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'He's got me shaking in my boots': Record-holder Jack Nicklaus backs Tiger Woods to win more major titles

 

Long wait: Tiger Woods with Green Jacket and Masters trophy
Long wait: Tiger Woods with Green Jacket and Masters trophy
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By Brian Keogh

Tiger Woods mania is in full swing again with even Jack Nicklaus admitting he's shaking in his boots as the now five-time Masters champion closed in on his 18-major haul with that win at Augusta National.

The excitement generated by Woods' incredible comeback from devastating injury and personal problems to win his 15th major is now such that demand for tickets for Royal Portrush briefly collapsed The Open website in the hours after his first major win for 11 years.

Woods is now the favourite to win the US PGA at Bethpage State Park's famed Black Course in May and with the US Open set for another venue where he has won before, Pebble Beach in June, he's the only man who could complete the grand slam this year as The Open returns to Royal Portrush.

Ben Hogan won the Masters, the US Open and The Open in 1953 - the famed Triple Crown - but was unable to go for the grand slam as the US PGA overlapped with that year's Open at Carnoustie.

But Woods, who won the US Open by 15 strokes at Pebble Beach in 2000 and triumphed at Bethpage when capturing his eighth major in the US Open in 2002, is clearly a sportsman that you write off at your peril.

He's now just three majors away from matching Nicklaus' haul of 18 and even the Golden Bear admits that he's got him worried after stopping a fishing trip in the Bahamas to watch Sunday's action.

"I've felt for a long time he was going to win again," Nicklaus said. "And, you know, the next two majors are at Bethpage, where he's won and at Pebble Beach, where he's won.

"So, you know, he's got me shaking in my boots, guys."

Nicklaus said that in a light-hearted tone but he genuinely believes Woods is capable of getting to 18 given the course management brilliance and cool under pressure he displayed on Sunday.

"I sat down and watched them fill up the water at number 12," Nicklaus said. "I was sitting there, Molinari was two shots in the lead when I turned it on and good gracious, it was a good club, club-and-a-half short. And I watched the rest of it."

The Golden Bear has been asked about Woods' 'ad nauseam' for more than 20 years, but he insists he wishes him well ahead of what is shaping up to be an unforgettable summer.

"I don't ever pull against anybody," he said. "Nobody wants their record to be broken, but I certainly wouldn't want Tiger to be hurt and not able to do it.

"Of course, he is now pretty healthy and I wish him well. I always wish the guys well. I want them to play their best.

"So I am sitting here watching this and saying, he is playing so much better than anyone else, he deserves to win.

"You watched how smart he played, how he used his head at 12, how he put the ball in the middle of the green.

"How he hit the ball to the left of the pin at 13, how he put the ball in the middle of the green at 14, how he put the ball in the middle of the green at 15.

"He hit the ball to the right of the hole at 16 to use the slope, put the ball right in the middle of the green at 17.

"Every shot he played was a smart shot."

The bad news for the young guns who have dominated golf in Woods' absence is that the new world number six does not have to be at his very best to win more majors.

"I think he understands who he is, he understands how to play the game, he understands how to play smart," Nicklaus said.

"He understands how not to put yourself in a position to play badly.

"Tiger has been a terrible driver the last few years, but he drove the ball magnificently. He hit that little cut shot and put the ball up the fairway.

"You just watch it all day long and you say, 'This is a man who is possessed. He's possessed to win a golf tournament'. He's absolutely under total control and he's going to get it done.

"I mean there wasn't any question in mind, after seeing [Francesco] Molinari hit the ball in the water at 12, and Tiger put it on the green. I said, 'Tournament's over.' It doesn't make any difference what anyone else is going to do. Somebody else is going to make enough mistakes, but Tiger won't make any, and he didn't."

Nicklaus' 1986 Masters win at the age of 46 was regarded as the greatest Masters win of all time until yesterday, and the 18-time major winner could see what Sunday meant to his biggest rival.

"It was pretty special for me to have [son] Jackie there and my mother and sister for the first time since 1959. The difference is that this year Tiger was coming back and he expected to be in contention," he said of Woods emotional hugs with his children Sam and Charlie.

"I didn't really expect to be in position in '86 to win. I got myself in position, and when I did, I remembered how to play.

"Tiger looked like he got himself in position and he knew how to play.

"He may have been part-remembering, but guys who really understand what they're doing and how to play, they remember how to play, and they remember what to do when they need to do it. Tiger did that today, and I did it in '86.

"Tiger is such a great putter, he has such a great short game, he has such distance control with his irons - unbelievable distance control, the best I've ever seen of anybody in the game.

"And if you get a guy who can do that, even if Tiger wasn't healthy and he could bunt the ball off the tee somewhere, with his iron game and his short game, he's going to win again.

"And he topped it off this week, by driving the ball with it. It was just a very special week for him. I've felt for a long time he was going to win again."

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