Nicklaus still thinks Woods will break his record for major wins

Jack Nicklaus said he still felt that Tiger Woods would break his record of 18 career major championships. (Matt Slocum/AP)

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Fifty years after the first of his six Masters Championships, Jack Nicklaus arrived Tuesday at Augusta National Golf Club and said he still felt that Tiger Woods would break his record of 18 career major championships.

Nicklaus, 73, came to town to attend Tuesday night’s Champions Dinner, and to hit the ceremonial first tee shot to start the tournament on Thursday with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

Nicklaus said this is an important Masters for Woods, who is seeking to win here for the first time since 2005, given the fact that he’s already won three times this year.

“Obviously, the older he gets and if he doesn’t win, it makes my record move out further,” Nicklaus said. “But I’ve said it and I’ll continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record. I think he’s just too talented, too driven and too focused on that.

“He’s got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. Still, he’s got to do it. He’s played very, very well this spring. I think if he wins here, it would be a very large step toward regaining the confidence that he has not won a major” since 2008.

“It’s been a while. He’s going to have to figure it out. I think if he figures it out here, it will be a great boost for him. If he doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, I think it will be a lot tougher for him.”

Nicklaus’ first Masters victory in 1963 came 10 months after his first major title at the 1962 U.S. Open. He said he felt he was well prepared, and that a hip injury forced him to learn how to play a right-to-left shot, a shape that’s vital given the layout at Augusta National Golf Club.

Playing in the pouring rain, Nicklaus took the lead in the third round and finished the tournament off on Sunday for the victory.

Nicklaus also talked about his last Masters title, in 1986 at age 46.

“It’s kind of funny because it was sort of like I got myself in position to make a run in the early part of the back nine (on Sunday),” he said. “I started making birdies and all of a sudden I remembered how to play. I remembered the feeling of being in contention … of how you control your emotions and how to enjoy the moment.”

Nicklaus said he doesn’t play much these days, playing “occasionally if I have to.” He will tee it up later this month at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in Savannah, Ga., teaming with Player.

Nicklaus also said that he felt Merion Golf Club in Ardmore “will do just fine” as the host of the 2013 U.S. Open in June.

“Merion has got six or seven holes that you can abuse,” he said. “They have got six or seven holes that will abuse you. I think actually they are going to have a really good Open. I think it will be a really exciting Open because of the nature of the golf course.”

--Joe Juliano