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So you think Tiger Woods has come out of the starting gate as a pro faster than Jack Nicklaus did in 1962? Well, you're right. Woods, as they may know even in Tibet, has won three times in 10 starts. It took Nicklaus 16 tournaments before he won, his first victory coming at the '62 U.S. Open. But an examination of the Golden Bear's record shows that before turning pro, he had accomplished things that eluded Woods.
At the 1960 U.S. Open, Nicklaus, age 20, led midway through the final round before finishing second behind Arnold Palmer. A year later he tied for fourth. Woods's two appearances in the Open have resulted in a withdrawal and a tie for 41st. As an amateur at the Masters in 1960 and 1961, Nicklaus was 13th and seventh. Woods tied for 41st in 1995 and missed the cut last year. So in terms of achievement in the majors as an amateur, the nod goes to Nicklaus.
In his quest to become known as the greatest player of all time, Woods must follow a path that leads to a golfing Mount Everest. For instance, he needs to win one major this year and two next year. While we're at it, throw in a couple of thirds.
Taking into account Nicklaus's best years, from 1962, when he turned professional, to 1978, here's what Woods must accomplish over the next 17 seasons to truly be the "next Nicklaus."
•Win almost one quarter of the majors he enters (Nicklaus won 15 of 64 between '62 and '78) and finish in the top three more than half the time.
Although most golf historians regard Nicklaus's record as unmatchable, none other than Jack himself has insisted that a player with an unquenchable desire would one day top his records by hitting drives longer than previously thought possible, by seldom missing a green, by putting like a magician and by rarely making a mental mistake.
Does this describe Woods? His superb amateur record and his sensational pro debut certainly suggest it. But before you get caught up in Tigermania, remember the size of the mountain o he has to climb.
Ken Bowden has collaborated with Jack Nicklaus on numerous articles.