Nicklaus and Woods primed to add to Open folklore at the home of golf

Why? Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. It is as simple as that. The two finest golfers of this or any other generation both walking the steps of the immortals across the most timeless arena in sport; one making what is widely assumed to be his grand farewell, the other making his grand hello back into the realms of the seemingly unbeatable.

The term "widely assumed" is used here because Nicklaus yesterday developed the intriguing idea he hinted at on Tuesday by telling his great friend and fiercest rival that he could yet play again, however unlikely that seems. Tom Watson almost laughed at the "typical Jackness" of what he was saying in front of the Royal and Ancient's hallowed clubhouse here yesterday.

"Last night at dinner, Jack asked a rhetorical question: 'What gets me in next year?'," recounted Watson. "You know what? It wasn't too much tongue in cheek and he asked it again at breakfast this morning."

A top-10 finish would do it, an eventuality that would be one of the greatest sports stories ever told. But seeing as Nicklaus has told quite a few of them in his 43-year professional career perhaps we shouldn't dismiss this delicious fantasy out of hand.

Except, it was easy to dismiss the chances of everyone else here yesterday as the blazing sun was casting the ominous shadow of Woods across the piece of turf that suits him like no other. The overwhelming feeling, though one that none of the other competitors will ever admit, is that this might be a catwalk for Tiger, just like he used to prowl them in the one-man sport of a few years ago.

The bookmaker's certainly believe the 29-year-old to be back to this level of dominance, chalking him up at 5-2, the shortest price he has been in a major since the Open three years ago. Muirfield 2002 came on the back of a run that brought him six out of 11 majors, confirming he was indeed playing a different game. The rise of Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson was supposed to have changed all that and when Woods went the next 10 with nothing to show but frustration, we all assumed that the era was over and that Tiger would have to take his chances with rest of the Fab Four.

Well this year, he has taken them all right, at Augusta and so very nearly at Pinehurst, leaving the Fab Four on the brink of splitting up as their band leader looks set to go solo again. St Andrews is undoubtedly the centre stage where one of the others must venture to support him.

Who that will be depends on the usual imponderables of form and desire but also on the biggest imponderable of all that could just yet show that the Old Course still has all the requisite defences to keep out the new golfer - the Fife weather. When Peter Dawson said the perfect conditions for the next four days would be "sunny and very windy" he was thinking as much of the feelings of the 600-year-old links as that of the galleries. If it stays as calm as the forecasters are saying it will then Woods must be fancied to collect his 10th major by waltzing past his record of 19 under five years ago, even allowing for a putter that was strangely cool at the US Open as well as the extra 164 controversial yards the R&A have added here.

But if it blows? Then everything is up to be shot at, including most definitely the claret jug. Luck barges its way into it and with gusts and swales mischievously transporting balls into a Hell Bunker here and grabbing you by the Beardies there, suddenly Tiger will look human again, no matter if his ball-striking does happen to be superhuman. Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton are all too recent proof that in an open Open anything can happen.

For that reason the challenge of the home guard cannot be written off, despite it seeming more paltry than ever. The sad absence of Padraig Harrington - in Dublin grieving his father's death - has deprived these islands of their biggest hope of bridging the gap back to Paul Lawrie's triumph in 1999, and seeing as our next "contender" has played five Opens and managed to miss the cut in each of them perhaps we should not be getting too excited. After all, Luke Donald will be doing well simply to survive the heat generated by Nicklaus's walk into the sunset as he accepts the honour of partnering the 65-year-old and Watson in the first two rounds.

What of our old favourites then, those names we always look out for regardless of how many times they flop, like Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie even? All will need to drive the drives of the inspired, chip the chips of the blessed and putt the putts of the touched. Nothing else will even come close around here.

Of course, there might be another unknown American lined up for an extraordinary dalliance with destiny and there might be a few Europeans ready to join him - Sergio Garcia, most obviously - but it is almost inconceivable that the headlines will not read "Nicklaus" for the first two days and "Woods" thereafter. Can Jack make the cut, is Tiger back? We have asked the question, now St Andrews will give us our answers.

* Play in the Open will stop for a two-minute silence at midday today as a mark of respect for those killed in last week's London bombings.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Arts and Entertainment
One of the installations in the Reiner Ruthenbeck exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery
artCritics defend Reiner Ruthenbeck's 'Overturned Furniture'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game