Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player talk Tiger Woods at Masters

Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus Getty Images

Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player talk Tiger Woods at Masters

PGA Tour

Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player talk Tiger Woods at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. – As fans gathered around the practice area and first tee at Augusta National on Thursday morning, anxiously awaiting the beginning of Tiger Woods’ first Masters round in three years, the Masters honorary starters, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, sat in the Masters press center for about an hour and a half, fielding a variety of questions, most of which they answered with incredible thoughtfulness and great detail.

Of course, while sitting in the relaxed setting, Nicklaus and Player were asked about the man responsible for the buzz outside, Woods.

Here’s what they had to say:

NICKLAUS: “I’ve been amazed at how well he has come back. I’ve watched his golf swing. He’s had to accommodate his fusion and I think that his golf swing is considerably better than it ever was because of that. He actually had to correct a fault that he had, and I felt like in his swing, and by what he has had to do, I think he corrected it. I’ve said all week; I expect Tiger to certainly be in the hunt. He would certainly be one of my two or three that I think would be favorites to win this golf tournament. I think he’ll play very well.”

PLAYER: “He’s been through a lot of adversity, and has handled it extremely well to come back to where he is now. So people, I think generally speaking, whether you’re a fan or not a fan – I am a fan. But you can’t help but admire people who survive through adversity because we all have adversity in our life, it doesn’t matter who you are, and he had a lot of adversity. And I had my doubts, particularly when he was hitting chips from here to there, he was duffing chips, I thought, man, this guy’s gone. And to get over that – because Henry Longhurst always said, when you get the yips, you die with the yips. I never thought he would get over that. He was swinging very poorly. He was sucking his hands in here and he was laying the club off.

“I never quite understood when you win the U.S. Open by 15 shots – not five, but 15, and the next week he’s having a lesson with somebody else and he goes to another coach, and I never really understood that because you couldn’t really get any better. He was phenomenal, and had he not done that, I really believe he would have won at least 20 majors. That was I think the problem with his career. It’s only my opinion. We all have an opinion. Other people would say it’s injuries, this and that, but the fact remains he did have a lot of adversities and came back remarkably well.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him win this week. This is a golf course that’s made for him. He’s been within five shots and close‑up, maybe two shots, I don’t know exactly where, but he’s been right in contention. This golf course, he gets more focused, and this golf course obviously suits him because of his short game, he’s long still and has great clubhead speed and you don’t have to hit it as straight here as a U.S. Open or British Open. And his short game is very good.

“If you look at him on the practice tee, you look at him in the locker room, you look at him in the dinner the other night, he’s a different person. He’s far more relaxed off the golf course, but he’ll still be as focused on the golf course. So wouldn’t surprise me if he won. But Jack and I were just saying, I think this could be one of the best Masters, ever.”

And if Woods were to win a fifth green jacket and 15th major this week at Augusta National, where would that rank among sport’s all-time greatest comebacks?

NICKLAUS: “High.”

PLAYER: “Extremely high. If you’ve followed it and seen step by step, it’s incredible that he’s come back like this. Incredible.”

NICKLAUS: “Ten years since he’s won a major.”

PLAYER: “And if you took it frame by frame what he’s went through, and everyone in this room knows, it’s remarkable, remarkable. But you see he’s so fit and strong, and if he never had his body in this shape, he would never have come back. Any scientist will tell you, if you don’t exercise, that you will not last. Your body can’t last. Your body deteriorates every year of your life when you get to a certain age. And he’s maintained his fitness and clubhead speed, after all he’s been through.

“And his short game, his putting, he’s a marvelous putter. And he’s got a great mind, a great mind. So all in all, things are favoring him to do extremely well.”

Latest

More Golfweek
Home