There is no way of telling for certain if Nicklaus main competition ' Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller ' were better than Tigers competition. Nicklaus, and several of those names themselves, think they were. Tigers contemporaries say they werent. Its just like most of golfs arguments ' you can never discern a substantive answer because, of course, those men were not in their prime when Tiger was (is) in his.
Was Bobby Jones as good as Tiger? Was Old Tom Morris as good as Nicklaus? We will never know for sure.
Nicklaus is certain that Tiger is the best player today ' as every person who isnt a Himalayan sherpa knows. Nicklaus wont quibble with you even if you believe Woods is the best golfer ever. Jack knows how brilliant a golfer Tiger is. And Jack knows that as good as Tiger is now at age 26, it isnt as good as Woods will be in his 30s.
Yes, he will get better. Absolutely, said Nicklaus. As long as he wants to get better, hell get better.
He will get better, Nicklaus says of the man who has seven of the last 11 major championships. Hmmmm. Specifics escape Jack since he doesnt regularly see Tiger play, he wont say where the improvement will be - will he become a better iron player, driver, or putter? He just knows Woods will improve, and Nicklaus certainly should know. He ' Nicklaus ' certainly should have improved, says the man who knew Jack Nicklaus better than anyone.
I dont think I ever worked as hard as he worked, said Nicklaus. I think he probably has as good a work ethic as anybody I know.
I had a good one, but not as good his. I never really tried as hard as he did to eliminate any of the shortcomings. I never eliminated my shortcomings with my short game. I never really worked hard enough to do it. When I was playing well and when I was putting well, I never missed anything inside 10 feet anyway, so why in the world worry about having to chip it close? That was a stupid approach, but it was sort of my approach. It kept me from not having to get too precise with everything. It allowed me a little give in the game.
And Tigers mentality doesnt give himself a lot of give in the game. I think hes very strict with himself about what he does.
Of course, golf being the way it is, someone may surprise this week and beat Woods. There always exists the chance that he wont be particularly sharp and someone will come to Muirfield at the peak of his game. Woods, after all, doesnt win every tournament he enters. Woods knows that, and several of his contemporaries know that ' just as they knew Nicklaus didnt win every time he put a peg in the ground.
I dont know whether Palmer or Player or Trevino or Watson thought they were as good a player as I was, said Jack, but certainly any given week they knew they were as good a player as I was. They believed that because they beat me.
And you know, thats what you are going to find here. They (Woods contemporaries) may never be as good a player as Tiger, but they will be on occasion. They will believe that they can beat him.
In other words, its unlikely Tiger will lose, but it certainly isnt impossible. He will lose from time to time, and it could be this week.
There are probably 40 guys who could win, said Nicklaus. But I think theres one that is the most likely, and its obviously Tiger. I dont think theres any question about that.
Who will beat him?
Himself, said Nicklaus with a disarming simplicity. Hes the only one who has that ability.
Related Link: Can Anyone Tame Tiger?