Now that 22 major championships have been played since Tiger Woods last won one, and 17 have passed since his last best chance to win one was snatched away by Y.E. Yang at Hazeltine, and 14 different champions have been crowned in the same span, it’s as good a time as any to restate a fact so obvious it’s hiding in plain sight.
Jack Nicklaus did not win his 15th major championship until he was 38 years old. Woods, who has been stuck on 14 since winning the 2008 U.S. Open, will be 38 years old when he resumes his chase of Nicklaus’s career record of 18 major championship victories next season at the Masters. Be sure to tune in.
With all due respect to those who believe, for whatever reason, that Woods, who stands No. 1 in the FedExCup standings, now has no chance to overtake the Golden Bear – and there have been some strange opinions uttered in the public forums the past two days – a dismissive barnyard riposte favored by the great Miami Dolphin Coach Don Shula would be appropriate here.
Polite company precludes it, but it has to do with horses and contains a compound noun. Balderdash is a frequent, if antiquated, substitute.
Before going any further, let’s deal with the supposition that Woods is an “old 37.” Fact: his surgically repaired knee is stronger than it was at any point prior to the ACL surgery. As to whether his lower back twinges during the final round of the PGA Championship somehow presage his impending demise, view a replay of his 7-stroke win at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational two weeks ago. That was his fifth win this year, right?
There is a ton of young talent currently performing on the PGA TOUR. The pool is as deep as any I’ve seen in the past 40 years of covering golf. So, let’s hope the question doesn’t cause offense, but has anyone, other than Rory McIlroy, had a five-win season recently? Anyone at all? Because, not to put too fine a point on it, this is the 11th time in his career Woods has had five or more victories in a year.
And now, because Woods hasn’t won one of the four designated major championships for five years, we’re supposed to believe that the same guy who won 14 of the 46 majors played from 1997-2009 – better than 30 percent – has somehow forgotten how to win a Grand Slam event? Or, to cite one particularly bizarre rationale, that Woods no longer “deserves” to win majors because of “Karma”? Meaning what? That his abilities have been drained by things he may have said or done that have nothing whatever to do with his performance on the golf course or the exceptional work ethic that has driven him to 79 wins and the very threshold of Sam Snead’s “unbreakable” record of 82?
Nothing at all wrong with believing in the concepts of mysticism, or applying those beliefs to the perceived impregnability of an existing record. I can vividly recall having said, when I wore a younger man’s clothes, that there was “no way” anyone would surpass Jack’s record of 18 professional majors “in my lifetime.”
Such predictions are not based on actuarial tables. Mine, like most, had an emotional basis. You grow up watching someone play golf with the power, skill and precision of Nicklaus – a combination that led to Bobby Jones’ brilliant summary of Nicklaus’s game as one “with which I am not familiar” – then the tendency is to believe that the supernal nature of what you witnessed will not pass away. Reality usually intrudes.
That is exactly what’s happening, right before our eyes, and has been happening ever since Woods arrived on the scene. Recall what Jack and Arnie had to say in 1996 after playing a practice round with the young Tiger at Augusta National. The two golf giants, who had somehow combined elements of fierce and friendly in their rivalry, agreed that this Tiger Woods kid would win as many Masters titles as the two of them combined.
So far, Woods has matched Arnie’s total of four. It’s unlikely he’ll now add Jack’s total of six to that. So, that prediction isn’t coming to fruition. But could he win two more to match Jack’s Masters record of six Green Jackets? We’ll just have to see, and doesn’t that make the next six or seven Aprils worth waiting for?
As for now, there’s a good chance Woods may not be finished winning this year. The FedExCup Playoffs begin next week at The Barclays at Liberty National, and Woods has to be a serious threat to win his third FedExCup.
He also must be viewed as the leader in the PGA TOUR Player of the Year race going into the FedExCup Playoffs, with some competition from Phil Mickelson (two wins, including The Open Championship, two ties for second), Matt Kuchar (two wins, two ties for second) and Brandt Snedeker (two wins, a tie for second and solo second).
Is Tiger Woods done? Are you kidding? To paraphrase a country song, he may not be as good as he once was, but he’s as good once as he ever was. And you can only win them one at a time.
Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.