Notes Tiger vs Nicklaus Quite the Comparison

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PGA TourAUGUSTA, Ga. -- Perceptions of Tiger Woods can change quickly when he's wearing a green jacket.
 
After he won the 2002 U.S. Open for his eighth major, Golf Digest asked readers on its Web site if they thought he would break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, and 73 percent said yes. The same question was posed two years later -- with Woods still stuck on eight majors -- and 71 percent said no.
 
This week, the online survey by Golf Digest asked how many times he would win the Masters. Nearly 70 percent said either seven or eight green jackets.
 
If nothing else, winning the Masters allows conversations to resume about his quest to reach 18 majors. Woods now has nine majors at age 29, trailing only Nicklaus and Walter Hagen (11), tied with Ben Hogan and Gary Player.
 
Woods remains ahead of schedule.
 
He has won nine of his first 33 majors as a pro. Nicklaus had won seven at that point.
 
Woods twice has gone 10 majors without winning, while Nicklaus' longest drought at this stage in his career was 12 majors, from the '67 U.S. Open to the '70 British Open at St. Andrews.
 
But if Woods wants to keep pace, the next five years will be crucial. Nicklaus won seven of the next 22 majors after ending his dry spell, including multiple-major seasons in 1972 and 1975.
 
Nicklaus says he wasn't aware of Bobby Jones' record of 13 majors (including six amateur titles) until the Golden Bear won his 10th. Woods was not aware he was halfway to Nicklaus' mark after winning the Masters.
 
``I haven't thought about it -- that's the first time,'' he said. ``I guess I am halfway. A long way to go.''
 
OFF THE MARK
Mark O'Meara has one more chance to secure full-exempt status for the year.
 
O'Meara missed the final two months last year with a wrist injury and was given a minor medical extension. Because he earned $543,866, the two-time major winner had eight tournaments to make $79,396 -- which would give him the equivalent of 125th on the money list last year.
 
He has played seven times this year, made three cuts and is $10,892 short with one tournament left. O'Meara, 48, helped his cause last week at the Masters by tying for 31st to earn $46,550.
 
O'Meara likely only needs to make the cut at his next tournament to make up the difference.
 
Either way, he plans a full schedule. O'Meara already has exemptions to the Wachovia Championship and the Byron Nelson Championship. If he still doesn't have his card by the end of the year, he can use his one-time exemption for top 50 in career money to play next year.
 
GOOD START
Gene Sarazen (1935) and Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) are the only players to win a green jacket on their first try, but there was a strong showing by Masters rookies this year.
 
Luke Donald, who staggered to a 77 when the second round was completed Saturday morning, closed with two 69s to tie for third. Rod Pampling and Mark Hensby of Australia tied for fifth, while David Howell of England recovered from his third round (76) to shoot 69 and finish in a tie for 11th.
 
All of them will be back next year by finishing in the top 16.
 
The one to watch the rest of the year might be Donald, whose classic swing and level head might allow him to start contending in the majors on a regular basis. Donald started last year at No. 130 in the world ranking and has climbed to No. 13 after the Masters.
 
CLUB MATTERS
Nike Golf was quick to announce that for the first time in its short history making golf clubs, more players used its irons than any other brand at a PGA Tour event -- and at the Masters, no less.
 
But only at the Masters can aging champions tee it up, and that's what caused the biggest stir last week at Augusta National. Nike was said to have paid $20,000 for players to use its irons.
 
Billy Casper played the Masters for the first time since 2001, carrying a Nike bag and using its clubs to post a 106. Charles Coody also switched to the swoosh, while Tommy Aaron continued to carry a Titleist bag -- stuffed with Nike clubs, of course. Other aging champs using Nike clubs were Sandy Lyle and Ray Floyd.
 
Kel Devlin at Nike said it was an example of how aggressive the company has been signing up players from all tours.
 
``This is not a one-week deal,'' Devlin said.
 
Having the most irons in play, according to the Darrell Survey, allows Nike to run advertisements telling everyone about it. But it probably gets more attention from its staff member wearing a green jacket Sunday -- Tiger Woods.
 
CADDIE FOR A CURE
The caddie for two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer has come up with unique program to raise money for leukemia research and other charities.
 
Russ Holden has started ``Caddy For a Cure,'' which allows people to bid for a chance to caddie for a PGA Tour player during a practice round at five tournaments this year.
 
Among the players who already have signed up are Langer, Vijay Singh, Tom Lehman, Stewart Cink, Sergio Garcia, Chad Campbell, Justin Leonard, Kenny Perry and Peter Jacobsen.
 
Cink, Langer, Lehman and Fred Funk were auctioned off for the first tournament, the MCI Heritage.
 
The not-for-profit group will give 100 percent of the proceeds to four charities -- the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund, the player's charity of his choice, the tournament's charity and the PGA Tour Caddie benevolent fund.
 
Other tournaments where players will be involved in the program are the Houston Open, the Colonial, the Barclay's Classic at Westchester and the John Deere Classic.
 
DIVOTS
Players might want to consider going to the John Deere Classic with hopes of winning soon. Three players in the field last year won the following week -- Jonathan Byrd at the B.C. Open, Todd Hamilton at the British Open and D.A. Points on the Nationwide Tour. ... Chris DiMarco became the 41st player to finish second to Tiger Woods on the PGA Tour. ... Last week was the first time Woods won any tournament when shooting over par in the first round. He opened with a 74, the highest first round by a Masters champion since Mark O'Meara in 1998.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Tiger Woods has won as many majors (9) as the next four players in the world ranking combined -- Vijay Singh (3), Ernie Els (3), Phil Mickelson (1) and Retief Goosen (2).
 
FINAL WORD
``Just wondering what he was smoking.'' -- Tiger Woods, on what he thought when Jack Nicklaus said Woods might win more green jackets than Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer combined.
 
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