From the moment he turned professional, Tiger Woods has made it his career mission to win major championships, and up until five years ago he did it at a historic clip no other golfer has ever rivaled.
Since 2008, however, Woods has been more mess than master in golf's biggest events, culminating with yet another disappointing performance in the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club this past weekend.
That awful 40th-place showing, coupled with the 17 major misses preceding it, begs this question: How can golf have a world No. 1 who last won a major championship when George W. Bush was still president?
That absolutely wouldn't happen in tennis, where the premium on grand slams is equal to that of majors in golf.
It's a reasonable query given he’s failed to win a major championship in five full calendar years yet is essentially an unquestioned No. 1. Does it signal the sport has a problem; perhaps a dearth of truly elite golfers capable of replacing Tiger even as he is so vulnerable in the sport's biggest events?
Or does it point to the overall brilliance of the greatest talent the sport has seen since Jack Nicklaus?
Yes, Woods is absolutely judged in large part by his performance in majors, and it's been tough sledding of late. Yet when considering his resume over the past two years, Tiger is the game’s top-ranked player by a mile and a half.
Therein lies the quandary when trying to decide whether Tiger's prolonged drought in majors tarnishes his world ranking or somehow should have an asterisk to it.
Do we judge Tiger by his own expectations and therefore question his place atop golf’s elite given his enduring major drought? Or do we treat him just as we do every other professional and therefore laugh away any question as to his rightful place atop the sport?
Using the latter rather than the former as the measuring stick, Woods remains the sport’s most elite golfer—and by a significant margin.
Not because some complicated scoring system says so or because the sport lacks a capable heir to the throne. The past four majors have shown us there’s plenty of golfers worthy of being a world No. 1 in his absence.
No, Woods is the best in the game because just about every tangible measure we apply evenly to golfers across the board says he is.
In the past two years, Tiger has won eight times on the PGA Tour, including five triumphs this year alone.
He’s captured two World Golf Championship events in 2013 and just a week ago fired a 61 at Firestone Golf Club, his lowest score in more than eight years.
If there’s a résumé out there that can compete with that, I haven’t seen it. If there’s a reason to point to another player ahead of Woods, I haven’t found it.
Tiger’s solid play in just about every start he’s made since returning to form in early 2012 has lifted him back to No. 1 in the world and is the justification for his position there.
In eight non-major starts this year, he's winning at a 62.5 percent clip. Show me anyone else on the PGA Tour operating with that type of winning percentage and I’ll rethink the status of his top ranking.
Likewise, it would be a mistake to entirely dismiss Woods' performances in majors as unworthy of a world No. 1.
It's true he hasn't won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. That’s a disappointment he can’t run from.
But this year alone, Tiger posted a tie for fourth at The Masters and a tie for sixth at The Open Championship, an event he shared the lead in late in the third round. Since 2008, he has nine top-10 finishes and six top-fives in major championships.
Those are the type of performances we expect of a top-ranked golfer. Weighing him down is the fact Tiger simply hasn't been able to seal the deal when he does play well in golf's toughest tests.
“Yeah, I was close in two of them,” Woods said after his final round at Oak Hill Sunday. “I was right there and certainly had a chance to win the Masters and the British this year. The other two, I just didn't hit it good enough. Just the way it goes.”
From a career standpoint, Tiger owns 14 major titles. To put that into perspective, Phil Mickelson, the closest active golfer to that level of dominance, has only five.
Yes that’s arguing past accomplishments, but given the fact that he's been so good so often recently, it’s not a stretch to suggest a 15th major is in the short offering.
In fact, Woods is already the oddsmakers' favorite for the 2014 Masters, per CBS Sports.
At the moment, however, Tiger is exactly what the number next to his name says he is; the best golfer in the world.
And without an asterisk.
All quotes acquired through transcripts from ASAP Sports.