Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Jack Nicklaus is shocked at how well Tiger Woods recovered from spinal fusion surgery. Gary Player had already written him off.
Now both golf legends like Woods’s chances to win the 82nd Masters.
After hitting Thursday’s ceremonial tee shots to begin the year’s first major tournament at Augusta National, Player and Nicklaus both said a Woods victory this week would rank as one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history.
“I’ve been amazed at how well he has come back,” Nicklaus said. “He has had to accommodate his fusion and I think that his golf swing is considerably better than it ever was because of that. He would certainly be one of my two or three favorites to win.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the record 18 majors won by Nicklaus, has not won a major title in nearly 10 years, since the 2008 US Open, and hasn’t won the Masters since 2005.
Since then, Woods has undergone divorce after a cheating scandal, several leg and knee injuries and four back operations. He hasn’t won any title since 2013 but is contending and driving well after spinal fusion, a self-dubbed “walking miracle.”
“When he was duffing chips. I thought, ‘Man, this guy’s gone.’ I never thought he would get over that. He was swinging very poorly,” Player said.
“He has been through a lot of adversity and has handled it extremely well,” Player said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him win this week. This is a golf course that’s made for him.”
South Africa’s Player said Woods would have 20 major wins had he not consulted with coaches on swing changes while he was dominating rivals and torching courses.
“Tiger Woods, it always frustrates me because we always want to see somebody break records and he was on the verge of breaking every single record,” Player said. “The reason he didn’t, because he changed his swing.
“The reason Tiger Woods never went on and won 20 majors is… he won the US Open by 15 shots and then he’s having a lesson. Those pros were probably marvelous teachers with amateurs, but could they break 85 on this course? Had they been in the arena to understand?
“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.”
Nicklaus, 78, and Player, 82, hit the ceremonial tee shots for the second time since the 2016 death of fellow legend and former honorary starter Arnold Palmer.
“We all miss Arnold,” six-time Masters winner Nicklaus said. “Arnold has been part of our three amigos for a long time. We obviously miss him greatly. But it’s always a thrill to come out on the first tee.”
Three-time Masters champion Player, who won nine career majors, outdrove Nicklaus.
“I said to Jack, ‘Don’t worry, I outdrive you now, but you outdrove me for 50 damn years,’” Player said.
– ‘Never in my lifetime’ –
Player and Nicklaus both applauded Augusta National for launching a women’s amateur event next year, but Player noted with regret the club founded the 1933 did not admit its first woman member until 2012.
“It’s something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime,” Player said of a women’s event at Augusta National.
“I vividly remember when they were talking about women being members of the golf club. Tiger Woods and I really stood up for them and said that they should be admitted into the club, much to our detriment amongst a lot of the members.
“I’m a great believer in women’s rights. And now to see this ladies tournament take place is just fantastic.”
– Asian talent rising –
Player said Asian talent is on the rise, especially in China, and likely to contend for a Masters green jacket one day soon.
“They’ve got wonderful golfers coming along,” he said. “It’s on a massive rise.”