At the CIMB tournament in Malaysia, Tiger Woods talked records: the ones he has and the ones he is chasing. He had a surprising perspective on stalking golf history and repeated what he has said in the past about what winning a major does in any year. He also discussed the state of his game compared to other professional golfers.
“I certainly want to win golf tournaments. I certainly want to break Jack's record and catch Snead's record. Those are all things that I would love to do throughout my career,” Woods said.
Aging to his late 30s has given Woods some perspective on his ability to compare his performance to others'. He has seen a difference in the depth and quality of players at the top of the game in the time since he turned professional.
Look at how many guys won major championships for their very first time [recently]. The game has gotten so much deeper in that regard. I think it's more difficult now to win golf tournaments in general because the equipment has nullified and brought the fields closer together. These big hitting drivers and the balls don't curve as much. Guys that were one of the ball strikers don't have the same advantages as they used to.
The increasing challenge from younger players makes climbing that mountain to 18 majors, Jack Nicklaus’ record, more difficult, particularly because Woods has given away a few years in his prime to injury.
Yet he values the majors above all:
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“I've always said winning one major championship turns a good year into a great year. You can have wins—I've had years where I've won five times on Tour—yeah, it's a really good year, no doubt, but winning a major championship just makes it a great year. The majors are such a different animal and different breed, and we place so much emphasis on them.
He said it was like the grand slam events versus the majors in tennis.
“You can win a bunch of tournaments, but winning a major championship just changes things, like Ernie [Els] this year, he's had a really good year. He was in contention a bunch of times, had a chance to win. But he wins a major championship, and now it's a great year.”
One way to judge the change in the strength of competition, Woods said, is to look at the number of players making the cut and the gap between the cut and the lead on weekends.
“Cuts used to be—between the leader, and the cut number was generally 12, 13, even sometimes 14 shots. Now we have 70‑plus guys who are generally 10 shots,” he explained. That means he has to keep working as hard, if not harder, because the other players are not standing still. They are getting better.
So what’s next for Woods?
Sam Snead’s record of 82 US professional victories. He’s only eight away from that. And if Woods counts women golfers, such as Kathy Whitworth, that’s 88. He’ll tie her with 14 more titles.
Will he get to 100 victories on the PGA Tour? He now has 74, and he’s nearly 37 years old, so that would mean an average of 2.6 victories a year for 10 seasons to reach 100 by the time he is 47. Doable, for someone of his skill level.
Will he break Jack Nickaus’ record of 18 majors? The key to that may come next season. If Woods goes majorless for another year, he’s just two seasons away from turning 40 years old. If he gets to 40 without winning two more, the chances diminish.
The list of golfers who have won majors in their 40's is a short one and includes Julius Boros (who won two), Raymond Floyd, Lee Trevino, Harry Vardon, Roberto de Vicenzo, Hale Irwin, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and, recently, Darren Clarke and Ernie Els.
Woods has perhaps five or six good years to win five majors and break the Nicklaus mark. How does his situation compare to other great champions?
Ben Hogan won three majors in 1953. He was 41 at the time and had come back from a death-defying vehicular accident.
Julius Boros remains the oldest major winner, having won the PGA when he was 48.
Nicklaus’ final major was at age 46 and was a memorable come-from-behind victory.
So, take Ben Hogan and Julius Boros and combine their major victories in their 40's. That’s what Woods will need to do to catch Jack Nicklaus if he wins majors 15 through 19 in his 40s.
That is a tall task.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.