Jack Nicklaus said he is “very surprised” that Tiger Woods hasn’t won a tournament in 16 months and still believes the former top-ranked golfer will surpass his record of 18 career major golf titles.
“I’m surprised that he hasn’t bounced back by now,” Nicklaus said during a press conference prior to tomorrow’s start of the U.S. PGA Tour’s Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “He’s got a great work ethic, or at least he did. I assume he still does.”
Woods, 35, has fallen to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking and hasn’t won since the Australian Masters in November, 2009, shortly before he was involved in a single-car accident outside his Florida home. The crash led to the unraveling of his private life, a divorce and the end of his record five-year reign atop the golf rankings.
Woods exited golf’s Match Play Championship last week in the opening round for the first time in nine years, losing to Thomas Bjorn, a player 62 places below him in the rankings.
The winner of 14 major championships, Woods has played 15 U.S. PGA Tour events over 10 months without a win, his worst streak since he turned professional in 1996. He’s four wins shy of matching Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, a number he has been stuck at since winning the 2008 U.S. Open.
“I think he’ll still break my record,” said Nicklaus, 71. “We haven’t played any majors this year. Ask me that same question again at the end of this year. I’m very surprised that he hasn’t popped back.”
New No. 1
As Woods has struggled on the golf course, Germany’s Martin Kaymer has risen to No. 1, followed by England’s Lee Westwood and Luke Donald and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell.
Nicklaus said he expects Woods to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the near future.
“When you have as much talent as he has, he’s not going to go anywhere,” Nicklaus said. “He didn’t get there by playing poorly. He has won a lot of tournaments hitting it all over the world, but he still figured out a way to get that ball in the hole. He’ll do it again.”
Woods, who got the most recent of his 71 wins on the U.S. PGA Tour at the BMW Championship in September 2009, has been undergoing a swing change with new coach Sean Foley since August. His best finish in three events this season is a tie for 20th place at the Dubai Desert Classic last month. He finished the tournament with a 3-over par 75, including a double-bogey on his final hole.
Nicklaus said he’s also surprised it has taken Woods so long to adapt to the swing changes.
“If you understand what you’re doing, you ought to be able to make a swing change during a round,” he said. “Once the round is over and you have tested it under pressure, you ought to be able to solidify it in a half hour.”
Eventually, Woods will figure it out, Nicklaus said.
“I have no idea what is going through his head,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair for me to guess what’s going through his head. I think, basically, Tiger is really a principled kid. Yes, he got off the track. Are we all perfect? No.”
Woods may return to the U.S. PGA Tour next week at the World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship event in Miami. Woods has won the tournament at the TPC Blue Monster course six times.