Archive for Friday, April 15, 2005

Woods, Nicklaus inextricably linked

April 15, 2005

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— One of the great things about last week was the connection between Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

At almost every turn, Woods was asked questions about the best player ever. Nicklaus again was tied to Woods' past, present and future.

Let's break it down:

The past: Immediately after Woods won his fourth Masters on Sunday, he was reminded of Nicklaus' prediction in 1995 that Woods would win 10.

Woods now is almost halfway home before age 30. He seems almost certain to break Nicklaus' record six Masters titles.

Wearing the green jacket again Sunday, Woods was a bit self-deprecating when asked if Nicklaus' remarks then served as a stimulus for him.

"No, I was just wondering what was he smoking?" Woods said. "If you saw the way I hit the ball in '95. ... OK, I bombed it down every fairway. I had a wedge I flew over most galleries, over the green, and the fans are going like this (indicating covering heads). That's not good. I had the length to play this place, but I had no understanding of my golf swing or distance control or shot-making. So it was kind of mind boggling he could make a comment like that back then."

Nicklaus obviously saw what everyone else saw: a phenomenal talent with a huge drive to succeed. He knew the other things would fall into place.

The present: Only in golf can a 65-year old play in the same field as a 29-year old. While his best days are long gone, let's not forget that Nicklaus, at 58, tied for sixth at the 1998 Masters, placing ahead of a 22-year-old Woods, who tied for eighth.

Woods and Nicklaus were paired together at the 2000 PGA Championship. Woods won in Nicklaus' last appearance in that tournament. On Saturday, Woods was asked if it would be special to win in what probably will be Nicklaus' last Masters.

"It would be kind of cool," Woods said, thinking for a minute. "Well, I thought I won when he played his last British Open (at St. Andrews in 2000). But I see he's playing again this year."

Given the trend, put Woods down for a victory at St. Andrews in July.

The future: This will be the focus for the next 20 years. Can Woods break Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories?

Woods seemed to be a lock when he captured his eighth major title at the 2002 U.S. Open. Then the parallels struck again.

From the 1967 U.S. Open, Nicklaus went 12 majors before winning the 1970 British Open. Woods also went through a similar drought at relatively the same age, going 10 majors without a victory until Sunday.

Now Woods seems back on track. The task, though, is daunting. Nicklaus won eight majors in his 30s and then added three more in his 40s.

If Woods catches Nicklaus, it might be because of his longevity. Even though he still was able to win big tournaments after his 40th birthday (see 1986 Masters), Nicklaus reduced his schedule, playing only between 13-15 events per year.

But when you look at how players such as Vijay Singh are still winning in their 40s, and given Woods' superb physical conditioning, it isn't a stretch to see him still go strong into his 50s. If Jay Haas can do it, Woods definitely can.

Woods should have a much larger window of opportunity to get to 19 major victories, or more. Hopefully, if he does, Nicklaus will be on hand to see it. As last week showed, they will be linked forever.

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