Winning warm-up boosts Tiger

Tiger Woods played with Jack Nicklaus for the first time since the 2000 US Open on Wednesday – and gave fans plenty to cheer about.

Tiger Woods played with this week’s Memorial tournament host Jack Nicklaus for the first time since the 2000 US Open on Wednesday – and gave the huge army of fans who braved the rain plenty to cheer about.

The 21st Century’s greatest golfer won a pre-tournament, eight-man skins game at Muirfield Village by first extending the exciting event with a 12-foot must-make putt at the last and then wrapping up a win by holing out from 25 yards in the closest-to-the-pin chipping contest that followed.

“Now that was a nice way to end it with everyone sticking it out for the whole day,” said Woods, who earlier this year won the Arnold Palmer Invitational shortly after his return from an eight-month injury-enforced lay-off and, who, after Wednesday, is now looking good to win the Golden Bear’s home-based event as well.

On a wet and rainy day at Muirfield Village, Nicklaus, 69, struggled to reach some of the fairways in the damp conditions, but the 20th Century’s greatest golfer sparked loud roars, nevertheless, by winning two skins on the par-five 11th after hitting an eight-iron to within four feet and then nailing his putt for birdie.

“I had a really good time, and I particularly enjoyed it,” he said smiling broadly, “that was good fun.”

“We haven’t played together for nine years and we had a good time. I enjoyed the conversation. I like to be with him. I like his company.”

It was after the two legendary golfers had last played together in the first two rounds of the US Open that Woods was to go on and win the play off, then to win The Open and the PGA Championship in the same year and finally the Masters in 2001 to become the first player in the history of modern golf to hold all four majors at the same time.

The late great Bobby Jones once won all four major in the same year, but that was in the days when the traditional four majors consisted of the US and British Opens and the US and British Amateurs

Woods’ brilliance in 1999 and 2000 is still seen by many as one of the greatest stretches of golf of all time, but despite that, Woods feels he is a better golfer now than he was then

“I have no doubt about that,” the 33-year-old told the media on the eve of Thursday’s opening round of the Memorial, where he is targetting a record fourth title on a course and in an event Jack has built into one of the biggest and best on the US PGA Tour.

“Certainly I have a lot more shots than I did then. I understand how to play the game of golf infinitely better than I did then.

“People fail to realise the field’s gotten very much better. It’s not just me making improvements, it’s everyone.

The Tiger, chasing the Golden Bear’s record 18 Majors with 14 of his own to date, said his rivals had “gotten longer and everyone’s gotten stronger.”

“Back in those years, fitness wasn’t a big part of the Tour. Now everyone seems to have a personal trainer who travels with them on the road. You see guys in gyms 15, 20 at a time.”

Woods heads a stellar field that includes six other players in the world’s top 10, each of whom who are honing their games as the Tour heads for the US Open later this month.

They might well be bringing their A games to Muirfield Village.

England’s World No 3 Briton Paul Casey is one of them, Australian Geoff Ogilvy (fifth), Americans Kenny Perry (seventh) and Steve Stricker (eighth), Fijian Vijay Singh (ninth) and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington (10th) are the others and together they could help add up to tough nut for Woods to crack as he seeks his Palmer-Nicklaus double