DUBLIN, Ohio – Even before Tiger Woods slipped into his fifth green jacket earlier this year, Jack Nicklaus remained adamant that time was on Woods’ side regarding his pursuit of Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major titles. Now that Woods is one step closer to the most famous record in golf, Nicklaus isn’t changing his tune. But he is offering a word of caution.
Woods’ 15th major win shook the sport last month, and it reignited debate over whether he could make a serious run at Nicklaus’ total as he approaches his 44th birthday. During his annual news conference as tournament host of the Memorial Tournament, Nicklaus reiterated that Woods has a great chance to match or beat his mark – even if there’s still a competitive side of him that hopes he remains alone atop the record books.
“Nobody wants their records broken. I don’t want him to break my records, but I don’t want him not to be able to play, and not be physically sound to play,” Nicklaus said. “I mean, if he’s physically sound and it’s his desire to win and he breaks it, you know, well done. That’s what it should be. That’s what sports is all about.”
But Nicklaus was quick to point out the biggest variable when it comes to Woods’ renaissance: his health. While the spinal fusion surgery he underwent in 2017 has cleared a path for his return to the upper-echelon of the game, not even Woods knows how long his once-ailing body will be able to perform at its current level. And he’s not getting any younger.
“You’ve had as many operations as he’s had, he may be solid enough that it’s all right. And if he is, I think he probably will break my record,” Nicklaus said. “But he’s 43 years old, and when you get to be 43 years old you start to get a little creak here and a little creak there, and all of a sudden every day is not the same.”
As an example, Nicklaus recounted a round the two played together before this year’s Masters, one in which Woods fired a stress-free 64 but mentioned that his neck was bothering him. The injury was cited as a precautionary reason why Woods bypassed the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March despite his stellar track record at Bay Hill.
For Nicklaus, it was a sign that Woods’ best option moving forward might be to work smart, not hard. Woods’ light schedule following his Masters triumph shows he may be of a similar mindset.
“He’s going to have a lot more of those problems. We all have a lot of those problems,” he said. “But if you manage them and you know how to take care of yourself, you know how to pace yourself, you can do that. And he’s at the age where he needs to pace himself. He can’t just do everything everybody asks him to do. He’s got to be a little selfish, and that’s OK.”
Note: Watch Tiger Woods' opening round at the Memorial Tournament on PGA Tour Live, beginning at 8 a.m. ET on Thursday.