DUBLIN, Ohio — Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods had their first conversation about rivalries while in South Africa for the Presidents Cup in 2003, right around the time Woods was about to get his fourth rival in Vijay Singh.
The message Nicklaus preached from experience that day: Make sure you’re part of the conversation.
It’s still true.
Woods is the Masters champion. And that makes Nicklaus part of the conversation again.
All it took was one major — 11 years and five surgeries since the previous one — to consider the possibility of Woods reaching the Nicklaus standard of 18 majors.
When Woods’ injuries piled up, the questions stopped. Now, even though it has been 19 years since he played all four majors, Nicklaus is being asked about it again.
“Kind of nice,” Nicklaus said Tuesday ahead of this week’s Memorial, a tournament he built and in which Woods, a record five-time winner, will play.
Nicklaus spoke about winning his final major in the 1986 Masters at age 46, when his interests were divided between golf and business. Nicklaus won two majors when he was 35 and two when he was 40, and he didn’t find it any more difficult the older he was.
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“I thought winning them at age 40 was just as easy as winning them at 20,” Nicklaus said. “The only difference was that I knew what I was doing at 40 and I wasn’t sure what I was doing at 20. I got lucky when I was 20 because talent carried me through there. But at age 40, I had to be smarter because I didn’t have the talent I had at 20.”
And that’s what makes Nicklaus curious about whether Woods can catch or surpass him.
He remembers how miserable Woods looked at the champions dinner on the Tuesday night before the 2017 Masters — “He was not a happy camper,” Nicklaus said — a few weeks before a last-ditch effort to heal his back with fusion surgery.
Nicklaus described Woods as “almost cocky” at this year’s champions dinner.
“He had an abundance of confidence he would play well,” Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus watched the stretch run of the final round of the Masters on his boat in the Bahamas.
“It was fun to watch, he said. “It was fun watching his mind work. It was fun watching how he thought, and how I thought he was thinking, and how I would have thought.”
Nicklaus said if Woods’ back stays sound, he suspects Woods has 10 more years of competing.
Can he do it?
Nicklaus doesn’t want his record broken, but he doesn’t want Woods to not have a chance because of poor health.
Woods is one major closer. His next chance: at Pebble Beach next month at the U.S Open.
It’s a topic again.
Doug Ferguson is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/With-Tiger-Woods-comeback-Jack-Nicklaus-part-13902352.php.