Golf greats differ on Tiger's future

Updated: May 5, 2012, 9:22 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino got ready for one more round together, but also wondered if they'd ever play with each other again.

The four golfing greats also offered differing opinions on Tiger Woods' uncertain future.

The Hall of Fame foursome gathered at The Woodlands Country Club on Saturday to play an exhibition in conjunction with the Champions Tour's Insperity Championship, won by Nicklaus, Player and Palmer. Before they teed off, each of them weighed in on Woods' chances of reaching Nicklaus' record of 18 major championship victories.

Woods

Nicklaus and Player think the struggling Woods can rediscover his game and win more majors. Trevino and Palmer aren't so sure.

"At the current situation, he's going to have trouble," Palmer said. "That's my feeling."

Woods is stuck on 14 professional majors and he missed the cut at this weekend's Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte. The 36-year-old Woods ended a 30-month victory drought with a win at Bay Hill this year, but then had his worst performance as a pro at the Masters last month.

Palmer thinks Woods' swing has become too technical and he needs to rely more on his natural ability and knowledge of the game.

Trevino goes a step further, saying Woods needs to work on his game alone, without advice from a swing coach.

"He's a little confused in the golf swing right now. Tiger is starting to play mechanically, and Tiger was always a feel player," Trevino said. "What he needs to do is go off by himself, (with) nobody else, and take it out of the ground. That's what I did, that's what these three guys did, Mr. (Ben) Hogan did it. All of the old pros used to take it out of the ground, there was no instructor, there was no guru, no sports psychologist and all this other stuff."

Woods' last major victory came at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He had left knee surgery shortly after that, and his personal life sank into scandal at the end of 2009. He started working with new swing coach Sean Foley in 2010, but he acknowledged Friday that he still reverts back to what former coach Hank Haney taught him.

Woods said after his round Friday that he seems to hit bad shots when he feels comfortable over the ball, and hits good shots when he feels uncomfortable. Trevino and Nicklaus said they were confused by Woods' comment, but Nicklaus is still confident that Woods will find his game in time to match his record.

"I think he has a lot of talent, a lot of desire," Nicklaus said. "I think his desire his whole life has been built around breaking my record, and I still think his chances are very good."

Player is also optimistic, and hopes that Woods can regain his form for the sake of the tour.

"I think he will come back and play well, and it's imperative that he does for the tour, because of the (TV) ratings," Player said. "He's very young. Jack won the Masters when he was 46. I won the Masters when I was 42. So we mustn't become too serious about it. He's got time on his hands, and I think he can do it."

Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Trevino, meanwhile, wanted to make time to meet up in Houston. The quartet has a total of 188 PGA Tour victories and 40 major championships, and Trevino seemed to be the most excited of the four to play here.

"This is a great day for me," Trevino said before the round. "At our age, we just don't know when we're going to get together like this again, if ever." Trevino played in the threesome ahead of Nicklaus, Player and Palmer. Miller Barber, Don January, David Graham, Gene Littler and Dave Stockton also participated.

Most of the estimated crowd of 40,000 came to see the Big 3, who hit the ceremonial opening tee shots together at the Masters for the first time this year.

This day was different, and even competitive. Naturally, Nicklaus, Palmer and Player took home the biggest trophy, shooting 11-under par.

"We didn't make it too serious," Palmer said, "but we didn't want to come in second, either."

Beforehand, Trevino lamented that he wasn't sure when the group would get to play together again. But Nicklaus, who said he hadn't played in public for six or seven years, said afterward that he was open to the idea.

"I'd do it again," Nicklaus said. "I just don't play golf. I actually hit the ball pretty decently today. I putted very well, and I wouldn't have expected that."

The 76-year-old Player, who says he routinely shoots six or seven shots below his age, dropped his approach to the par-4 11th hole within 2 feet, setting up one of the group's 11 birdies.

"We birdied the living daylights out of this golf course," Player said. "The quality of golf was like when we were young."

Palmer tapped in the short putt before Player and Nicklaus reached the green, and Palmer bent down and rolled the ball down a hill to Player's feet, drawing laughter from the crowd.

"We've got to hit it closer, guys!" Palmer said, as the players boarded carts and headed for the next tee.

Just as they arrived, Trevino ripped a drive down the middle of the 12th fairway, drawing applause. The chatty Trevino turned to the crowd, raised his driver and cracked, "I may auction this off when we're finished!"

Palmer, who retired from competitive golf during the Champions Tour event here in 2006, had his share of good shots and capped the day with a long birdie putt.

"I was so happy to see him do that," Player said. "He got a little taste of what he did when he was young."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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