In the wake of an absolutely horrid performance in the U.S. Open his past weekend, it’s time for Tiger Woods to stop shrugging off the results and take a long, hard look at what’s gone so terribly wrong for him in major championships.
First and foremost, he can start by letting go of his Jack Nicklaus chase and focusing on winning just the major in front of him.
No matter how bad he wants to, Tiger can’t win five major championships in one weekend of golf, and he can’t get to 19 majors without first winning the elusive No. 15.
Woods has been dismissing the questions of his poor play in majors since he last won one in 2008. But after finishing the 2013 U.S. Open in a tie for 32nd at 13-over par—his worst score ever in a major championship—it’s time to face the music and focus on winning just the next major.
Woods has said several times that surpassing Nicklaus’ career record of 18 major championships is his top task.
Yet at 37 years old, and with a major drought that has now reached 16 events, it’s time for Tiger to focus on No. 15 and let what happens afterward take care of itself.
Following his victory at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Woods catching and passing Nicklaus wasn't a matter of if, but when. Since then, however, injuries, swing changes, confidence dips and personal turmoil have turned that assumption on its head.
The question is, has the chase of Nicklaus’ record, which has dominated headlines and storylines as Tiger’s slump has progressed, become too much even for Tiger to handle.
Since Woods has always been so honest about his desire to pass Nicklaus, the media and others around him have made it a constant point of conversation.
That was okay when Woods was winning 14 majors in 11 years. Now that Tiger has gone more than five years without adding to that total, the chirping is all around him, and one could argue it has gotten into his head.
Even Nicklaus himself weighed in earlier this year.
"I still think he can do it," Nicklaus said back in March of this year. "But that said, he has still got to do it. He hasn't won one in five years. He had better get with it if he's going to."
Hearing writers or talking heads bark about his major slump, and waning chances of winning 19 majors, is one thing, but don’t think that having his idol weigh in didn't affect Tiger.
Since Nicklaus offered up his opinion, Tiger has won three times on the PGA Tour.
In the majors, however, Woods has fallen short, headlined by his misery at Merion this past week.
The difference between the events he's winning and the majors he's not is one obvious thing—only majors can get Woods closer to Nicklaus’ accomplishment.
Tiger understands the window for winning five more majors is still there, but he also recognizes that it’s getting increasingly smaller as time goes on.
The missed opportunities keep piling up for Tiger.
The increased pressure is obvious to those who watched a confident Woods win four majors from 2006 to 2008, and then saw him get so thoroughly beaten down this past weekend.
Perhaps the pressure he is under is manifesting itself in his short game that has been so good in PGA Tour events, but was absolutely terrible this past weekend in the Open.
So far this year, Woods ranks second in overall putting and first in strokes gained putting. He’s also first in scoring average; thus the four wins.
This past weekend, however, it was the short-game that faltered under pressure. Despite hitting 70 percent of his fairways and 65 percent of his greens at Merion, he averaged a woeful 32 putts a round; thus the 13-over finish.
Following that performance, Woods vowed to look back before preparing to move forward.
"There's always a lesson to be learned in every tournament, whether you win or lose," Woods said. "I'll look back at the things I did right and the things I did wrong."
Not only should Woods examine what he did wrong, he should ask himself if the pressure to surpass Jack is becoming too much.
Pressure can cause a golfer to play differently and can manifest itself in the most crucial parts of the game. Tiger showed us that, to his detriment, at Merion.
To avoid it from happening again less than a month from now in the Open Championship, he needs to shut the world out. He needs to forget about Jack Nicklaus and make it just about winning the next major once again.
If he does that, 19 might just take care of itself.