The Open: Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus still expects Tiger Woods to steal his thunder
JACK Nicklaus has watched 16 majors come and go without Tiger Woods winning any of them but still reckons his record haul of 18 titles is likely to come under threat.
Woods may have missed the cut in his last event – the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia – but has chalked up three wins on the PGA Tour this season and also came out on top in his own event in California towards the end of last year.
He has arrived in Lancashire with a spring in his step and Nicklaus reckons that makes him dangerous, although he reckons winning majors has become more difficult for Woods due to the fact players no longer seem to fear him on the big stage.
“I think his work ethic is so good and I think his desire to pass my record is there,” said the Golden Bear when asked a question he has become used to hearing since Woods stalled on the 14-mark after his 2008 US Open win.
“He’s still plenty young enough. I believe he will, but he’s still got to do it. As each tournament passes, his chances become smaller.”
Nicklaus, who was speaking during his recent visit to Gleneagles to run the rule over changes he has made to the PGA Centenary Course for the 2014 Ryder Cup, gave an honest answer when asked if he wanted to see his haul overtaken.
“Nobody ever wants their records to be broken. Would you? You work for a lifetime, that’s your lifetime record so why would you want it to be broken? But do I object to it being broken? No, I don’t object to it at all,” added the 72-year-old.
“It’s no different to Tom Watson beating me at Turnberry (in the famous Duel in the Sun in the 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry). He played better than me, so that was a case of saying ‘well done’.
“If Tiger comes along and wins more majors, then ‘well done’, I’ll applaud him. But nobody wants their records to be broken. I think he is such a talented young man and he has such a great work ethic that he is going to find a way. He won at my tournament [The Memorial] and he won at Arnold’s tournament [at Bay Hill].
“At the US Open this year, he played far better than he did at Augusta, although he didn’t play at all well in the last two rounds.
“There isn’t a player [other than Woods] playing today who has five majors. It’s tough, but the guy is so talented that I think he has a good shot at it.”
The last 15 majors have been won by 15 different players, with Webb Simpson becoming the ninth first-time major winner in a row when he lifted the US Open in San Francisco last month.
“That’s another part of it, too,” observed Nicklaus of the challenge facing Woods these days compared to the time he almost looked unbeatable in these events.
“The first time Tiger ever got beat in a major was at Hazeltine a few years ago (the 2009 USPGA Championship) when YE Yang came down the stretch with him and beat him head-to-head coming in. Tiger ended up making a mistake rather than somebody else.
“I don’t think the guys are scared of him like they were six or seven years ago. Back then Tiger was the only player under the age of 30 who had more than one win on the US tour.
“Now you have multiple guys who have multiple wins under the age of 30. The game has grown to a degree where we have more and more good players.
“You have Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Day, Luke Donald and a number of others. Every week another one seems to be there. All these young players coming along makes it more difficult for Tiger to do what he wants to do.”
As Woods bids to re-ignite his major career, Nicklaus admitted he was astonished that Donald, the world No 1, and third-ranked Lee Westwood are heading into this week’s Open Championship still trying to make the breakthrough in these events.
“I’m very surprised at both of them as they are terrific players,” he said. “Luke’s majors record has not been good. At the US Open I thought the winner would come from the group of Luke, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. Lee played pretty well but the other two didn’t.
“Luke is a good player but he needs to step up to majors. Westwood needs to make the breakthrough at a major as well.”
Lytham has painful memories for Nicklaus, who bogeyed the last two holes in the 1963 Open Championship there to finish a shot behind Kiwi Bob Charles, who beat American Phil Rodgers in a play-off to lift the Claret Jug.
“I gave it away on that occasion, but I’ve always liked Lytham – I’ve always enjoyed it,” he insisted. “I played well there on several occasions, but never quite won.
“It’s a golf course where you have to play well coming out of the box. You can’t start slow at Lytham and expect to finish well. You want to shoot low on the first nine and then hold on on the second nine.
“The last five holes are probably as tough a five holes of tournament golf as you have anywhere in Britain. You’ve got to really play there.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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