On Friday, as Jack Nicklaus opened a public course in his hometown, Tiger Woods continued preparation for the opening of a new season. He was on the opposite coast from Nicklaus, in California, not Florida, but with 12 professional majors, and two straight going into this year's Masters, his presence was certainly felt at the Golden Bear's news conference in North Palm Beach.
The hype for this week's Buick Invitational will focus on Woods going for his seventh straight PGA Tour victory, but the big picture is that Tiger is halfway to his second Tiger Slam, and just six victories away from Nicklaus' record of 18 pro majors. While the FedEx Cup has his attention, it's not like the season-ending points race or the move of the Players to May will dramatically alter Tiger's schedule. There are four dates on the calendar: Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and the PGA Championship. Woods would not say that this week at Torrey Pines, but the rest are practice rounds for the majors and with wife Elin pregnant and expecting midsummer, the number of those appearances could be reduced.
With his father passed on, parenthood upcoming, a new home being built on Jupiter Island and a golf-course design business recently launched, this is a different phase of Woods' life and career, the melding of his prime with other priorities, and it is interesting that he will be doing it while eventually based in Nicklaus Country, where Jack and Barbara settled from Ohio and raised their family, which now includes 19 grandchildren, with a 20th on the way.
From the back of Nicklaus' home in Lost Tree Village, you can just about see Tiger's boat docked near Old Port Cove. It was from this compound that Nicklaus balanced his career with fatherhood. When he moved to North Palm Beach in the mid-1960s, he already had three children and four majors. From that point forward, he played less but won 14 more majors, including three in his 40s, the last at 46.
Before the Masters last year, Nicklaus said he regretted not pushing a little harder, to make the number slightly more unattainable for Woods -- as if 18 professional majors wasn't a number that seemed insurmountable a decade ago. But two days before his 67th birthday, with Woods edging two notches closer last year after his British Open and PGA victories, Nicklaus was more philosophical. "I have no idea what my record could have been, and that's of no concern to me," Nicklaus said. "I have no regrets about my record or not pushing myself further. I did what I did in my time, and Tiger will do what he does in his time. I wouldn't trade anything I've done with my kids, my family, the skiing and my other interests for another victory."
Now it seems a foregone conclusion that Woods, to use one of his descriptions, will bury the record. At two majors a year, which he's done in 2005 and 2006, Woods will be at 18 by the time he's 34 years old. Nicklaus was asked after playing North Palm Beach CC if Woods surpassing 18 majors would make Tiger the greatest golfer ever. There were hints of an asterisk. "Well, he can't be remembered as the greatest in the 20th century," Nicklaus said, after some thought. "In the 21st, yes. Let's leave it at that."
These words would have put a smile on Woods' face, had he been able to hear them. He's two-thirds of the way to Nicklaus' milestone, but nobody knew how hard the first 12 major were more than the man hitting balls with Hank Haney at Shady Canyon GC in Southern California. It was just yesterday that Woods tacked the Nicklaus records to his bedroom wall, just down the road in Cypress. Now 31, he approaches the record as one of the richest if not the most famous man in the world, with more earning power than any A-lister in Hollywood going for movie roles, commanding $25 million to design his first course in Dubai while Nicklaus is at $2 million.
But all that money can't buy the happiness Woods is about to experience as a father. How will he be as a parent? Will he be like his Pops? What will the scene be like when he wins his 19th major and there are little Tigers running up to him on the green? Or hat on backward, when he's coach of a Little League team in Hobe Sound? That's when it will be complete -- when he's got car-pool duty and homework assignments. "Tiger's life will change, but I think for the better for him," Nicklaus said. "He'll have family to share his life. That was great for me to be able to share it with my family."
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.