His winning drought in majors has been long, but not terribly surprising considering he had to rebuild a knee, a swing and a personal life after winning the U.S. Open on one leg at Torrey Pines.

Woods cautioned repeatedly that at least the knee and swing were a work in progress, but golf at this level also requires a clear head and the kind of focus that made Woods so fearsome in his younger days.

The Masters is always huge because of what it represents and because it is the first major of the year. For Woods, though, the stakes are even higher this year, if only because he needs to demonstrate to himself that he can still win at the highest level.

The man he’s chasing understands that better than anyone.

“It’s been a while,” Nicklaus said. “He’s going to have to figure it out. But I think if he figures it out here, it will be a great boost for him. If he doesn’t figure it out here, after the spring he’s had, I think it will be a lot tougher for him.”

For now, Nicklaus is the greatest golfer ever, and until Woods catches him the title is still his.

This week could say a lot about how long or fruitful that chase will be.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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