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Record hunt will be tougher if Tiger misses 2010: Nicklaus

By Simon Evans

MIAMI (Reuters) - Jack Nicklaus believes Tiger Woods will find it tougher to break his record of 18 major wins if the world number one does not play this year.

Woods, who is taking an indefinite break from golf, has been in hiding since admitting last month he had cheated on his wife.

"I don't know what he is going to do or play, only he can answer that," said Nicklaus in a teleconference on Friday. "Certainly this year where (three of the four) majors are, he loves Augusta, Pebble Beach and St Andrews ... he 'owns' all three of those places.

"If Tiger is going to pass my record I think this is a big year in that regard. If he doesn't play this year obviously the chore will be a little tougher."

Woods has won the U.S. Masters at Augusta four times, the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the British Open at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005.

The 2010 U.S. PGA Championship will be held at Whistling Straits for only the second time, Fijian Vijay Singh having won there in 2004.

Nicklaus, who celebrates his 70th birthday on January 21, said the game would prosper regardless of Woods's future.

"There was golf after Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, the game has always survived us and the game will continue to go forward," he said.

BIG INFLUENCE

"Tiger is a big influence and probably the largest we have ever had and I certainly hope he comes back and plays. But the tour is not all about one person."

Earlier, Woods's former coach Butch Harmon said he believed the world number one could return to golf in March.

"Those who say he won't play again are crazy," Harmon said in an interview with UK television channel Sky Sports on Friday.

"People who say he probably won't play this year, I don't really believe that (either). If you want to put a timetable on it, I'd say you may see him in Florida before the U.S. Masters (in April)."

There are four PGA Tour events in Florida in March -- the Honda Classic, WGC-CA Championship, Transitions Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Woods generally plays in the WGC-CA and Arnold Palmer tournaments.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)