PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club


Why Jack Nicklaus isn’t buying that Tiger Woods’ run in majors is over just yet


Tiger Woods poses with Jack Nicklaus on the Swilcan Bridge during the Celebration of Champions Challenge ahead of the 2022 Open Championship at St. Andrews.

Kevin C. Cox

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club, Tiger Woods convinced a 60-year-old Jack Nicklaus that his competitive career was over. He didn’t say it in so many words. He didn’t use words at all. Woods simply played to a level Nicklaus no longer could summon within himself.

As the 106th PGA Championship returns to Valhalla in two weeks, one of the storylines will be whether or not Woods, 48, can exhibit a sustained ability to compete. Nicklaus has seen enough, not only at the recent Masters but throughout Woods’ career, to believe that Woods isn’t quite finished challenging for major titles, given the right conditions.

In Nicklaus' eyes, Valhalla, in Louisville, Ky., might just afford Woods an opportunity to win for a second time and a fifth PGA title. Woods won the 2000 championship in a playoff against Bob May, the third leg of Woods’ incomparable “Tiger Slam,” his streak of four straight major victories that he completed at the 2001 Masters.

“Tiger has the ability to still play,” Nicklaus said Wednesday at the Legends Luncheon, an annual fundraiser at Ohio State affiliated with next month’s Memorial Tournament. “He doesn't play, obviously, quite as well as he did, but I think a lot of that is his physical ailments. I think there's a question about that. But I've watched him hit balls a little bit and watched him play a little bit lately. He hits the ball pretty well. It's just trying to keep his body together while he plays, particularly having to walk.”

Last month at Augusta National Golf Club, Woods set a record by making the cut in his 24th straight Masters start. However, because of his many injuries, including ankle fusion surgery last year to stabilize a right foot that was badly mangled in an automobile accident in 2021, he faded over the weekend on Augusta’s steep slopes, finishing last among the 60 players who made the cut with closing rounds of 82-77 for a 16-over 306 aggregate total.

Valhalla, which Nicklaus designed, is relatively flat, particularly on the front nine. It will not be nearly the same challenge to traverse. The club, once owned by the PGA of America, is hosting the PGA Championship for the fourth time, the last in 2014 won by Rory McIlroy. Woods was in the field that year, but coming off a back injury in late 2013, he played an abbreviated schedule that included two rounds of 74 to miss the cut in the PGA.

Still, Nicklaus, 84, wouldn’t count out the 15-time major winner when the PGA begins May 16.

“Could he be competitive? If he can walk the 72 holes, then sure he can,” the Golden Bear said. “He’ll be competitive at least two rounds because that's what he did at Augusta. And whether he's competitive in the third … if he is competitive in the third, then he certainly will be competitive in the fourth. It's sort of a progression in how you work.”

As for his own remarkable career highlighted by a record 18 major titles, Nicklaus was under no illusions in 2000 about the approaching twilight of his playing days. Then he got paired with Woods and Vijay Singh in the first two rounds and that eliminated any lingering doubt. Nicklaus missed the cut with rounds of 77-71. Woods seized the lead shooting 66-67.

“I got done with those two rounds [and] I said, ‘Man, you need to pass the baton. You can't compete in this anymore,’” Nicklaus said. “I realized that. I realized it before that, but that was really, boom, right in the face ... 36 holes with him and seeing how well he played and how he just dominated what was going on.

“I didn't have a problem with it. I knew there was going to be a certain point I couldn't compete. In 2005, I basically said, ‘OK, I'm going to finish it up this year.’ I played the Masters that year and I played the British Open. Missed the cut in both of them. But that's OK. I still played all right.”


Playing along side Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods was a numbling experience at the 2000 PGA Championship for Jack Nicklaus, who knew his time in majors was running out.

Andy Lyons

Battling his own back issues in his later years, Nicklaus played one 18-hole round of golf in each of the previous two years, but he’s up to four already in 2024, including three rounds recently at Augusta National. The course is 6,400 yards from the member tees; that’s still too long for the once-powerful Golden Bear, who won a record six green jackets and is a full member of the club (as opposed to the honorary membership bestowed on Masters champions).

“I didn't hit an iron to a par 3, par 4 or a par 5,” Nicklaus said, chuckling. “I used my driver, 3-wood, hybrid and my pitching wedge, sand wedge and putter. I was hitting it out at a peak of 188 yards. And so we went through [testing] 10 shafts, 10 heads, we went through a whole bunch of things, put the best combination together. I got it out to 191.

“I was really good,” he added. “I shot 88, 90, 91. That's 269. That’s a wonderful four-round score that I played. It just was in three rounds. But that’s what I play anymore.”

The Legends Luncheon, featuring an appearance by Memorial Tournament Honoree and World Golf Hall of Famer Juli Inkster and former NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., raised $1.43 million for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation and the Memorial Tournament’s primary charity, Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The $20 million Memorial Tournament, a signature event on the PGA Tour that Nicklaus began hosting in 1976, begins June 6 at Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club.