NEW YORK, June 17 – Tiger Woods might be closing the gap but golf's world number one still considers Jack Nicklaus the greatest player of all time, at least for now.
Defending champion Woods launches his bid for a 15th major crown Thursday in the 109th US Open at Bethpage Black as he continues chasing the record 18 major titles set by Jack Nicklaus.
When asked Tuesday who was the greatest golfer of all time, Woods simply said, "Jack." Pressed for why, he added, "He’s got 18. I’m at 14."
But now that Woods has recovered from left knee surgery that kept him out for eight months, he is in a position to trim that deficit quickly.
"Everything worked out well in that regard and I certainly feel a lot more stable in the leg," Woods said. "Long term, it was the best thing to do."
Bethpage, where Woods won the 2002 US Open, begins a run of six majors on five courses where Woods has played well.
Next month’s British Open is at Turnberry, where the last Open in 1994 was played two years before Woods turned professional. August’s PGA Championship will be at Hazeltine, where Woods was second to Rich Beem in 2002.
In 2010, Woods returns to Augusta National to seek a fifth Masters title followed by the US Open at Pebble Beach, where Woods won the 2000 Open by 15 strokes, and the British Open at St. Andrews, where Woods won in 2000 and 2005.
"I like my chances in any major," Woods said.
But Woods, who would match an all-time record with a fourth US Open win, particularly enjoys the challenge offered by the US Golf Association’s showpiece.
"Generally this is the hardest major we face year in, year out – narrowest fairways, highest rough and probably only here and Augusta are going to have the fastest greens," Woods said.
"I just enjoy having to think your way around a golf course. Par is rewarded and a birdie is really rewarded. That to me is how the game of golf should be played."
Woods could become the only man to defend a title at each major with a victory here this week. Not since Curtis Strange in 1989 has there been a US Open repeat champion and Ben Hogan is the only other to do it in 70 years.
"You have to have every facet of your game going," Woods said. "You have to drive the ball well, hit your irons well and speed on the greens is usually an issue."
A triumph for Woods would come on Father’s Day, with the late Earl Woods in his thoughts more than ever as he has worked to recover from his long layoff.
"Pretty much every time I play I always think about dad," Woods said. "When I take time off and come back and start playing again, all my practice sessions I’ll go back to my old fundamentals I learned from dad."
Woods, whose son Charlie was born in February, also will be a father on Father’s Day for only the second time as daughter Sam turns two this week.
"It’s hard to believe it has already been two years. Time flies," Woods said. "It has been so much fun To see her in the photos at the US Open last year to where she is now, running around and speaking English and Swedish, and more Swedish than English, it’s just amazing."