Nicklaus feels Woods can break his major record

Nicklaus feels Woods can break his major record

Jack Nicklaus says Masters winner Tiger Woods has a "very good" chance of setting the record for all-time major golf titles, while even the usually cautious Woods calls overtaking Nicklaus "a possibility."

By winning his 15th major title last month at Augusta National, Woods put what was once the burning question in golf back on the lips of fans -- "Can Tiger beat Jack?"

Nicklaus won a record 18 career major titles, the last of them at age 46 at the 1986 Masters, and 43-year-old Woods can boost his total at next week's 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

Woods ended an 11-year major win drought by capturing his fifth green jacket, having struggled with knee and back injuries since winning the 2008 US Open.

"If his body holds together and he doesn't have any issues, I'd say the chances of him breaking my record are very good," Nicklaus told KXAS-TV in Dallas this week.

"He has certainly created a huge big spark back into the game again. I think he's swinging better than he has ever swung before."

Spinal fusion surgery in 2017, a last-chance move by Woods just to avoid back pain and have a normal life, allowed him to return to elite golf last year and contend for major titles at the British Open and PGA.

Woods managed his major breakthrough last month at the Masters, using his knowledge of Augusta National, mental game and formidable skills to full advantage.

"Before the Masters, I didn't know if the five inches between his ears was calmed down, or giving him confidence again, or not," Nicklaus said. "I think they have now. I don't think there's any question of that.

"I'll be watching him very closely."

And the next two majors are on courses where Woods has won major titles -- Bethpage, where he took the 2002 US Open, and Pebble Beach, site of his 2000 US Open triumph.

"He has got me shaking in my boots," Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus, 79, was the boyhood idol of Woods, his achievements becoming targets for the golf superstar. Injuries robbed Woods of prime years for gaining ground on Jack's 18, but once again Tiger is on the prowl.

"I always thought it was possible," Woods told GolfTV. "It took him an entire career to get to 18.

"Now that I've had another extension to my career, one I didn't think I had a couple years ago, if I do things correctly and everything falls my way, it's a possibility.

"I'm never going to say it's not, except for a couple years ago when I couldn't walk."

"I just need to have a lot of things go my way. Who is to say that it will or will not happen. That's what the future holds. I don't know. The only thing I can promise you is this -- I will be prepared."

American Webb Simpson, the 2012 US Open champion, has watched the Tiger versus Jack debate for years.

"He has long been compared to Jack. 'Who is better?' And I think the debate continues," 20th-ranked Simpson said. "You think of '86 Masters when Jack won and then Tiger in 2019. And they're different but yet very comparable to kind of how big the moment was."

Woods would be among the 10 oldest major winners should he claim another top-tier title, but Nicklaus says Woods could have another decade or more of challenging for major crowns.

"Tiger is going to be well into his 50s with what he has got, plus the physical conditioning guys do today," Nicklaus said. "We didn't do any of that stuff."

Another major win would put Woods among the 10 oldest major winners, with a victory at Bethpage putting him two days beyond the 10th-place win by Ted Ray at the 1920 US Open at 43 years, 4 months and 16 days.

Woods will have annual Masters chances at Augusta National and two 2021 majors will be on courses where Woods has won majors -- St Andrews for the British Open and Torrey Pines for the US Open.