CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – Jack Nicklaus remains confident Tiger Woods will surpass his mark of 18 major titles despite facing a level of competition the Golden Bear says as good as any that's ever been in golf.
Nicklaus was in Charleston for the opening of a pizza restaurant, in which he and son Gary are investors. Nicklaus said he's never wavered from believing the 37-year-old Woods will eventually pull out of his majors drought – he hasn't won one since the 2008 U.S. Open – and win the five titles necessary to move past Nicklaus.
These days, Woods “has as many good players as we've ever had in the game,'' Nicklaus said.
With recent major champions like Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson playing top-level golf, the chances of one player dominating several majors in a short time as Woods did at times in achieving his 14 titles becomes less likely, Nicklaus said.
Still, Nicklaus doesn't waste much time worrying about holding on to his achievement.
“If you look at it realistically, Tigers' probably got another 10 years of top golf,'' Nicklaus said. “That's 40 majors. Can he win five of them? I think he probably will.''
Nicklaus went through several major droughts in his career.
He didn't win for more than three years between the 1967 U.S. Open and his next title at the 1970 British Open. He went through a similar stretch after his win at the 1975 PGA Championship, not winning major No. 15 until the 1978 British Open.
Of course, Nicklaus' longest major-less run was a nearly six-year period until his dramatic final title at the 1986 Masters when he was 46 years old.
Nicklaus said one major difference between his run and Woods' chase is the national attention. Nicklaus didn't even consider the historic context of his run until 1970 when a golf writer mentioned he had just won No. 10 – and the fourth of his six green jackets – at the 1972 Masters and trailed then-leader Bobby Jones by three.
“I never worried about it,'' Nicklaus said. “I wasn't thinking about records at the time.''
Woods' goal was crystal clear from the time he began and has been a focus of media and fans. His drought is one of golf's most captivating stories and something he won't escape until he breaks through again, Nicklaus said.
“Each time you don't win, obviously, makes it harder,'' Nicklaus said.
These days, the 73-year-old Nicklaus spends most of his recreation time on the tennis court instead of the golf course. He said tennis is everything that golf is not for the casual player – quick, inexpensive and easy to learn.
Nicklaus said golf is losing patrons because it takes too long to play, is difficult to pick up and can be costly.
“We're losing people and need to find a way to stop that,'' he said.
Besides, Nicklaus needs the free time to keep up with his 22 grandchildren, who seem to have an athletic event for him to attend nearly every day. His grandson, Nick O'Leary, is tight end for No. 8 Florida State tight and he caught three touchdowns in the Seminoles' season-opening, 41-13, victory at Pittsburgh earlier this month. Nicklaus said he attends all the Florida State games and expects to be back in South Carolina next month then the Seminoles play at No. 3 Clemson on Oct. 19.
Nicklaus said on his last visit to his college Ohio State, he spoke with Buckeyes football coach Urban Meyer and told him he'd already gotten tickets to the BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif., next January.
When Meyer protested about jinxing Ohio State's title run, Nicklaus joked, “Urban, I bought the tickets for Florida State. I hope you get there,''' he said. “He got a big kick out of that.''
Should the Seminoles and Buckeyes meet in the Rose Bowl, there won't be any split loyalties.
“I'll root for my grandson,'' Nicklaus said.