The thought that Tiger Woods may never pass Jack Nicklaus in total major championships would have been laughed at in 2008 after Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, besting Rocco Mediate on the first playoff hole. The win capped off a stretch of 14 total majors in a 12-year span, as Woods remained ahead of Jack’s pace in his quest to surpass Nicklaus’ 18 total major victories. However, two days after his win, Woods announced that he would undergo knee surgery and would miss the remainder of the 2008 season.
Woods has not won a major since.
With Tiger’s announcement that he will not be playing in the Masters this year due to back surgery, the answer to the question of “Will Tiger pass Jack?” has become even more unclear. What was once thought to be a foregone conclusion now appears to be in serious jeopardy.
Despite his recent drought in major titles, Woods has continued to excel overall and finished the 2013 season at No. 1 on the money list with five victories. The previous year, Woods finished No. 2 on the money list and won three tournaments. While the majors have eluded him, Tigers Woods remains one of the elite golfers in the world.
While Woods has gone winless in the last 22 majors (23 counting the 2014 Masters), at 38 years old, he remains on a similar pace as the Golden Bear. At 34 years old, Nicklaus had 12 major titles, two behind Woods at the same age. By the time Jack was Tiger’s age though, he had upped his total to 15 majors. Although Tiger is no longer the athletic beast he once was, golfers can continue to play at a high level despite an advanced age, and Nicklaus himself proved this.
In 1975 at the age of 35, Nicklaus won the Masters and the PGA Championship to give him 14 total major titles. He did not win another major until a victory in the 1978 Open Championship. Nicklaus then won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in 1980 at the age of 40, giving him 17 total majors. It was not until 1986 at the age of 46 that Nicklaus won his final major at the Masters.
While Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major in nearly six years, he still has many competitive years ahead of him. Missing this year’s Masters is a disappointing setback for Tiger, however, it is the smart choice if it allows him to be healthy for the three remaining major tournaments in 2014. Tiger stated that he will miss several upcoming tournaments as he focuses on his rehabilitation, so it is unclear whether or not he will return in time for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 on June 12.
The best answer to the question of “Will Tiger pass Jack?” likely comes from Nicklaus himself, who gives the same response every time he is asked the question. Nicklaus’ thoughtful response has always been, “If you look at it realistically, Tiger’s probably got another 10 years of top golf. That’s 40 majors. Can he win five of them? I think he probably will.”
There is also no doubt that the pursuit of Jack’s record will fuel Tiger throughout the rest of his career. In a statement concerning his recent back surgery to replace a pinched nerve Woods said, “There are a couple records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break. As I’ve said many times, Sam [Snead] and Jack [Nicklaus] reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine.”
While it’s incredibly disappointing that Woods will miss the Masters for the first time in 20 years, it will be worth it for Tiger and fans alike if it allows him to come back healthy later this summer and resume his pursuit of golf’s greatest record.