Nicklaus: Golf is bigger than Tiger

Like most of the golf world, Jack Nicklaus has no idea when or if Tiger Woods will return to competitive golf.

But the Golden Bear figures that 2010, based on the major championship venues, will be a difficult year for Woods to skip if the game's No. 1 player is intent on matching and surpassing Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles.

"I don't know the answer to what he is going to do and what he is going to play," Nicklaus said Friday. "Certainly this year, where the majors are . . . he obviously loves Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. He basically owns all three of those places.

"If Tiger is going to pass my record, I think this is a big year for him in that regard. If he doesn't play this year, obviously the chore is going to be a little tougher."

Nicklaus took questions on a conference call from his North Palm Beach, Fla., office due to requests surrounding his 70th birthday, which is Jan. 21.

Woods announced on Dec. 11 that he is taking an "indefinite" leave from the game when he admitted to marital infidelity. Tabloid reports, gossip and speculation continue, but Woods has not been seen in public since his Nov. 27 one-vehicle crash and has issued no statements since announcing his leave.

Before the controversy, this figured to be a big year for Woods. The first three major venues -- Augusta National for the Masters, Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open and the Old Course at St. Andrews for the British Open -- are courses where Woods has won seven of his 14 major titles, including the last U.S. Open played at Pebble in 2000 and the last two British Opens at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005.

The PGA Championship will be played at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis., where Woods tied for 24th in 2004 -- the last year before 2009 that he failed to win a major championship.

Nicklaus has long maintained that he expects Woods to break his record.

"The game will continue to move forward," Nicklaus said. "Tiger is a big influence and the largest one we've ever had. Certainly I hope he comes back and plays. [But] last year the tour had a lot of events that were larger than they ever were and charity [contributions were] up. It's not all about once person. The game is a big game.''

Bob Harig is the golf writer for ESPN.com.