By Mark Lamport-Stokes
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Jack Nicklaus was startled to learn that Tiger Woods has not won a major in nearly five years but the golfing great is convinced his younger fellow American will go on to eclipse his record total of 18 wins.
Though Woods has endured a lengthy grand slam drought since his remarkable playoff victory in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Nicklaus believes the 37-year-old is simply "too driven and too focused" to fail in his long-targeted bid.
Told by reporters at Augusta National on Tuesday that Woods had remained stuck on 14 major victories since 2008, Nicklaus replied: "Really? It's been a while.
"He's going to have to figure it out. But I think if he figures it out here (at the Masters), 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."
Woods will tee off in Thursday's opening round as a hot favorite for the 77th Masters, having won three times on the 2013 PGA Tour in just five starts. A four-times champion at Augusta National, he clearly enjoys a huge comfort factor on the hilly layout.
"I've said, and I continue to say it, that I still expect him to break my record," added Nicklaus who has long been known as the 'Golden Bear.' "I think he's just too talented, too driven and too focused on that.
"From this point, he's got to win five majors, which is a pretty good career for most people to start at age 37. But I still think he's going to do it."
Though Woods has not slipped into a coveted green jacket at Augusta National since 2005, Nicklaus felt that lengthy title drought was misleading.
"I haven't given it much thought to be very honest with you," said the 73-year-old Nicklaus, who has won a record six Masters titles. "He's in contention every year.
"I go back and look at my record here. I won in '63, '65 and '66, and then I didn't win again until '72. And then I won in '75, and then I went 11 years until '86. I mean, a career is not made over a couple of years. I don't think it's any big deal."
This week is the 50th anniversary of Nicklaus' maiden victory at Augusta National, and he vividly recalled that his breakthrough Masters win was achieved after he injured his hip earlier that year.
"I had had 25 injections in my hip over a 10-week period ... but what it forced me to do was learn how to play right-to-left because I couldn't hit it in my hip," he smiled.
"I couldn't play left-to-right. And so it was actually very fortuitous for me here because I was able to learn how to play around my left side and learn how to hook the ball.
"And so when I got here, I was happy with what I was doing. I don't even remember what I shot the last two rounds. But I won the tournament."
Nicklaus, who last played the championship in 2005 for his 45th Masters, has always treasured competing in the season's opening major.
"To me, it's the most fun of the ones (majors) to play in. I love it," he smiled. "It's just got a great tradition to it.
"From my standpoint with Bob Jones (co-founder of the Masters) as my idol growing up, to me, it's always been very special. To have won it six times, that's pretty special, too."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)