong it for sentimental reasons would be wrong. While he became a serial winner on the US Seniors Tour, his memorable victory at the 1986 Masters was a perfect farewell to the main tour.

That last major was achieved at the age of 46, just a couple of months younger than Ballesteros today. The prospect of the Spaniard ever playing in, never mind contesting, a major championship again is now remote.

With his last appearance on the European Tour as far back as last October, the news that's he's suffering from chronic arthritis of the back surely means his career as a serious player is over.

If Nicklaus took the baton from Palmer and made a magnificent solo run until Tom Watson blocked his path in the late 1970s and early '80s, Ballesteros single-handedly revived the European game. His aggressive, swashbuckling style ? the LA Times columnist Jim Murray famously described the way Seve approached a golf course as like a "lion going after a zebra" - made him the principal draw on this side of the Atlantic for the best part of 20 years.

The Americans sniffily dubbed him the "car park champion" after his mercurially wayward British Open victory at Lytham in 1979, but he quickly exacted revenge by winning the Masters in 1980 and '83. He also revitalised the Ryder Cup, which had been a US preserve for as long as anybody could remember.

With Ballesteros' fierce competitive nature and magical short game, he inspired a succession of Europe teams, eventually winning once more as non-playing captain at Valderrama in 1997. Typically, he fell out with and then fell back in with just about everyone, seeming to relish disputes with both the European and US Tours.

Although his chipping and putting have remained as sharp as ever, his long game deteriorated dramatically following his last win at the Spanish Open in 1995, to such an extent that a Ballesteros drive finding the fairway became a cause for special celebration.

In his heyday, no one disputed that Nicklaus lorded it over everyone. Ballesteros never enjoyed that sort of dominance; however, for a time in the 1980s he was certainly the most gifted player in the world.

One outstanding career is coming to a close with no regrets, and no loose ends.

Another may have already ended well before time.