Jack Nicklaus didn’t quite say that Tiger Woods would suffer the same fate as Seve Ballesteros in the 1986 Masters and fold under pressure coming down the stretch due to lack of preparation.
But the Golden Bear knows that strange things happen at Augusta National and he expressed surprise that the world No 1 will not be playing a warm up tournament before the season’s first major. When Woods tees it up in the first round of the Masters on April 8, he will be hitting his first competitive shot for 145 days.
“I fully expected Tiger to come back to play the Masters and that will be good for Augusta,” Nicklaus said in Morocco on Wednesday. “But I am surprised he is not playing some place before that - but then Tiger is Tiger and he’ll come back ready to play. That’s what he does. He’s a golfer and a darn good one.”
The 70-year-old legend refused to comment on Woods’ tattered private life, preferring to limit his comments to golf talk when he and former Ryder Cup and major rival Tony Jacklin took time off from design work in Marrakesh to perform a clinic at the Hassan II Trophy in Rabat.
“I look at Tiger as a golfer and his personal life is none of my business,” Nicklaus said. “I look at him as a terrific player. His focus is as a golfer and doubt if his goals have changed otherwise I don’t think he will be back for the Masters.
“So it’s quite obvious to me his goals have not changed and his goals are to win more Majors than I did, and that’s fine. His chances of doing that are quite good. Though it’s never a cinch because he’s still got to do it and when you look at it, he has five more Majors to win to break my record. So when you look at it, you think that five more is not very many.
“When you look at all the other players playing the game of golf today the most anybody has won is three, so he had almost two lifetime careers to break my record. So he’s still the best one out there so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Q. Were you surprised that someone would come along with the audacity and say that I am going break Nicklaus’ record?
NICKLAUS. He’s a phenomenal athlete
Q. Would it have been possible for you to go to Augusta ‘cold’?
NICKLAUS. No, I would not have been at my best. If you remember the last time I won the Masters (1986) Seve went to that Masters not having played very much golf, and I remember he and I were playing a practice round, and he was saying to me that he hadn’t really played that much and ‘I am not as sharp as I should be.’
“That translated to me as that when he came down the stretch Seve was not going to be as tough as he would be.
“So when he hit the ball into the water at 15 there was a type of swing that you would expect from somebody who wasn’t sharp.
“When you’re sharp that doesn’t happen. When you’re not sharp those kind of things happen and being sharp is being tournament tested on a recent basis.
“That would be the only negativity for Tiger in that he would not be tournament tested. But as a golfer he will be fine. So as for having practiced all the shots he will be fine. So it’s going to be very interesting.”
Q. What will Nicklaus say to Woods in three weeks time when the pair attend Augusta?
NICKLAUS. [Smiling] I’ll just sat ‘hello’ or ‘Hi Tiger’ or ‘How you doing, Tiger?’
Q. What did you make of Tom Watson’s remarks in Dubai, calling on Tiger Woods to clean up his act?
NICKLAUS. I didn’t read much about that so I would rather stay out of that. That is not something I originated