Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
The two have been connected since Tiger won his first green jacket at the Masters Tournament back in 1997. Since that time, it has been a foregone conclusion that Tiger would one day break Jack's record mark of 18 major championship victories.
Until recently, that is.
The past two years of turmoil for Tiger have only served to fuel the discussion as to whether or not he will ever catch Jack.
Jack has 18 majors. Tiger has 14—and counting.
Can Tiger Woods win four more major championships? I believe he can.
Based on his late 2011 success—third place at the Australian Open; outstanding play as a member of the US President's Cup team; and winning the Chevron World Challenge—Tiger is re-energized and ready to get his name back on to PGA Tour leader boards on a more consistent basis.
Here are five reasons Tiger Woods is not only in great shape to catch Jack Nicklaus for the most major championships in the history of the game, but to also cement his mark as the greatest golfer of all time.
Tiger Woods' troubles over the past two years were as much mental as they were physical.
Several times, I wrote about what Tiger needed to do to get back on track. Much of it had to do with the "five-and-a-half-inch course between his ears," as Bobby Jones once pondered about the great game of golf.
Tiger's mind was a mess with the problems he admittedly brought upon himself.
Having said that, Tiger was also not physically able to perform at the level he had become accustomed to. Leg injuries had rendered him a mere mortal among the rest of the professional golfing community. In fact, he had gone from being the best golfer on the planet—the untouchable one—to someone who couldn't even make the cut at a tournament.
To say it was a monumental downfall would be a tremendous understatement.
Woods was in trouble.
But, it appears those days are a thing of the past. He is not only in a much better place mentally, he is also feeling good physically.
The results are starting to speak for themselves.
And that's a daunting thought for his competition in 2012 and beyond.
Tiger Woods had so much negativity happening in his life over the past couple years, it had become impossible to sort through the clutter enough to get back to doing what he does best.
Golf? Forget about golf.
His marriage was on the rocks. Then it ended.
He was embarrassed and, dare I say, humiliated by his actions.
The life he tried to keep so private had unraveled for the entire world to see. And it wasn't pretty.
Oh, when the subject did turn back to golf, there was more turmoil—self-induced from perhaps the most violent golf swing of all time. And the much-discussed swing changes that, quite frankly, weren't going so well.
Woods is past all of it.
I'm sure the scars remain, even though I don't know Tiger well enough to sit down and talk to him about how he really feels. I can speak with him at tournament pressers, but that's hardly enough to dig deep.
If his own words are true, however, his re-dedication to the game will make all the difference.
"The lowest moments (last year) came from the fact that I wasn’t healthy and couldn’t put in the time on and off the course that I wanted and needed to, and that was frustrating. I was playing with pain and that isn’t fun. The last couple of months have been really fun and that is mostly because I am feeling healthy again and building week on week.”
If fun equals success, Tiger is in for a breakout 2012 season.
Jack Nicklaus was the same age as Tiger Woods when he had 14 major championships to his credit.
So, regardless of how much Tiger has "disappeared" over the past few years—since he won the US Open in 2008—both he and Jack were 35 years old when they had earned 14 majors.
That brings us to today.
Jack is now 71 years old and retired from competitive golf. He won his last major when he was 46 years old—the unforgettable Masters Tournament of 1986.
Tiger Woods needs four more majors to catch Jack. And I figure he's realistically got about 10 years to make it happen—give or take a few years.
I absolutely think Tiger will be able to accomplish this—if he stays healthy.
Even if you look at his Masters Tournament finishes the past two years—when he was playing arguably the worst golf of his career—he finished T4 at Augusta, a course he knows like the back of his hand, the same course that was "Tiger-proofed" back in 2002.
Sure, there will be some major championship courses that aren't as well-suited for Tiger's game over the next 10 years, but he'll have more than his fair share of chances to win majors.
Combine his experience and penchant for making clutch shots—plus the fact he works harder than anyone else—and he's going to be among the favorites at every tournament he enters, especially the majors.
Based on his late 2011 success, it's clear that Tiger 2.0 has begun. And the 2012 season will go a long way in determining just how close to his best ever he really is.
Tiger spurned the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a golf tournament he typically participates in, to begin his 2012 season in Abu Dhabi instead.
It seemed unusual considering his past success at Torrey Pines, but he and his foundation have their reasons.
“I am looking to get off to a fast start in Abu Dhabi and keep building from there,” Woods said. “Now that I am healthy, I feel I can keep building my game and confidence week on week, much like I did at the end of (last) year—from the Australian Open to the Presidents Cup to, finally, a win in California.”
Whatever schedule Woods keeps, it's all considered a warm-up leading to the year's first major at Augusta in April. Tiger will manage his schedule in a manner that will give him the reps he needs to build upon his late 2011 success and prime his game for the tournaments that matter most—the majors.
Tiger will take wins anywhere and any way he can, but as is the case with most professionals who are fortunate enough to get an invite, he's got his eyes on The Masters, the US Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship first and foremost.
Based purely on talent, one could argue that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. But until he passes Jack Nicklaus for the most major championship victories in the history of the game, it's probably not an argument that can be won.
How about this? It's Tiger Woods' destiny to win 18 or more majors.
That's what I believe to be true.
Since he was introduced to the game before he was two years old, Tiger has been groomed to rewrite the record books. That's exactly what he's in the process of doing.
I also believe he's been groomed to be the greatest golfer to ever play the game.
Sure, we'll look back and recognize this recent gap—and a couple others—where he wasn't dominating the game, but you can say the same thing about other golf legends.
They're all human.
And no matter what Sean Foley, Hank Haney or Butch Harmon has "taught" Tiger, he was born with something you can't teach.
Whatever "it" is, Tiger Woods has it, and he'll use it to win at least four more major championships before he's done playing the game.