GOLF legend Jack Nicklaus has singled out Pádraig Harrington as world number one Tiger Woods’ closest current rival but believes the game will be dominated by Chinese players in the future.
Woods remains peerless among his contemporaries with 14 major victories, 11 more than Harrington, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh, and only four short of Nicklaus’s all-time record.
However, since a knee injury forced him to miss last season’s Open and US PGA, Woods has not won any of golf’s premier events.
Harrington took advantage to win the two tournaments in which Woods was absent and with Mickelson playing a reduced schedule due to his wife’s battle with cancer, Nicklaus believes the Irishman has proved himself a worthy challenger.
“Tiger is the only one who has been in the middle of it almost every time you turn around,” said the 69-year-old.
“Harrington seems to do a pretty good job of it, certainly in the last couple of years.
“In the heat of the battle he has done very well. Vijay Singh did for a while but Tiger seems to have it pretty much by himself.”
However, Nicklaus expects to see one nation, rather than one man, dominate the sport in years to come – especially as golf has been recommended to be included in the Olympics from 2016.
“With the numbers in China and the way they approach their sport, I would not be surprised to see five of the world’s top 10 in the next 20 years be Chinese,” he added.
“They plan to build 1,400 public courses in the next five years if it becomes an Olympic sport they will obviously go after it and learn – for me that is fantastic because it grows the game on a worldwide basis.
“I don’t think the Olympics will affect America and Britain as much as it will the rest of the world. The Olympic movement will be the most influential thing for the game. It will explode in the Asian countries.”
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