Ross: Muirfield Village perfect setting for Woods' chase of Nicklaus

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Woods full news conference before the Memorial Tournament

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Mention Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus' name is almost sure to follow.

After all, Woods is doggedly chasing what once seemed to be among golf's most unreachable goals in Nicklaus' 18 professional majors. He's four shy and 10 years younger than the Golden Bear was when he notched his final one at the 1986 Masters so Woods is hardly running out of time.

Woods has also delighted in demonstrating his prowess on Nicklaus courses like Muirfield Village, where he has a career scoring average of 69.63 and will defend his fifth Memorial Tournament title this week. Nicklaus' signature creation is one of five courses where Woods has compiled five or more of his 79 PGA TOUR victories.

"I just feel comfortable in his golf courses, the way he sets it up," Woods explained. "There is ample room off the tees. The greens are really severe. If you miss the greens, it tests your short game. Those are the things that I think I do well."

Woods' affinity for Golden Bear designs comes from a shared vision. He has learned to manage his emotions and think his way around a golf course -- just as Nicklaus offers options for those decisions in strategically placed bunkers, undulating greens and varying degrees of penalty.

"He played very disciplined, and times he was very aggressive, but those were at the right times," Woods said. "And he gives you opportunities to do that, the way he designs golf courses, you can be aggressive, but you have to be disciplined and put the ball in certain spots."

Nicklaus, for his part, says a golf course can fit a player's eye -- as he's "delighted" Muirfield Village clearly does for Woods' -- but to expect it to suit one's game is asking too much. The great players like Woods and Nicklaus adapt and that's how they've been able to prosper and set themselves apart.

"Tiger seems to play very well here," Nicklaus said. "He's got several golf courses he plays well at -- Pebble, St. Andrews, Augusta, plays very well at Bay Hill. And a lot of his golf has been representative golf at those tournaments. ...

"He did the same thing I did when I was playing, I used to play the golf courses that I liked, the golf courses I thought would best suit my game -- not only prepare me for the four major championships but also golf courses that I would gain confidence playing on."

Not that Woods, who owns a commanding lead in the FedExCup, should be lacking in confidence this year.

After all, the world No. 1 has played in seven tournaments this year and won four of them. Interestingly, two of those wins came on courses where he has eight wins (Bay Hill) and seven wins (Torrey Pines) -- but the most recent came on a course at TPC Sawgrass that many thought was his Waterloo since his last victory there came in 2001.

Asked to explain Woods' success at Muirfield Village, Rory McIlroy was philosophical like so many others who clearly expect Woods to be among the leaders come Sunday.

"The same reason he's done so well everywhere, I guess," the young Northern Irishman said, eliciting laughter as he stated the obvious. "Most golf courses set up well for Tiger Woods, I guess. He's won THE PLAYERS this year and that was a golf course that everyone said didn't quite suit him. ...

"The guy is good wherever he goes and plays. It's not like he goes to the same course and wins. He can win anywhere."

Davis Love III says Woods' success this year, as in many others when he's been healthy, can create unrealisic expectations, not unlike what happened with his good friend Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls star many believe to be the best to ever play the game. The key is simply to appreciate the overwhelming talent.

"Like (to expect that) Michael should make every jump shot at the end of the game or something is wrong," Love said. "Because they do it so many times, they raise people's expectations. In the same respect, you don't give them enough credit because people think, well, Tiger hasn't won the last three weeks, what's the matter with Tiger? Odds are the fourth week he's going to win."

And those odds have been even better this season now that Woods and his swing so carefully crafted under the tutelage of Sean Foley have become sympatico. He has made the motion his own, and he no longer needs to seek out Foley when things go awry.

"That's huge," Woods said. "You're not going to feel good every day. To be able to make those tinkerings from shot-to-shot and day-to-day and know where within this model what my tendencies are. That took a little bit of time, and I finally have turned the corner to that. And I think that's what you're seeing this year is that I've gotten more precise and I've been able to work on other parts of my game and made them strengths."

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