Tiger Woods: Why He's a Lock to Pass Jack Nicklaus

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJune 12, 2012

DUBLIN, OH - JUNE 03:  Tournament founder Jack Nicklaus poses with Tiger Woods after Tiger's two-stroke victory at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance at Muirfield Village Golf Club on June 3, 2012 in Dublin, Ohio.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

It's only a matter of time before Tiger Woods strikes Jack Nicklaus' name from the record books and claims his throne as the greatest golfer ever.

Although Woods has yet to win a major since his victory at the U.S. Open in 2008, he enters the same tournament this year with momentum. Woods showed signs of the old Tiger in his Memorial Tournament win on June 3.

Woods finally looks ready to reclaim his spot as the world's premier golfer and resume his chase of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors.

Ever since he took a leave of absence after details of extra-marital affairs surfaced, Woods has not been the same guy who previously looked like a man among boys. Even though he became a public villain in the tabloids, golf fans just wanted to see Woods return to greatness.

When Woods fought off an injured leg and a remarkable push by underdog Rocco Mediate to secure his last U.S. Open title in a grueling playoff, he appeared infallible. Capturing his sixth major in a four-year span, Woods looked like a virtual lock to not just break, but shatter Nicklaus' record.

Much has changed for the world's highest-paid athlete in the last four years. After the world discovered his shortcomings off the golf course, he no longer seemed immortal on the green. Woods failed to win a single tournament in 2010 and 2011, and our generation's greatest golfer dropped to a ranking as low as 58.

This year, Woods is heading on the right track. Before winning the Memorial Tournament, Woods ended his drought with a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Woods is now tied with Nicklaus for the most PGA tour wins at 73.

Woods has seemingly been around forever, but he is only 36 years old. That may be old for a quarterback, but this is a sport that most athletes flock to after retirement.

Even with the four-year layoff, Woods still has won majors at a similar pace to Nicklaus. Woods has 14 majors under his belt, and Nicklaus won his 14th title at age 35. 

Much like Woods, Nicklaus endured a long road before his 15th major. He did not capture his next win until three years later at The Open Championship in 1978.

Witnessing an athlete fall from greatness to commonality is scary for those of us reminded of our own mortality. In Woods' case, however, he is far from washed up. 

Woods' 2012 would be considered highly successful for any other golfer not named Tiger Woods. Of course, anything other than first place is a disappointing finish for Woods.

His incredible chip in to seal a birdie on the 16th hole in the Memorial resembled Woods in his prime, and when is the last time we saw that emphatic fist pump performed with such enthusiasm? 

Former coach Butch Harmon spoke highly of Woods' latest victory, saying the performance was "the best golf we have seen from Tiger in four to five years."

Tiger seemed to have complete control of his golf ball, and it has been quite a while since we have seen him produce such a display of pure ball-striking like that. He also putted much better than he has of late, and if he plays the same way this week then he will be back as the man to beat.

Even if Woods does not continue his winning ways at the Olympic Club this week, he still has time to emerge as golf's most frequent champion. 

Woods can still physically compete, and he should be able to for years to come. Even if the old Woods never returns, he should still display enough glimpses of his former self to win five more majors before his career ends.