Nicklaus still believes Woods will break his record

By Joe PosnanskiAugust 6, 2014, 7:14 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Jack Nicklaus has never veered from one simple opinion: Tiger Woods is going to break his major championship record. He has said so repeatedly. In the mid-2000s, when Woods was collecting major championships like dust, it seemed obvious – back then just about everybody thought Woods would not only set the record but would blow past Nicklaus’ 18 majors and put it miles and miles in his rear-view mirror. How many could he win? Twenty-five? Thirty? More? It all seemed possible.

But then things began to slow down. Woods badly hurt his knee. He came back and did the unthinkable – lost a head-to-head fourth-round duel with Y.E. Yang. Then, there was the tabloid fiasco, the apology, the sluggish play, the swing changes, the constant injuries.

All along the way, though, Jack Nicklaus continued to insist that Woods will break his record.

And he does so still.

“I think the guy is just too good,” he said. “I don't know what is happening between his ears right now … somebody said the other day that they think he has the yips with the driver, and I think that is a pretty good assessment. I had never heard of that, but if you get it in your head that you can’t hit a driver in the fairway, you aren't going to hit it in the fairway very much.


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“Still, I thought that his swing in the first round of the British Open was very good. I thought he came back, and it was much more level, I thought his tempo was much better. … I just think he’s too talented, too focused, to not do it.”

Now, it is true Nicklaus said this a couple of days before Woods hurt himself again at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. But it’s too easy to get swayed by today’s news. It’s just one week, one major, one point in time. This actually was one of Nicklaus’ great gifts as a golfer – he did not get swayed because one challenger had a birdie run or another seemed to be collapsing. Steady. Long view. That was Jack.

And so even though it looks bleak to others … he still thinks Woods will break the record.

“I really do,” he says.

Now, I should mention this - I told Nicklaus that I don’t think Woods will break the record. I don’t think he will tie the record, either. I haven’t thought Woods was going to break the record for a few years now. For me, it comes down to simple math.

• Tiger Woods needs five more majors to pass Nicklaus.

• He’s turning 39 this year.

• In the last 50 years, only eight golfers other than Woods have won five majors in their entire careers. None of them, not even Nicklaus himself, won five majors after turning 38.

So that seems obvious to me. But here’s the obvious thing: Nicklaus knows infinitely more about this than I do. And he is adamant. Nicklaus is not necessarily close to Woods, but they are deeply connected. They played golf on a different plane. They won by making fewer mistakes – mental mistakes, physical mistakes, emotional mistakes – than anybody else.

And so Nicklaus understands Woods. He understands the force Tiger Woods displayed winning that U.S. Open on one leg or steadying himself to beat Bob May in that PGA Championship playoff or winning that Masters to complete the Tiger Slam when everyone expected him to win. He understands where Woods’ mind goes in those big moments when a tournament is won and lost, where his mind goes when the pressure is dense and the mind and body are prone to making mistakes.

“He still has that focus and he still has that drive,” Nicklaus says. “I think that’s what it takes.”

Oh, Nicklaus doesn’t think it will be easy for Woods to win five more – he actually thinks it will be more difficult to win his next one than it was to win any of the previous 14. This is because he really likes the young group of players coming up.

“I think there is some pretty good competition on the Tour, better than it has been for a long time,” Nicklaus says. “You’ve got some guys who can really play. Rory (McIlroy) is the real thing, he’s a really good player. You’ve got Jason Day – I think he’s capable of being a very good player. … Rickie (Fowler) hasn’t won very much yet but he’s right there. … (Jordan) Spieth is getting better. You have a bunch of good young players. And each major that passes does make it harder for Tiger to do.”

The competition question is interesting. Everyone has pointed out – and Nicklaus is quick to agree with this point – that Woods won his 14 majors against a much deeper pool of good players. There are probably 40 or 50 players capable this week of playing well enough to win, way more than in Nicklaus’ day.

But Nicklaus does believe firmly that with only a handful of exceptions, Woods did not face nearly as many great golfers as he contended with.

“Tiger has had a whole bunch of guys who would give it away,” he says. “And it’s not his fault, but I had (Arnold) Palmer, (Gary) Player, (Lee) Trevino, (Tom) Watson, (Johnny) Miller, (Tom) Weiskopf, (Billy) Casper. Those guys weren't going to give it away.  … If you slipped, you looked at that leaderboard. And if I saw those names on that leaderboard I knew that they weren't going to make many mistakes so I couldn't make many mistakes. But if I saw some other name - Jones, Smith, whatever - up there on the leaderboard, then I said ‘Don't get yourself in trouble and do anything stupid and you are going to win a golf tournament.  Because they will self-destruct.’

“When Tiger was probably 28 or 29, he was the only golfer under 30 who had won more than one tournament. … Again, it’s not his fault. He took advantage of his circumstances.”

So, Nicklaus does think it will be much tougher for Woods against this talented new group of players who did not grow up losing to Woods but, instead, grew up watching him on television and being inspired by him. Nicklaus also knows it will be tougher the older Woods gets.

And he still thinks Woods will break the record.

“I really do,” he says. “I’ve always said, ‘I think he’s going to do it but he’s got to go out and actually do it.’ And that’s still true. But I really think he will.”

He does his own math on this. Nicklaus thinks Woods, assuming he can be healthy again (and doesn’t rashly try to come back when he’s not ready), should be good enough to contend in majors for another decade. That’s 40 majors. Nicklaus simply thinks he’s so mentally tough, so smart a golfer, and so hungry to win that he will win five of them.

Well, it’s a fascinating viewpoint. Nicklaus has watched Woods more or less from the beginning. He played a practice round with a young Woods and was so blown away he predicted that Tiger would win as many Masters as he and Palmer won combined (that’s 10 green jackets). He has marveled at Woods’ all-around game, his brilliance around the greens, his fantastic pressure putting. He has identified with Woods’ stunning patience – Woods almost never did anything reckless when trying to win a golf tournament. He understood the moment better than other golfers did. That was Nicklaus, too.

And so, after seeing all that, Nicklaus still thinks Woods will win those majors and break the record. Of course, Nicklaus is a class act too and so he would probably say that even if he didn’t mean it.

“Well, let me put it this way - I would be a pretty big jerk if I turned around and said I didn't think he could do it,” Nicklaus says, and he laughs. “But honestly, in my own mind, I believe he will.”

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.