Mitt Romney Calls Jack Nicklaus the “Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century,’ But It’s Not A Gaffe

It’s really not! We’re at that point in the Romney downward-momentum cycle where every errant phrase becomes surgically examined for gaffitude. But this, uttered in Ohio today, was not a big mistake.

Let’s hear it for Jack Nicklaus, the greatest athlete of the 20th century.

The Twitter Track of the news cycle took over. Few people were at or watching the speech itself, so that praise of a golfer – a golfer! – rocketed around the Internet. How could this clueless white dork think this way?

Nobody noticed what Romney said next: That Nicklaus had been awarded this honor by Time magazine. Now, that’s a mistake, but only because Romney meant to refer to a Time-Warner magazine, Sports Illustrated. In 1999, it ranked Nicklaus as the “greatest male athlete of the 20th century,” as seemed fitting for a guy who’d won six Masters.

I feel for the Romney campaign on moments like this. The Nicklaus comment’s gone viral in the way they’ve tried and failed to make far more relevant Obama comments go viral.