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Jack Nicklaus believes a healthy Tiger Woods can challenge his major record

Closing in: Nicklaus with Woods PICTURE: GETTY

JACK NICKLAUS has always believed a healthy Tiger Woods would equal or surpass his record of 18 majors.

But while Nicklaus can enjoy the chase from the comfort of the sidelines, golf’s current generation will rightly be concerned about having to deal with a rejuvenated Woods following his 15th major victory in a memorable Masters at Augusta.

They cannot say they were not warned either, Woods having led last year’s Open with eight holes to play and finished as runner-up to Brooks Koepka at the US PGA.

The 43-year-old then held off the challenge of McIlroy and Justin Rose to win the Tour Championship in September, a first tour title since 2013.

‘The win at East Lake was a big confidence booster because I had come close last year a couple of times and I didn’t quite do it,’ Woods said. ‘To be able to do that against Rory and Rosey there gave me a lot of confidence going into this year, and I said, you know, just keep building on it and let’s try to get the mind and body peaking towards Augusta.’

Asked about the prospect of equalling or beating the record of Nicklaus, who also finished runner-up in 19 majors, Woods added: ‘I really haven’t thought about that yet.

‘I’m sure I’ll probably think of it going down the road. Maybe, maybe not. But right now it’s a little soon and I’m just enjoying 15.’ Woods needed a nerve block just to be able to attend the Champions Dinner two years ago and told Nicklaus ‘I’m done,’ but the 79-year-old says he never doubted Woods would win again and challenge his record.

Nicklaus said: ‘I kept saying “I think he will [win another major]”. It all depended on Tiger’s health. Nobody wants their record to be broken but I certainly wouldn’t want Tiger to be hurt and not be able to do it.’

They said it

‘THIS is my fifth time here, once as an amateur, four times as a pro. I am definitely five times wiser. Stood on the 14th tee (on Sunday) I was six under, with a six-over first round. If I shoot level par there I’m six better, I’m 12 under. This week has given me the belief that I can [win at Augusta].’ — Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick believes he can contend for the Masters title after matching the last 54 holes of champion Tiger Woods. Fitzpatrick finished in a tie for 21st place having shot 78 in the opening round