- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

DUBLIN, OHIO (AP) - Jack Nicklaus doesn’t want Tiger Woods to break his record of 18 major championships.

But he wants him to be healthy enough to try.

Nicklaus told him as much last Friday when Woods called to say that for the second time in four years, he wouldn’t be able to play in the Memorial Tournament because of an injury to his left leg. Woods missed in 2008 while recovering from minor surgery to clean out cartilage damage in his left knee. This time the culprit is a combination of a minor knee sprain and his Achilles, which was bad enough to cause him to leave The Players Championship after only nine holes.

Woods hopes to play the U.S. Open. Trying to win majors starts with playing in them.

“I don’t know the extent of his injuries,” Nicklaus said Tuesday. “I told Tiger when I was on the phone with him _ which is the same thing I’ve said to him a thousand times _ ‘Tiger, nobody ever wants their records to be broken … but I certainly don’t want you not to be healthy and not have the opportunity to play to break records. I want you to get yourself healthy, do what you have to do to go play, get your golf game back in shape, and I wish you well.’

“I would say that to any athlete and anybody, because I think that’s the way it should be,” Nicklaus said. “But what his situation is, I don’t know any more than what I read.”

It wasn’t long ago when Woods appeared to be a lock to not only catch Nicklaus, but to break the most recognized record in golf.

He won his 14th major in the 2008 U.S. Open at age 32 _ Nicklaus was 35 when he won his 14th major _ and even after reconstructive surgery on his left knee, Woods went into the weekend of the 2009 PGA Championship with a four-shot lead. He was two rounds away from winning No. 15, with Pebble Beach and St. Andrews on the rotation the following year.

It all changed so quickly.

He lost the lead _ and the PGA Championship _ to Y.E. Yang. Then came Thanksgiving night and revelations of serial adultery, which led to divorce. He hired a new swing coach. He is in the middle of a slump that once seemed unfathomable. He has fallen out of the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time in 14 years.

And now there’s another injury that makes Woods seem a lot older than 35.

For all that has gone wrong with Woods during the last 18 months, his health might be the most troubling _ at least as it relates to his golf, and especially in context with Nicklaus.

Nicklaus won 70 times in 19 years on the PGA Tour before the first sign of an injury.

“Physically, I was pretty darned good,” he said.

Two weeks after he won the 1980 PGA Championship at Oak Hill for his 17th major, he had to withdraw from the final round of the World Series of Golf at Firestone with a bad back. About two years later, his back flared up again at the 1983 Masters and he had to withdraw early in the second round.

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