Nicklaus: 'I take my hat off to him'

Jack Nicklaus always thought the U.S. Open was the hardest and most complete test in golf. That's what made Tiger Woods' victory even more impressive to the man whose major record Woods is trying to beat.

"To have a will as strong as that, I take my hat off to him," Nicklaus said Thursday.

Nicklaus was in Utah on Monday while Woods was going 19 holes for a playoff victory over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines and later learned the source of Woods' pain.

Woods said Wednesday that he had a torn ligament the last 10 months and a double stress fracture in his left leg that he suffered two weeks before the U.S. Open. He twice rallied from a one-shot deficit on the 18th hole, first to get into a playoff on Sunday and then to extend the playoff one extra hole.

He said he will have surgery to repair a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

"In light of this week's revelation about Tiger's health, it makes his performance in the U.S. Open that much more phenomenal," Nicklaus said. "I have always said that the U.S. Open is the most difficult and complete examination of a golfer, and for him to persevere with a damaged knee and stress fracture is a testament not only to his ability but his tremendously high level of competitiveness."

Nicklaus issued a statement through his office because he was inundated with requests for comments.

As for Woods missing the rest of the year, Nicklaus said he understood -- even if he could not relate.

"I am sincerely sorry for him," said Nicklaus, captain of four Presidents Cup teams on which Woods played. "I understand how difficult it is for him to walk away from the game, especially with two major championships and a Ryder Cup on the horizon. But I also know that Tiger is a very intelligent young man, and he has made a decision that is best for the long term and the rest of his career."

Nicklaus won a record-tying four U.S. Opens among his 18 professional majors, and he was never slowed by injury until late in his career. He only withdrew from one major, the 1983 Masters, with a back injury after the tournament started.

Woods' season-ending surgery means he will not be able to catch one record that Nicklaus owns -- 146 consecutive majors played, a streak that coincidentally ended 10 years ago at Royal Birkdale when Nicklaus did not play the British Open.

"Tiger is one of the best-conditioned golfers I have ever been around, so I fully expect for him to do what is necessary to get back to competitive shape in the shortest amount of time possible and return strong next season," Nicklaus said. "Personally, I look forward to that return. Tiger is a great person and great champion, and he is important to the game of golf."