1. If Tiger Woods does return from knee surgery to play the Memorial next week at Dublin, Ohio, then the pro golf’s spotlight can once again be shone in the proper direction -- on Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus, who turned 68 in January, is the host of the Memorial, but of course he is much more than that, the truest measuring stick for success for Woods in his remarkable career.
With the U.S. Open ticking closer and with no greater living expert on how to win it than Nicklaus, it could be a revealing week for host and guest.
Nicklaus remains close to the United States Golf Assn., and as an endorsee of the Royal Bank of Scotland, has entered into a deal that puts the two entities together in a business relationship.
His relationship with Woods is all about comparing success stories, but Nicklaus said it’s hard to say who traveled the more difficult path.
“The problem is it’s hard to compare eras,” Nicklaus said. “It’s a different game today, and a lot of guys from before, like even Hogan and Player, would have had a hard time today because of the distance you need to drive it. That’s just a fact of what the game is.
“I don’t know if we had as many good players, but the great players we had all were multiple major winners, so when I slipped up, there was somebody else on their ‘A’ game.
“There are great players now, but they might not have won a lot of majors, except for Tiger. Phil [Mickelson] could be close. Ernie [Els] approached it, Vijay [Singh] approached it. But that’s about it. And that’s a fact of life today.”
2. Nicklaus won 18 major titles, more than any other, and that’s the number Woods has been fixated on since he was a kid and taped a paper sheet of Nicklaus’ statistics to his bedroom wall.
Nicklaus not only won the U.S. Open four times, and no one won more, but he also established another record that should not be overlooked. Nicklaus was second 19 times in the 162 majors he played.
Say Nicklaus wins roughly half of those, then he’s at 28 major titles, and Woods -- at age 32 and with 13 majors so far -- would have no shot at getting close to that number.
But Nicklaus doesn’t follow that kind of ‘what if I won more?’ mathematics.
“I didn’t, and my record is what it is,” he said. “I guess my record is not so sloppy.”
3. So what if Woods has won four straight times at Torrey Pines, that doesn’t give him any advantage when it’s the U.S. Open we’re talking about, does it?
Nicklaus says it does.
“Absolutely he’s got an advantage there. I think Tiger has got to be the odds-on favorite by a long ways. When you have success on a golf course, then you believe you can win. And I know one thing, Tiger knows how to win at Torrey Pines.”
4. In his opinion, Nicklaus said the Royal and Ancient sets up British Open courses tougher than the USGA does for the U.S. Open.
“I think the USGA is consistently very good with the way they set it up. They make it a complete exam. When somebody wins a U.S. Open championship, you should earn it.
“The setups have been fairly consistent, but the conditions sometime exacerbate the setup, then the course can get out of hand, like what happened at Shinnecock.” (In 2004 at Shinnecock, the greens were sun-baked and so firm and fast that players had trouble even keeping putts on the green.)
5. Nicklaus said there have been plenty of difficult U.S. Open setups, but none tougher than one in particular.
“Winged Foot,” he said.
In the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Hale Irwin shot seven over par and won.
In the first round, nobody broke par, including Nicklaus, who putted the ball off one green from 20 feet back of the pin. In his first four holes, Nicklaus needed 11 putts and shot 75. He wound up tied for 10th.
Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial
Where: Fort Worth, Texas.
TV: Golf Channel (Today-Friday, noon-3 p.m., 5:30-8:30 p.m.) and Ch. 2 (Saturday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m.).
Senior PGA Championship
Where: Rochester, N.Y.
TV: Golf Channel (Today, 9 a.m.-noon; Today, 11:30 p.m.-Friday, 2:30 a.m., Friday, 9 a.m.-noon; Friday, 11:30 p.m.-Saturday, 2:30 a.m.) and Ch. 4 (Saturday-Sunday, noon-3 p.m.).
LPGA Corning Classic
Where: Corning, N.Y.
TV: Golf Channel (Today, 3:30-8:30 p.m.; 9:30-11:30 p.m., Friday, 3:30-5:30 p.m.; Friday, 9:30-11:30 p.m., Saturday, 3:30-6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 p.m.-Sunday, 12:30 a.m., Sunday, 3:30-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 p.m.-Monday, 12:30 a.m.).
All times Pacific
STAT OF THE WEEK
The Vardon Trophy is awarded to the player with the lowest scoring average, and Tiger Woods leads this year with 67.73 -- which would be the lowest since average scores instead of a points system were used to calculate the winner in 1947. Woods has won the Vardon seven times. Nicklaus never won it.
A SLICE OF LIFE
Phil Mickelson, on the rough at the U.S. Open layout:
“I love something that they’re doing this year, where there is a couple of different layers of rough, where you can actually play if you only miss the fairway by a couple of yards, you can probably play a shot to the green. And then it progressively gets worse.”