Jack Nicklaus sees Padraig Harrington as Tiger Woods’ closest rival, but believes China will dominate golf in the future.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus has singled out Ireland’s Padraig Harrington as Tiger Woods’ closest rival right now, but believes the game will be dominated by China in the future.
Woods remains peerless among his contemporaries with 14 major victories, 11 more than Harrington, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh and only four short of Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18.
However, since a knee injury forced him to miss last season’s Open and US PGA championships, Woods has not won any more majors although he has picked up five PGA Tour titles this season
Harrington took advantage of his absence to win those last two majors last year and with Mickelson playing a reduced schedule due to his wife’s battle with cancer, Nicklaus believes the Irishman has proved himself a worthy challenger.
“Tiger is the only one who has been in the middle of it almost every time you turn around,” said the 69-year-old.
“But lately Harrington seems to be doing a pretty good job of it, certainly in the last couple of years.
“In the heat of the battle he has done very well. Vijay Singh did for a while but not lately
However, Nicklaus expects to see one nation, rather than one man, dominate the sport in years to come – especially as golf has been recommended to be included in the Olympics from 2016.
“With the numbers in China and the way they approach their sport I would not be surprised to see five of the world’s top 10 are Chinese in the next 20 years.
“They plan to build 1,400 public courses in the next five years if it becomes an Olympic sport so they will obviously go after it and learn – for me that is fantastic because it grows the game on a worldwide basis.
“I don’t think the Olympics will affect America and Britain as much as it will the rest of the world.
“The Olympic movement will be the most influential thing for the game. It will explode in the Asian countries.
“From their standpoint it will help produce some really good players. There will still be good US players and good British players but there will be more good players from around the world who will compete.
“Golf is an international game. I couldn’t care less whether it comes from America, Britain, Africa, Asia – it doesn’t make any difference.”
Woods’ defeat to Korea’s YE Yang at this year’s US PGA Championship was the first time in his professional career he had lost a major having led heading into the final day, but Nicklaus still expects Woods to surpass his 18-major record.
“I would assume he will. I think everyone assumes he will,” added Nicklaus, who is in the UK in his role as RBS ambassador working with the First Tee programme, which aims to proved life skills experience to local youths through golf.
“My guess is he will break it and will probably break it fairly easily – but he has yet to do it.
“When he does it that is fine but don’t put the cart before the horse.
“What happened at the PGA was very unusual. Tiger has always played good solid golf down the stretch and then usually makes a birdie and all of a sudden everyone falls away.
“On this occasion he played solid golf down the stretch but when Yang proceeded to play well Tiger lost his patience.
“He made the kind of mistakes everyone else has been making so it will be interesting.”
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