Jack Nicklaus is clearly “The Man.” He has won 18 of golf’s “majors”—more than anyone else. Tiger Woods is seeking to be “The Man” but has lately slowed down in his pursuit of Jack.
Tiger has won 14 majors, and seemed to be a lock to easily catch up to the guy the call “The Golden Bear,” possibly even by 2010, the golf pundits thought. But, Tiger’s game has suffered a series of hiccups lately.
First, there was a long, 8-month layoff that involved knee surgery and rehabilitation. Then came the trauma and stress of a domestic dispute last November that catapulted him into the world of police, lawyers, stalking paparazzi, and relentless feeding by the gossip tabloids.
That was followed by the gutter-life revelations of his extra-marital affairs and sexual trysts in places like parking lots of fast-food chain restaurants. All very sordid, and absolute cannon-fodder for the rags that blare at shoppers in supermarket checkout lines.
Tiger is still the number-one ranked player in the world based on points and achievements to-date, but he’s also 34 now and perhaps his best work is behind him.
So what are his chances of catching Jack now?
Well, most great players don’t win a “major” (the Masters, the British Open, The US Open and the PGA championship) after the age of 40. Tom Watson never won one after age 33. Arnold Palmer’s last major victory came at 34. Greg Norman never won one past age 38. Nor did Nick Faldo.
Jack Nicklaus defied the golf gods and did win his final major—the1986 Masters– at age 46, but that was a blip on the metaphysical screen.
So Tiger needs to win five more majors to become the all-time leader. If he’s to get it done by age 40, and if his rebuilt knee lets him play well for that long, that leaves about 20 more chances, with four majors a year.
He’s played over 50 majors, and has won 14, but that was when he “hungry” and in his ultra-focused prime. Before he reaches the age of 40, he’ll have five more chances to win The Masters, where he’s very comfortable, having won four titles at Augusta in 13 visits. He should win one more there at least.
He’s got five more U.S. Opens he can play before he hits the big 40, but none of those are slated for the courses where he’s won—Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach. U.S. Opens are tight for Tiger’s long-hitting game, so maybe no more U.S. Open wins are likely. It’s the same for the PGA Championships as they also loom on tough courses that don’t suit his game.
The British Open can be a daunting challenge, with the wind and the weather having humbled many a great golfer. However, when it’s held at the venerable St. Andew’s Old Course in Scotland, as it was this year, it does suit Tiger’s game. He had two dominant victories there, in 2000 and again in 2005, and he should have seized the opportunity this year.
He needed this one, to get the majors total climbing again. While he played reasonably well in most aspects of his game, his putting was not great and he finished well back. A win in the British Open would have suggested that Tiger had regained his growl, and would be back on the prowl.
Still, with all that’s gone on in his life, and all that is still to come for him off the golf course, including what will be a gargantuan and costly divorce settlement, it seems it might be difficult for this modern-day, often-edgy, often-unhappy Tiger to overtake Jack for the record number of victories in a major.
So, thanks to the TMZ’s and the tabloids of the world, and the probing, personal questions Woods still must endure, we think the Golden Bear is pretty much safe from the Tiger.
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