Tiger Woods may or may not be fit enough to play in the British Open in July but Jack Nicklaus, who still believes a healthy former No. 1 will surpass his majors title mark, had no news to break on Wednesday about the rehabbing superstar’s timetable for a return.
"He didn't say anything and I didn't ask him because I knew I was going to talk to you guys. I'll let him answer those questions," the host of this week’s Memorial Tournament cracked during his pre-event press conference held shortly after Woods phoned in his regrets for the 2014 edition of a contest he has won five times and before he announced his back injury would force him out of the U.S. Open in two weeks.
"He's looking forward to getting back into the game," said Nicklaus, who noted Woods told him he was sorry to have to skip his turn at Muirfield Village. "He misses it."
As he noted on his website Wednesday evening, Woods remains sidelined after surgery at the end of March to fix a herniated disc in his back. His inability to play at Pinehurst will mark the sixth major championship Woods will miss because of injury. He won the U.S. Open in 2008 playing on a broken leg and shortly thereafter underwent knee surgery that put him on the DL for eight months and kept him out of the British Open and PGA Championship.
Woods, whose last competitive round was the finale of the WGC-Cadillac Championship on March 9, was forced to the bench for four months of the 2011 season as he battled Achilles and knee injuries that made him a spectator for the U.S. and British Opens.
With the condition of the 14-time major champion a huge question mark going forward, Nicklaus and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, on-site at Jack’s Place in Dublin, Ohio, weighed in with their observations about Woods’ fettle.
For the winner of 18 grand slam tilts, the state of the body of 38-year-old Tiger was the primary obstacle keeping his nearest pursuer from racing past him in the record books.
"If he's healthy, I think Tiger's got 10-plus years to play top-quality tournament golf," offered Nicklaus. "I've said many times, he's got a little over 40 tournaments to play the major championships, he's only got to win five to pass my record. As good a player as he is, I don't think that should be a big deal."
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods at the Memorial Tournament in June of 2012, Photo credit: Andy Lyons.
Watson, for his part, would choose Woods as one of his three captain’s picks to compete against Europe at Gleneagles in September if the seven-time Ryder Cup member is not eligible for one of the nine qualifying spots. On the bench since March 9, Tiger will likely fall short of the points required to qualify for the team but Watson made it clear that a robust Woods would make the trip to Scotland.
"Obviously, I would pick him if he’s playing well and he’s in good health," Watson told the Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday. "There’s not a question."
The uncertainty about Woods’ physical well-being, however, remains, despite Tiger's assertion that he remained "very optimistic" about the 2014 season and beyond.
"He doesn’t know how long it’s going to take to recover," Watson said. "I just hope he recovers quickly enough to start playing well again and give me the shot to pick him."
With everyone speculating about his well-being, the ever-present-even-when-absent superstar apparently believes his career will be back on course at least by October, when he, his Presidents Cup partner Matt Kuchar, and Angel Cabrera are slated to play in the PGA Tour-sanctioned Americas Golf Cup in Argentina. Woods, however, won’t be cashing any appearance-fee checks for showing up, according to Rex Hoggard.
"Any tournament in the world played under the umbrella of the PGA Tour cannot allow any player to receive guarantees, so Tiger will not receive any fee for coming to play the tournament," event spokesperson Paco Aleman told Argentina’s Golf Magazine Media Group this week, according to Hoggard. "But the PGA Tour gave us a big hand because they persuaded Kuchar and Tiger to come."