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Nicklaus thrives as Tiger chases mark

Jack Nicklaus hears it all the time. Tiger Woods needs seven ... six ... five ... more victories to break his record of 18 majors. People routinely debate when, not if, Tiger Woods will break that magical record.

Jack Nicklaus obliges in the same conversations with strangers at gala dinners, during interviews and at charity functions.

Tiger Woods needs five more majors to catch Jack, and Jack Nicklaus has every right to crinkle his tanned nose and roll his soft blue eyes around, but that would imply it bothers him. And that's simply not the case.

"I think it's been as good for me as it has been for him," Jack Nicklaus said on Sunday after receiving the Roy Firestone Award by the Westcoast Sports Associates at the Omni downtown.

I'm sorry. How is this a good thing for Jack?

Tiger Woods is just 32, and he should smash Jack Nicklaus' record, one that before Tiger Woods came along seemed unbreakable. Some think Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer of all time, but many believe Tiger Woods owns that distinction.

How many majors can he win? Twenty-two? Twenty-five?

"I'm grateful for Tiger's greatness," Jack Nicklaus said. "Every time Tiger is mentioned, I'm mentioned in the same breath."

Jack Nicklaus is retired from golf, but we're still talking about him.

We're talking about him over coffee, on ESPN and in columns. We bet our friends over how long it will take Tiger to eclipse Jack. We try to emulate him at the golf course, nearly falling forward with that back-breaking putting stance.

Tiger Woods has revived Jack Nicklaus' career, and Jack Nicklaus isn't even playing. It's a brilliant public relations move even Jack Nicklaus' team must kick back and admire.

But the best thing for Jack Nicklaus is that he's not being mentioned in the same breath with someone who's not so admirable. Jack Nicklaus is just thankful the Tiger chasing him is so darn likeable.

"First of all, I like Tiger," Jack Nicklaus said. "We could have someone who heads up the sport that would be a very poor example, and we don't have that. He sets a very good example. Every time his name is mentioned, my name is mentioned, too. It's probably kept me in the sport a lot longer than people expected. It's certainly good for me.

"I think it's good for the game. It's a rivalry over time."

We'll never know what would've happened, but it sure is fun to size them up and take a guess.

Jack Nicklaus admires Tiger Woods for the man that he is and the charity work that he does. Tiger Woods has the Tiger Woods Foundation in addition to many other worthy causes. Jack Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, are involved in 14 charities.

Now, don't get Jack Nicklaus wrong. His competitive fire still burns bright.

Roy Firestone interviewed Jack Nicklaus during the Westcoast's awards dinner and asked whether he or Tiger would win - turning back the clock - if both were 26 years old and staring each other down on the back nine of a major.

"I'd beat him like a drum," Jack Nicklaus said to a roar of applause.

He quickly pointed out that Tiger probably feels he would win as well.

"I honestly don't know the answer and we'll never know the answer," Jack Nicklaus said. "If you ask Tiger, he thinks he would win. If you ask me, I think I would win."

The only way to stage that is via video game. Jack Nicklaus doesn't play much golf anymore. He's too busy logging 750-some hours a year on his private jet. He's even gained 20 pounds, much to his dismay, because he can barely find the time to work out and he no longer takes the daily walks on 6,000-yard golf courses.

But people are still talking about him. While Tiger Woods takes his private jet from PGA Tour spot to sponsor engagement to charity function, Jack Nicklaus is flying around the world.

His golf course design business is the best around. He's busy planting golf courses in remote corners of the world where people don't know a putter from a driver. He's so generous with his time and money. He puts people at ease.

At seemingly every press conference, he shakes off public relations personnel who always want to cut off his interviews, then talks for another 30 minutes or however long it takes.

When a reporter stumbled over a question Sunday, he told Jack Nicklaus how nervous he was talking to him. Jack Nicklaus told him not to be concerned and gave a look like: "It's just me!"

Yes, it's just Jack.

You could argue Jack Nicklaus is making an even bigger impact on the golf world and in the philanthropist department than when he was playing golf for a living, introducing the sport to people who've never heard of it.

When he wondered why there was no children's hospital in West Palm Beach, where he resides, he and his wife had one built.

K.J. Choi was overcome with emotion when he won the Memorial Tournament, hosted by Jack Nicklaus, earlier this year. As a boy growing up in South Korea, he learned to play golf reading a Jack Nicklaus instruction book, "Golf My Way." To win Jack Nicklaus' tournament was a life-changing moment.

You can see why Jack Nicklaus doesn't even have time to worry about records falling. He knows Tiger Woods will break it.

"Unless he falls on his face somewhere," Jack Nicklaus said, "which I don't expect him to do."

Five ... four ... three ... two ... one ...

Tiger Woods will break Jack Nicklaus' record someday all right.

Jack Nicklaus need not worry. We'll still be talking about him.


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