Conversation: A Revisit of 4 Years Ago

February 6, 2015

January 12, 2011.

That’s when ThePowerFade posted this article debating a topic that was much talked about at the time. The topic, like so often is the case with the world of golf, revolved around Tiger Woods. At the time, Tiger was just a few years removed from the man-on-a-mission-and-a-bum-knee victory at the 2008 US Open. He had had temporary setbacks, but nothing indicated long-term that Tiger would face the kind of recurring injury and failure to “put it together” that he’s seen over the last four years. At the time, Tiger–just four shy of Jack–was in position still to catch Jack–at least, that’s what LG and I argued.

But four years did pass. In those four years, Tiger has had some tremendous runs. He first ditched Haney, went with Sean Foley, then ditched Foley. He had 5 wins in 2013, two of which were WGC championships, was #1 on the money list, and regained the world #1 ranking. To be sure, he still has the ability to beat the best.

Which is what makes this topic all too frustrating. Tiger’s measure of his own success has been and always will be how he stacks up in majors. Sure, he is proud of having won 79 of his 316 TOUR starts (That’s winning 25%, or one out of every four tournaments he’s entered). But the injuries that took him out of most of 2014 and are now creeping back up in 2015–plus his seeming inability to turn it on when he needs to in major championships–has us revisiting this question: will Tiger catch Jack?

And, at this point, I think the answer has changed to “no” for the same reason that it was a “yes” in 2011. Math.

Tiger Woods is now 39 years old. If he stays in good shape, he has 7-8 more good years of competitive golf left (look at Mickelson, who still competes at 44). But that assumes he won’t be hurt, and, as I type this, Tiger has just pulled out of the Farmer’s Open at Torrey Pines (one of his favorite venues–and, ironically, site of that 2008 US Open where it all started). However, even if Tiger Woods were to have a full 8 years on the Tour, he’d only have 32 major opportunities left in which to achieve 4 major victories (to tie) or 5 major victories (to overtake). That means Tiger has to win 1/8 (once every two years) to tie, and has to do better to overtake. Now, in 2011, I said “if he just wins twice in three years, he’ll overtake Jack by 2016.” Well, it’s the start of 2015, and Tiger has hardly sniffed a major championship since I wrote that in 2011 (two T4s in The Masters (2011/2013) and a T3 and T6 at The British Open (2012/2013), but he wasn’t really in contention in either). The other caveat is that, when making those projections in 2011, that was a “likely case” scenario, with potential other scenarios in which Tiger could overtake Jack. With this analysis, this is the ONLY way Tiger could do it.

And, frankly, the talent out there with Tiger is better these days. Rory McIlroy seems to just find grooves sometimes where he’s an unstoppable force (and, other grooves where he can’t find the face of the club, but let’s not focus on that now). Aside from him, unfocused Dustin Johnson has enough talent to win a major without trying. Bubba Watson is a double Masters champion in just a few years, and seems like he’s figured out something about Augusta that no one else has. Martin Kaymer can obliterate a field of the best of the world when his game is buttoned up. And, then there’s Mickelson, who just never seems to go away. Throw in all the other players who have a ton of potential and are just waiting in the wings to pick up their first majors (e.g., Rickie Fowler, Jordan Speith, Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore, Sergio Garcia, et. al) and the guys who have won majors and could easily threaten for another (e.g., Justin Rose, Oosthuizen, Dufner, Charl Schwartzel, etc.), and Tiger’s competition just seems to get better and better.

At this point, I certainly hope I’m wrong. Golf needs Tiger to come back and dominate. But, I really don’t think I am. In early 2015, it’s time to call a spade a spade. Tiger will not break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major wins.

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