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Woods set to pass Nicklaus before swing change, Player says

Tiger Woods of the U.S. follows through on a tee shot on the 13th hole during the third round play at the Honda Classic PGA golf tournament
Tiger Woods of the U.S. follows through on a tee shot on the 13th hole during the third round play at the Honda Classic PGA golf tournament

(Reuters) - Golf legend Gary Player believes Tiger Woods, before he changed his swing, was on target to smash Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major championship victories.

"There's never been a man with the talent Tiger Woods has," Player said during a recent ESPN interview.

"When he won the (2000) U.S. Open by 15 shots, he was on his way to destroying all records. He would have won close to 30 majors the way he was going - and then he changes his swing."

"Obviously one is always ambitious and wanting to get better and better and you've got to admire a man for doing that.

"But then he has many coaches (and) this coach is teaching him that, this coach is teaching him this.

"He gets swinging different ways, gets a bit confused, loses a bit of confidence and it takes time to restore it."

But Woods has always insisted he had one good reason to change his swing despite his success.

"You can always become better," he told the television program '60 Minutes' in 2006.

Woods turned professional in 1996 and was coached by Butch Harmon until 2002, before switching to Hank Haney.

He was successful under both coaches - accruing 14 major titles between the 1997 Masters and the 2008 U.S. Open.

But he has not won a major in more than five years and at the age of 37 remains stranded four Grand Slam titles short of matching Nicklaus.

Woods, who is now coached by Sean Foley after splitting with Haney in 2010, has not lost the ability to win regular tournaments.

He has regained his world number one ranking by piling up victories in non-major tournaments, but it is no secret he covets majors and a place in history more than anything else in golf.

"He wins five tournaments this year after all the difficulties and adversities he went through," continued Player, one of only five men to win all four Grand Slam titles - the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and U.S. PGA Championship.

"I'm a big admirer of that. To win five tournaments is absolutely wonderful but he would give all five away, I'm sure if you asked him, to win one major because what he's got to do now is beat Nicklaus's 18 majors and that's a difficult task but if anyone can do it it's Tiger Woods."

Woods' 2000 U.S. Open victory was only his third major title, but it was the start of an astonishing run of six major wins in nine starts.

Rarely, if ever, has a performance more impressed his fellow competitors. Woods increased his lead after every round at Pebble Beach, despite a triple bogey during the third round.

Four-time major champion Ernie Els, who tied for second, said at the time: "It seems like we're not playing in the same ballpark right now.

"When he's on, you don't have much of a chance. ... I guess if I played out of my mind, I probably still would have lost by five, six, seven."

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, Editing by Gene Cherry)

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