Jack Nicklaus: Tiger Woods 'is the biggest puzzle to me that I know'

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Jack Nicklaus: Tiger Woods 'is the biggest puzzle to me that I know'

PGA Tour

Jack Nicklaus: Tiger Woods 'is the biggest puzzle to me that I know'

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus, he of the 18 majors and the greatest champion of them all, has had a regular position at the Masters’ Champions Dinner for many Aprils. Arnold Palmer always sat on one side of Nicklaus, Tiger Woods on the other.

Well, his good pal Arnold is gone, having died in September at the age of 87. As for Tiger? Nicklaus doesn’t live very far from him, but he really doesn’t have much of a handle on what his happening with Woods and his health these days.

“That is the biggest puzzle to me that I know,” Nicklaus said Sunday at the Honda Classic. “I just don’t know where he is and where his mind is. I don’t know.

“I know he didn’t go to a press conference (at the Genesis Open) … and the quote I heard from (agent) Mark Steinberg is, ‘What is he going to tell you different than what he’s already told you?’ I think he’s absolutely damn right. You’re going to ask him the same exact questions, it’ll be the same exact answers that he had before. And, I think, from his standpoint, he’d be tired of answering them.”

Years ago, Nicklaus was seated next to Palmer inside the press center at Augusta National, and when asked about the potential of a young and powerful Tiger Woods, he commented that Woods could win as many green jackets as Palmer and him combined. That would be 10 (Nicklaus 6; Palmer 4).

Woods, winner of 79 PGA Tour titles and 14 majors, has won four green jackets, his last in 2005.

“People have quoted that,” Nicklaus said. “And I was obviously being a little exaggerating in what I was saying. I was painting a picture that he could win a lot of Masters.”

At this point, with Woods having withdrawn in Dubai after one round, and then pulled out of scheduled starts at Riviera (Genesis Open) and PGA National (Honda), it’s not known if he’ll make anticipated starts at Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and April’s Masters. He endured back spasms on the heels of shooting 77 in Dubai, and has undergone three back procedures in the past few years.

Has Woods struggled because of injury, or because his golf game hasn’t been to its usual standard?

“I don’t know. I think injury has a lot to do with it, but the injury is not just his body, but his mind,” Nicklaus said. “Mentally, I think he’s had a hard time with what’s happened, because every time he turns around, he hurts himself. And instead he’s saying, ‘When am I going to get over this?’ That’s how I would be.

“But I don’t think you’re doing yourself any good by not playing. He may physically be hurt. You guys don’t know. I don’t know. I really don’t have an answer. I just know that the guy looks great, talks great, mentally he sounds sharp. … So what’s happening?”

Nicklaus, who won three of his 18 majors past his 40th birthday, was asked if he thought Woods, now 41, could tolerate showing up and finishing in the middle of the pack at tournaments.

Said Nicklaus, “I wouldn’t think so. I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that.”

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