The relationship between Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods hasn't been all that cordial as Woods has pursued the Golden Bear's major championship record. However, the retired legend expressed sympathy for Woods in light of his latest injury situation that will keep him out of the 2014 Masters Tournament.
Nicklaus spoke to ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike on Tuesday and suggested that Woods will still break his record of 18 majors before his career is over, despite all the health issues that have gotten in his way, via ESPN.com:
I feel very bad for Tiger. He's really worked towards my record. I still think he'll break my record...As long as he is physically able to do it. ... He's 38 years old and he's probably got another 10 years at least of being able to compete -- that's 40 more majors to win five of them. It shouldn't be too difficult.
Golf Channel's Jason Sobel weighed in on the situation, feeling that Nicklaus' testimony about Woods' future record-breaking wasn't all that noteworthy:
When looking at Woods' pursuit of history from Nicklaus' perspective, there's plenty of reason to believe that he will still surpass the most celebrated mark in golf. On the other hand, only 13 men in history have won more than the five majors Woods requires to surpass Nicklaus in the record books.
One of the modern era's top stars in Phil Mickelson has won five majors in his entire career—and he's now 43 years old, having just won the Open Championship in 2013. Mickelson discussed Woods' first absence from Augusta National Golf Club as a professional, per Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman:
Yes, there are a ton of opportunities in front of Woods presuming he makes a full recovery from the back surgery he underwent. Even before then, though, his last major victory was at the 2008 U.S. Open. This year's Masters will mark the 23rd straight major where Woods won't walk away with the title.
That is more than half the chances Nicklaus speaks of down the drain already, and there's no guarantee Woods will reascend to the epic heights he reached before. Some of those events have been missed due to injury, but it just goes to show that Woods isn't guaranteed to be competitive—or even compete—in all of them.
Now, about that relationship between Woods and Nicklaus. After participating in the ceremonial opening tee shot at Augusta National prior to the 2013 Masters, Nicklaus discussed how he and Woods don't really communicate, per GolfChannel.com's Rex Hoggard:
I never really had a conversation with Tiger that lasted more than a minute or two – ever. He stayed away from me from a conversation standpoint. Never had a conversation on the Masters in general. I’ve said, "Hello, how are you doing? Nice playing this year. You’ve played very well." End of conversation. People ask me, "Has Tiger ever talked to you about his record?’" Never one word.
It's classy of Nicklaus to be sympathetic toward Woods and even suggest that he still has plenty of time to break his record, yet in a way, he's applying more pressure. Nicklaus almost seems to downplay the difficult road Woods has ahead of him.
Golf is such a psychological game, and those who have mastered it to the extent that Nicklaus and Woods have know how to attack a course and compose themselves even under the most intense scrutiny and high expectations. For the Golden Bear to continue to push the ultimate hype onto Woods is an underrated, interesting move.
Perhaps that's an over-analysis of this situation. That tends to happen when it comes to golf, and implying that Nicklaus has more sinister intentions behind his comments is somewhat ridiculous since a lot of fans and those who believe Woods is the pivotal draw to make golf exciting have no doubt been concerned about his myriad of injuries.
In a post on his official website, Woods addressed those who have reached out to him and also discussed the winning he still plans to do:
I'd also like to thank the fans for their support and concern. It's very kind and greatly appreciated. This is frustrating, but it's something my doctors advised me to do for my immediate and long-term health. [...]
It's tough right now, but I'm absolutely optimistic about the future. There are a couple [of] records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I've said many times, Sam and Jack reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine.
Woods will be grinding away at rehabbing, still sharing few words with Nicklaus, as he seeks to recapture the cold-blooded, killer instinct that made him such a force of nature in the past on the links.
The optimistic forecast Nicklaus consistently projects for Woods should make golf fans feel good about the 38-year-old veteran's future. What once seemed like an inevitability that Woods would eclipse Nicklaus' 18 majors is shrouded in at least some doubt at the moment, though.
Since the Masters is always held at the same venue and Woods has won there four times—compared to Nicklaus' six—it stands to reason that he can grab the green jacket at least once again, if not twice or more. Woods' last win at Augusta came all the way back in 2005, but he has finished worse than a tie for sixth just once in that span.
Getting as close to 100 percent healthy as possible has to be the primary focus for Woods before he even takes another swing. Given his peak physical conditioning, ability to adjust his swing if need be as he ages and the many majors on the horizon, perhaps Woods can indeed prove Nicklaus to be right someday.