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Jack Nicklaus on Tom Watson and Tiger Woods

Golf legend Jack Nicklaus admits he was surprised as anyone by fellow veteran Tom Watson's performance at this year's Open - so much so he broke the habit of a lifetime and watched golf on television.

Watson, who last week turned 60, had a putt at the last at Turnberry to win but missed and eventually lost a play-off to Stewart Cink.

The five-time Open winner's resurgence was the story of the week at the Ailsa links and even 18-time major winner Nicklaus found himself swept up in the furore at the venue where he famously lost the 'Duel in the Sun' to Watson in 1977.

"Every day we did something with him," said Nicklaus, referring to his contact with Watson from Wednesday onwards during Open week.

"I watched most of the third round and all of the final round - and I never watch golf.

"I parked myself in front of the television and watched the whole thing.

"On the final day I sent him a text - usually I don't text but this was the first one I had bothered to send.

"I then called him about an hour after his round and I was very pleased for him and I told him to be happy with what he did.

"I think any time someone our age - and I'm 10 years older than he is - is able to perform like he did it is pretty amazing."

Nicklaus felt Watson's previous experiences - he won eight majors himself in an era when he also faced the likes of Lee Trevino and Seve Ballesteros - allowed him to compete at the highest level again.

"He was always a good player. That performance just came from inside him, he got himself into contention, remembered how to play and he played," added the 69-year-old, who is in the UK as his role as RBS ambassador working with the First Tee programme, which aims to proved life skills experience to local youths through golf.

"He just had the guts to continue to play. I think competitors were tougher in my era.

"We probably didn't have nearly as many good players as today but the good players we had all had the opportunity to win.

"Any time I was not leading the tournament I knew someone else would get there; it would be a Watson, (Arnold) Palmer, (Gary) Player, Trevino or whoever.

"Today it is not the case. Tiger Woods gets into contention and they all go away and the reason they go away is they have never had enough exposure to it.

"Once or twice they are maybe in contention but our guys were in contention nine or 10 times a year.

"They learned how to win. When you weren't doing very well you knew you were going to get beat because the other guys didn't fall on their face."

Nicklaus, who is in the UK as his role as RBS ambassador working with the First Tee programme, which aims to proved life skills experience to local youths through golf, also revelaed that Tiger Woods' determination to go it alone and do things his own way means he has never once asked for advice from the man he is likely to usurp as the sport's most successful golfer.

Woods, when seemingly at the peak of his game a few years ago went through months of turmoil after remodelling his swing to make it better, is four short of Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18 major championship wins.

Most other golfers of his generation would have sought out the 69-year-old Nicklaus for his opinion on some aspect of the game - but not Woods.

"Tiger has never asked me one question about golf," said Nicklaus.

"He's a good kid but he pretty much does things his own way. That's okay because I pretty much did my own thing."

The world number one did, however, pay attention when Nicklaus offered some advice on the problem with his left knee, which was operated on after he won the US Open last year - his last major victory.

Having missed the final two majors of that year Woods returned to the tour in 2009 but was still feeling the after-effects of the injury.

"Tiger's problem is not his leg but what causes [the stress on] his leg," said Nicklaus. "He gets off his right hip really quickly and that places so much stress on his knee.

"I talked to Tiger about it and recommended a physiotherapist - so I got that one off my chest!

"I played in the Memorial Tournament shoot-out this year and he was swinging beautifully. He said to me 'I didn't call your guy but I took your advice and knew what I had to do'."


September 8, 2009

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