posted on May 18, 2012 00:00
Sitting down this week trying to think of something to write about, I considered the obvious recent news items: Rickie Fowler breaks through, and Matt Kuchar takes a leap forward. I’m sure I could punch out a few paragraphs about both of these guys, and while their success is good news for the American golf scene, it is what it is. Let’s call Matt Kuchar the next Jim Furyk (Nice guy, not very exciting, 16 PGA Tour wins with one major), and guess that Fowler maxes out as Davis Love/Curtis Strange type, with approximately 20 wins and maybe 2 majors. If the next guy I’m going to mention never existed, we would consider that a dominant career. However, Tiger Woods does exist, and has skewed the way we look at golf. Tiger has always been all things Jack Nicklaus, so I’m going to dig a little deeper and attempt to answer the question that, love him or hate him, will help define the next decade in golf: Will he or won’t he catch Jack Nicklaus and his 18 career major championships?
I guess we’ll start with the pros and cons, and since the thought of a 36 year old winning four or more majors in unlikely, we’ll start with the glass half full outlook:
It’s hard to win majors. Really hard. Besides Tiger, there have only been two players whose primes took place in the last 30 years to win that many majors in an entire career, let alone after the age of 36: Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson. Tiger would have to win as many majors as Phil has won in his entire career to TIE Jack. Seems unlikely.
Looking over the greatest players of all time, their window to win any tournament on the PGA Tour looks like it is about 25 years. Tiger has accumulated his 72 Tour victories and 14 major championships in 17 years. With 8 years of average “prime” left, that would be a major every other year. Or, twice as many major wins in the next 8 years as Jose Maria Olazabal, Curtis Strange, and Greg Norman won in their entire careers.
Tiger is an old 36. On his Wikipedia page, there is a picture of him on the Mike Douglas Show (whatever that was), when he was 2 years old. The man has been famous his entire life, lived through one of the most publicized divorces in history, and has had extreme pressure to perform for as long as he has played competitively. There is a chance he is sick of being Tiger Woods, and what we are currently watching is the end.
Technology and fitness are making for longer careers. Tiger was at the forefront of the fitness wave on Tour, and several guys (Fred Couples, Kenny Perry, Greg Norman, Tom Watson) have nearly won majors in the last few years at 49 years of age or older. It’s only a matter of time until one of these codgers kicks that door down, making a 36 year old Tiger Woods capable of winning a major for at least the next 14 years.
Positive memories. If I’m giving him 14 more years to get this done, that means several cracks at places he has had success at in the past. That’s 13 more shots at Augusta*, and while the changes might not fit perfectly with his erratic driving right now, even the biggest skeptic wouldn’t be surprised at another green jacket. That’s 14 more cracks at the US Open, with Pebble Beach in 2019 (Legendary 15 shot victory in 2000 and T4 in 2010, post scandal), and Pinehurst #2 in 2014 (2nd and T3 in two previous appearances). Another 14 British Open** chances, with Royal Liverpool in ’14 and St. Andrews in “15, both former sites of victory. Finally, 14 more PGA Championships***, with Valhalla in ’14 being a repeat offender.
*The Masters and British Open offer prior champions exemptions, lifetime for the Masters and until 60 years old for The Open. While it seems ridiculous to think Tiger could be competitive at that point, consider Nicklaus had a T6 at Augusta as a 58 year old…
**In my humble opinion, Tiger’s best chances at winning majors from here on out will be across the pond. There seems to be less emphasis on hitting the driver straight, and the greens usually don’t run as ridiculously fast as they do at American majors, placing less stress on aging and TMZ frayed nerves.
***The PGA is in the Lou at Bellerive CC in 2018. I was following Tiger during his last appearance at Bellerive. It was a Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. I went with my mom, arriving just after the gates opened at 6:00 am, catching up with Tiger around the 5th hole. We found out about the news from an enormous bulky pager my mom was packing at the time, which would look as out of place today as a cell phone from the movie Wall Street. I saw his buddy Mark Calcavecchia catch up with him on the 10th green and try to describe to Tiger what was going on… Tiger was absent at the 2008 BMW Championship at Bellerive after knee surgery.
For the final point in the “pros” column, consider the past and the future. First consider the future, 2014 speifically. In 2014 the majors will be played at three places Tiger has previously won major championships (Augusta, Royal Liverpool, Valhalla), with Pinehurst as the other. It would be an upset if he doesn't snag at least one major victory in 2014. As far as the past, the dude has won 14 major championships. FOURTEEN! We have been spoiled by thinking that’s a predictable, normal thing to do since someone has done it. As stated above, Phil Mickelson has won four. If you believe Phil has the ability to win at least one more, and Tiger has won more than 3x the majors that Phil has so far at a younger age, then it is naïve to think that Tiger isn’t capable of winning at least three more to give Jack a good scare.
So what do you think? I sometimes catch some grief for being a Tiger apologist, and while that’s probably true, the numbers speak volumes. Gun to my head, I will guess one more Masters and British Open each, with a few near misses to finish up at 16. Lose the gun and make it a bar debate after several cocktails, and I’ll go 19 with two Masters and two British Opens, with a PGA thrown in. Either way, I think it will be closer than most, and will be among the least surprised if it happens.
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on Twitter @jefft24, and check out the archives to the right for my past ramblings.