Nicklaus (left) currently leads Woods by four majors
Jack Nicklaus believes world number one Tiger Woods will find it harder to break his record of 18 majors if he does not compete this year.
Woods, who has 14 majors, has not played since admitting infidelity.
"If Tiger is going to pass my record I think this is a big year - if he doesn't play obviously the chore will be a little tougher", said Nicklaus.
But Woods's former coach Butch Harmon believes he will return to action in March, before the Masters in April.
He expects Woods, 34, to return at one of four tournaments scheduled for March - the Honda Classic, the World Golf Championships-CA Championship, the Transitions Championship or the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
All four tournaments are in Florida, Woods's home state, and the American has regularly competed in the last two in previous years.
But Harmon told the Observer newspaper that the world number one must face a humiliation and embarrassing news conference over his infidelities before he can get on with his life.
"The golfing public would like to see Tiger Woods do a press conference," he said.
"To stand there in front of everybody, take his medicine, be humble, be embarrassed, be humiliated and answer the questions.
"If he wants to rekindle the image of who he is, this would be the best way to do it, to do the press conference because then he looks human.
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
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus
"He is going to look ridiculous really, with the questions that are going to be asked. But the average person would appreciate that side of him because they've never seen that.
"The difficult part, in my opinion, is going to be the heckling from the galleries. He is going to get it.
"If he plays in the Ryder Cup (in Wales in October) which I happen to think he will, that is going to be very interesting.
"But he is the strongest person mentally that's ever played our game. If there is anyone who can block out this extra stuff that is going on around him, he is probably the guy."
Nicklaus said only Woods knew when he would be ready to return but added that the locations of three of this year's majors - the Masters, US Open and The Open - are among Woods's favourite courses.
"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," said Nicklaus.
Woods has won the Masters at Augusta four times, the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach and The Open at St Andrews in 2000 and 2005.
Nicklaus, who celebrates his 70th birthday on 21 January, 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.
"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."