Another year of majors has come and gone, and while we had a stellar group of champions from first-time winners Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Jason Dufner, to Phil Mickelson winning the one major nobody thought he could, one question remains.
Can Tiger Woods still beat Jack Nicklaus‘s record of 18 professional majors?
It’s a difficult question to answer. On one hand, you’ve seen Tiger’s return to dominance over the last few seasons. Keep in mind, it was less than two year ago — November of 2011, to be exact — that Woods was ranked 58th in the world, the lowest point of his career. To climb back from that to his perch at the top of the golf world is nothing short of amazing, and a testament to the will that Woods still possesses for his game.
With five more wins in 2013 so far, Woods now has the second-most professional wins of all time with 79, trailing only Sam Snead, who has 82. That record seems sure to fall, if only for the sheer number of events that Woods will play. With the exception of the post-scandal years of 2010 and 2011, Woods has won at least one event every year since 1996. If Snead’s record survives the 2014 PGA Tour season, it would be incredible.
So what exactly is keeping Woods from the majors record he once seemed destined not only to surpass, but to leave far behind him by this point of his career?
Not that he would ever let on otherwise, but Woods insists his confidence is still there.
“Is it concerning?” Woods said to USA TODAY. “No. I’ve been there in half of them [the 18 majors since his last win]. So that’s about right. If you are going to be in there three-quarters or half of them with a chance to win on the back nine, you have just got to get it done.
“I was right there and certainly had a chance to win the Masters and the British [Open] this year. The other two, I just didn’t hit it good enough. Just the way it goes.”
That doesn’t sound like the same killer instinct that we came to know from Tiger several years ago, but perhaps it’s just a bit of reality setting in. The fields have gotten tougher, and no other player is under the kind of pressure that Woods is, both from outside and within.
Over the five years since Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the only players to win multiple majors have been Padraig Harrington, who won the British Open and the PGA Championship in 2008, Mickelson, and Rory McIlroy. 22 majors since Woods’s last victory, 19 different winners. And if you don’t think the pressure is immense, just ask McIlroy how his year has gone.
All this just goes to show how difficult it can be to win any one tournament if your game isn’t completely together. The days of Woods dominating just by showing up are over. His game is what will carry him the rest of the way to the majors record, as it should be.
Of course, time and tide wait for no man, and there’s only so much more time that Woods will realistically be able to stay on top. It’s good to remember that Nicklaus won his 15th major in his 67th career start. Woods will make his 65th major start at Augusta National in April, so the pace is still there for him.
I’m not ready to bury Tiger’s record chase just yet. The 2014 season will be telling, as Woods gets to play Augusta, Pinehurst No. 2, and Royal Liverpool, all courses he’s won at before. If Woods can put together four good rounds and take down just one of these majors, it will all be back on track.
Rumors of Tiger’s demise, in my opinion, are greatly exaggerated. This next year or two, though, will be make or break for the chase. I don’t think the greatest golfer of our time is done winning just yet.