Jack Nicklaus was bonefishing in the Bahamas on Sunday but managed to get to a television just in time to watch four of the last five players in the field “fill up the water and No. 12.”
He knew almost immediately: Tiger Woods was going to win his 15th major championship.
“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,’” Nicklaus said via phone on “Live From the Masters“. “He’s absolutely under total control and he’s going to get it done. And he did.
“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 is going to make enough mistakes, and Tiger won’t make any, and he didn’t.”
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Woods’ Masters win, 11 years after his last major victory and 14 years after his last Augusta triumph, evoked memories of Nicklaus’ own victory in ’86. It became especially hard to ignore the parallels when Tiger stuffed his tee shot at the par-3 16th, just as Jack had done en route to his sixth green jacket 33 years ago.
The difference in Nicklaus’ mind is that he never expected to win again, and Woods clearly did.
“The difference is that this year Tiger was coming back and he expected to be in contention. I didn’t really expect in ’86 to be in position to win,” he said. “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.”
Whether Woods would ever get back to this point was never a question of talent. And that’s why Jack said he remained steadfast in his belief that it could happen.
“I’ve been saying – everybody kept asking me, ‘What about Tiger? Can he win another major?’ I kept saying, ‘I think so. I think he will,’” Nicklaus said. “And the reason I said that is because it all depended on Tiger’s health. If Tiger is healthy, he didn’t need to worry about his driver. He never drove the ball straight anyway. He always, from somewhere, he got the ball up around the green. He’s 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.
“If you get a guy who can do that, even if Tiger wasn’t healthy, if 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.”
Woods now trails Nicklaus in the green-jacket department by just one, six to five, and by three in the all-time major victory count, 18 to 15.
“I 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 [2002 U.S. Open], and Pebble Beach, where he’s won [2000 U.S. Open]. So, you know, he’s got me shaking in my boots, guys.”