I'm rooting for Tiger to break Jack's record.
It has taken me awhile to get around to this opinion in the wake of the meltdown in Tiger Woods' personal life three years ago.
I grew up rooting for Nicklaus. My father always pulled for Jack over Arnold Palmer, because he recognized early on Jack was better. I distinctly remember watching TV in amazement when Nicklaus hit the 1-iron off the flagstick on No. 17 at Pebble Beach to win the '72 U.S. Open.
But I want Tiger to break the record for two reasons:
1. I think Woods at his best is a better golfer than Nicklaus at his best.
2. Woods has worked hard enough and sacrificed enough in his life to have earned it -- presuming he wins five more major championships and gets to 19 for his career.
Tiger's sacrifices are a big takeaway from the new book written by his former swing coach Hank Haney, titled, "The Big Miss."
I recommend it. The title refers to Haney's mission to change Woods' swing in order to protect his fragile left knee while eliminating the big, bad mistake. Another meaning, of course, is Tiger couldn't avoid the big mistake off the course by being a serial philanderer. Tiger is so guarded in the media that it's fascinating to get an inside look at part of his life. Haney is taking some criticism from golf professionals for violating the trust of a teacher-golfer relationship. My business is all about disclosing information, so I'm not going to knock him for it.
Haney, it seems, wanted to fiercely defend his coaching philosophy. In the process, he divulges many private moments with Woods. The picture Haney paints is a sympathetic view of a great athlete who feels boxed in by fame, expectations, an obsessive drive to succeed and his own shortcomings.
"As I reflected back, I realized that I'd never thought of Tiger as happy," Haney writes near the end of the book. It's an amazing statement, considering that in the six years under Haney (from 2004 to 2010), Tiger won six major titles and 34 percent of all the events he entered, not to mention the fact he had two children.
"Whether with friends, business associates, other players, his mother, or his wife -- indeed with just about everyone except an audience of kids at one of his clinics -- he seemed to keep the atmosphere around him emotionally arid," Haney writes. "Part of it was the insane drive that was vital to his greatness. It seemed the longer he was the best, the more isolated and lonely he became."
This isn't to make excuses for Woods. The fact he fouled up his marriage and his reputation is no one's fault but his own.
And Woods repeatedly comes across as maddeningly stoic, intense and uncommunicative. Given his inability to openly share his feelings and emotions, his marriage may have been doomed, even without his many affairs. Speaking for about 75 percent of the male population in America, I am happy to report: We are all Dr. Phil compared to Tiger.
Yet, Tiger was born and raised to be a "stone-cold killer" on the golf course. He has been in the spotlight since he was 8 years old. Unlike Nicklaus and most other golfers, he didn't have a normal childhood. He has been grinding to the next achievement his whole life. "Tiger never allowed himself to be satisfied, because in his mind satisfaction is the enemy of success," says Haney.
After Woods won the 2005 Buick Invitational, his then-wife, Elin, suggested they throw a party at their house. When she was a nanny for golfer Jesper Parnevik, that's what they did after a win. Tiger nips it in bud: "E, that's not what we do. I'm not Jesper. We're supposed to win."
"I sensed that despite the assumption that he'd followed his dream, he hadn't chosen his life as much as it had chosen him," Haney writes. "Giving himself over to golf instead of a more normal life had many advantages, but being a well-adjusted, fulfilled person wasn't one of them."
Tiger is flawed. I can't help feeling a little sorry for him.
Under the direction of new coach Sean Foley, Woods now is working his way through a third major swing change in his career. After almost two years, it looks like it's working, based on how well Woods struck the ball in winning Palmer's Bay Hill tournament two weeks ago. It's hard to appreciate how difficult it is for a top player to tear down and rebuild the golf swing. Woods seems to revel in it.
To this point in his career, Woods' overall results just slightly eclipse those of Nicklaus.
At age 36, Woods has 72 wins and has won 26.6 percent of his events. He has 14 majors and won 25 percent of the majors he has entered. He has six seconds in majors and 35 top 10s.
At the same age, Nicklaus had 58 wins and won 20 percent of his starts. He had 14 majors (a 25 percent success rate). He had 11 seconds and 42 top 10s.
Nicklaus had better top competition, with the likes of Palmer, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. The depth of competition is far better in Woods' era.
Nicklaus, the straightest big hitter ever, was better off the tee with a driver than Woods.
Woods has a better short game around the green. That was viewed as a tiny chink in Nicklaus' arsenal, partly because he hit so many greens in regulation and didn't call upon it a ton.
In terms of overall iron play, Woods arguably has a slight edge. He has won the Vardon Trophy for low scoring average eight times. Nicklaus never won it. Wrote Haney: "Jack was a heavyweight who certainly had tremendous control and probably hit more greens than anyone, but almost none of his contemporaries consider him the best ball striker of his time. I'm also pretty positive he didn't have as many shots as Tiger."
In terms of putting, Nicklaus and Tiger arguably are 1-2 or 2-1 all time. Tiger makes more long ones. Nicklaus had fewer three-putts. The rest of Woods' career will determine if he's best in this category.
Woods' "Tiger Slam" of 2000 and 2001 is the most dominant run of four straight major titles ever. It included the 15-stroke victory in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the eight-stroke win in the British Open at St. Andrews.
In terms of balance in life, the edge goes to Nicklaus in a rout. His wife, Barbara, has been with him every step of the way for 52 years.
Which raises a tough question: If Tiger wins this week or if he wins major No. 19 who's he going to share it with?