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Wednesday, December 24, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 3/4/2014

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Health key in Woods’ chase of Nicklaus

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Jack Nicklaus made a TV appearance last weekend during the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic.

Interviewers on the Golf Channel got around to the inevitable question about Tiger Woods and his pursuit of Nicklaus’ record 18 major professional championships

Woods, of course, has 14 such victories, although none since the memorable 2008 U.S. Open playoff win against Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines. Yes, it has been that long. He’s 0-for-18 since while missing four starts because of injuries.

“Tiger is so talented, he’s such a good player,” Nicklaus said. “I still think he’s going to blow by my record, I really do, if he’s healthy. As you start to get older you have problems, everyone has problems.

“If Tiger can stay physically healthy he’s got probably 10 more years and that’s 40 major championships … The game is not easy on the body though, it takes its toll.”

As if on cue, Woods departed the PGA National course after 13 holes in the Honda’s final round, limping and citing lower back spasms.

It was a similar malady to what he suffered in the final round of the Barclays Championship last August when, at one point, he dropped to his knees in pain. But he was in contention, stuck it out, and finished tied for second.

Of course, in light of that critics jumped on this withdrawal, claiming it was more the result of Tiger’s standing on the scoreboard. He had turned in 40 and was 5-over for the day when he called it quits.

Really? A lot of words, some of them glorious but certainly not all of them pleasant, have been used to describe Woods through the years. I’ve used quite a few of them, glorious or otherwise. But no one should ever call him a quitter.

Would Woods have left the course in a van if he’d been within striking distance on the leaderboard? Probably not. Only he can judge the level of his pain. But he’s been known to grind hard when the lead is in view.

It wasn’t on this occasion, so why bother? Why risk further injury with the Masters just weeks down the road?

Yes, he stuck it out at the Barclays. But he struggled for several weeks thereafter late in 2013.

There is a lot of golf to be played yet in 2014. In fact, all of the golf that matters — the four majors, three of the four World Golf Championship events, the Players Championship — is yet to be played.

That begins with this week’s WGC Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral, where Woods is the defending champion. He had yet to report by Tuesday and his agent reported his status was still “up in the air” as he continued to be treated. He is also the defending champ at Bay Hill, which tees off in a couple weeks. Soon after comes the Masters.

Nicklaus withdrew from tournaments only twice during his entire career and played in 146 straight major championships over a 36-year stretch. It is, perhaps, an under-appreciated record.

The 38-year-old Tiger, meanwhile, has missed four majors in just the last six years. Between knee, Achilles, neck, and back ailments, his body is now an issue.

I imagine he felt skipping the final five holes of the Honda Classic was an investment towards playing in every tournament that really matters this year.

Otherwise, Nicklaus’ cautionary words last weekend may prove prescient.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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