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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jack Nicklaus believes Tiger Woods will resume his chase of the Golden Bear's all-time record of 18 major professional golf titles but believes he may have trouble with the emerging young guns.
Nicklaus, in New York to accept the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award presented to him by Sports Illustrated magazine on Tuesday, said he thought Woods should make sure he is healed from his back woes before returning to competition.
"I don't know how much he'll return next year. I don't know whether his health will allow him to return next year," Nicklaus told Reuters before being given the award for embodying the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy.
"I know he'll want to, but I think he needs to be patient. Don't come back too soon, let him get healthy."
Woods, who will turn 40 this month, recently revealed he had undergone a second procedure in less than two months on his lower back and third in 18 months and did not know when he would be able to return to practice.
"He's such a great athlete and such a good competitor. I think he'll come back, but don't hurt yourself. Be patient. He's got a lot of good golf left in him," said Nicklaus.
That said, Nicklaus believes Woods will find the competition stiff upon his return.
"We've got a bunch of young players that are really good. They have benefited from Tiger's misfortune," Nicklaus said of the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy.
"Instead of Tiger just dominating the game, they've had the ability to learn how to win without having somebody dominate over them.
"I firmly believe Tiger will be back and when he does, he's going to have a bunch of guys that are pretty hungry and trying to win and know how to do it."
Asked if he thought his record haul of 18 was safe from Woods, the 75-year-old Nicklaus said: "Who knows? I don't know whether it's safe or not. If it isn't, it's OK. I think Tiger will come back and he's got more to win."
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly