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A Tiger with the world by the tail

Published Apr. 12, 1996|Updated Sep. 15, 2005

Golf never has seen the equal of Jack Nicklaus, but he now envisions being surpassed by Tiger Woods.

"You can add my Masters wins (six) to Arnold Palmer's (four)," Nicklaus oozed, setting up a nuclear declaration. "This kid will win more than both of us combined."

Say what?

This is King Jack, a golf history major, playing legend/psychic with the star-kissed future of a 20-year-old Stanford University sophomore. Heavenly but, perhaps, high-pressuring praise from the game's most in-the-clouds achiever.

"I take it as a nice compliment," Woods said after they shared a Wednesday practice round with Palmer. "Arnold and Jack have won 10 Masters between them, huh? That is a lot." Nicklaus also has won five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens and three British Opens.

Woods was asked if the Nicklaus declaration overloaded Tiger's bony, collegiate shoulders with expectations too weighty and unfair, "Oh, god no," he said. "When you're already at the maximum, the hopes can't get any more outlandish."

Tiger is a mesmerizing package of ability, power, personality and heritage. His father is an African-American whose own dad was a Native American. Tiger's mom is Thai and one-quarter Chinese.

"I've got a few varied factions pulling for me," the kid said with a power smile that seems the work of some Hollywood orthodontist. "I view all the interest not as a burden but as a plus."

Trailing by a dozen strokes after Greg Norman's dynamic 63 on Masters Day One, Woods probably won't be getting started this year in winning those 11-plus Masters green jackets predicted by Nicklaus.

"Win 11 times at Augusta National?" defending champ Ben Crenshaw exclaimed upon learning of the Nicklaus forecast. "What I think Jack was saying is that Tiger's talent is out of this world. He's incredible. Unbelievable. Tiger is just learning. Soon he should rule."

Crenshaw, paired with Woods on Thursday, was constantly outdriven by 50 to 90 yards as the two-time U.S. Amateur champion averaged 305, going 14-for-14 in hitting fairways with tee shots. "I've never seen or heard of a better driving round at Augusta," Crenshaw said.

Ben wobbled to 5-over-par 77. Tiger's long game was extraordinary but he would slump to 75 due to short shots that were overburdened with poor judgment, ineffective putting and a shortage of experience.

Woods hit a 340-yard drive on the third hole, coming within 50 feet of the green. He only made par, nearly three-putting. On the 555-yard second, Tiger's drive left him with just 220 to the pin. He hit a 4-wood 40 yards over the green and made bogey 6.

"Smaller shots is where he needs to get sharp," said Crenshaw, who won his second Masters last year at age 43. "I've never seen anybody

who, with such precision and controlled tempo, can get a club head moving so blurring fast while his body trunk unwinds with near-inhuman thrust."

Woods is halfway through Stanford. Still planning to graduate before becoming a golf pro. Agents already are cooing at his youthful feet, knowing this phenom who has wowed Nicklaus, Palmer and Crenshaw can become an instant marketing commodity. . In today's second round, Tiger is paired with another icon, Tom Watson.

Gene Sarazen is one of only four men to win all four of professional golf's major championships, along with Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gary Player. At age 94, Sarazen popped a well-cheered Thursday tee shot as a ceremonial Masters starter. He then left the course via electric cart, but The Squire paused to talk about Wunderkind Woods.

"How old is he?" Sarazen asked, wearing his trademark plus-four britches. "Twenty? Hmmm, the year I was 20, I won the U.S. Open and PGA (1922)." Gene was grinning. As golf's ultimate elder wheeled away, he said, "See you all in Heaven."

Tiger will be chasing The Squire and Nicklaus for a long, long time.

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