When Tiger Woods won his 14th Professional Major last year at the 2008 US Open he had finally gotten to within four major wins of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 wins in Professional Major Golf Tournaments (e.g. "Majors" - Masters, US Open, British Open, and the PGA Championship).
Being within four of tying a once thought to be an unbreakable record was quite impressive, especially at the age of 32. How impressive? We need to remember that it took Jack until the age of 35 to reach 14 professional major wins.
One would think at the age of 33 (at the end of the year 2008), and winning professional majors at roughly a 30 percent rate (14 wins in 48 opportunities in his first 12 years as a professional—1997 through 2008—equates to a 29 percent win percentage, that it would be safe to assume that Tiger would most certainly break Jack's record.
(By the way, Jack’s win percentage in Majors in his first 12 years as a professional—1962 through 1973—was 25 percent, 12 wins in 48 opportunities, which is almost as impressive as Tiger’s. There is a common misconception among rampant Tiger fans that Tiger’s win percentage in Majors is way beyond anyone else’s, which this shows is not the case.)
Assuming Tiger would at least be highly competitive through the age of 40, he would have eight years to win five professional majors. And with how fit he keeps himself, there is a strong chance he would stay competitive well into his 40s.
But, fate has stepped in and maybe changed everything. Maybe Tiger's walk towards becoming the greatest golfer of all-time, by winning more than 18 professional majors won't be a certainty, as so many think, and just maybe it won't happen at all.
Something occurred last year that has now possibly thrown a slight wrench into the works, so to speak, which is the reconstructive surgery on Tiger's left knee and the roughly eight-month layoff (July 2008 - February 2009).
Tiger must now work to regain his previous winning form (e.g. his competitive sharpness and aura of invincibility) from what, I think I can be safely assumed, is his longest break from golf since he started playing the game at a very young age.
In addition, because he has had four operations on his left knee, Tiger must find a way from putting so much pressure and torque on it. This means changing his swing once more (e.g. he must find a way to stop straightening and snapping the left knee).
Tiger is certainly not a stranger to changing his swing; he has gone through swing changes before (in 1997/1998 and in 2002). The changes to his swing in both cases lead to extended periods of not winning Majors (10 consecutive Majors in 1997-1999 and 10 consecutive Majors from 2002-2004).
Additional swing changes in 2009 most certainly means, based on past history and simple common sense, a period of not winning majors. In addition, as mentioned early, he needs to regain his competitive sharpness.
Being away from the game and not playing in tournaments for such a long period of time results in losing tournament sharpness. All professional golfers will tell you that practicing and playing tournament golf are by far two different things.
Having said all of the above, we come to the opening question that was posed, which is will Tiger break Jack's Major wins record of 18? The correct answer, in my mind, is we can't say for certain either way. The correct answer is simply maybe. Nothing in life is a certainty and certainly winning Majors doesn't escape life's laws.
There are fans of Tiger's that want to say that regardless of this set back with his knee, the related eight-month layoff, and one more attempt at changing his swing, he will march on to breaking the record without almost any doubt (almost 100 percent certainty).
These rampant Tiger fans insist that short of Tiger dying, being in a plane crash, being ran over by a truck, or falling down a flight of stairs and breaking his neck; he will most certainly break Jack's record. Anyone that says otherwise is a complete and utter fool.
Past history has shown that beyond the injury and rust from the lay-off Tiger has to now deal with, he will have to hold-off father time, losing his desire to win, and the difficulty/rarity of winning more than 4 Majors past the age of 33.
Both Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson appeared to be Major winning machines and then it suddenly stopped around the age of 33/34.
Watson stopped winning Majors past the age of 33 (1983), after having won eight Majors in total and five majors from 1980-1983 (winning at least one major each year during that stretch).
Palmer stopped winning Majors past the age of 34 (1964), after having won seven majors in total and six majors over a stretch from 1960-1964 (winning at least one major per year, except for 1963, during that stretch).
These two all-time golf greats, Watson and Palmer, didn't just slow down, in terms of their winning pace regarding Majors, they both came to a sudden stop. Neither of these two men had any injury to deal with or an extended layoff, they just stopped winning.
They both came close after 1983 and 1964, respectively, in terms of winning additional Majors, but they failed to close the deal ever again. In both of their cases, it is almost like fate stepped in and said you have both won enough.
In an interview at the 1994 British Open, Watson commented that you lose your desire through the years and that all golfers go through that. Tom went on to say that like anything in your life, you are never going to be constantly at the top.
There are rampant Tiger fans that feel Tiger will somehow defy human nature, and unlike all other past great golf champions, his desire will never waiver. Tiger has not yet shown any signs in terms of a loss in desire or passion, but that doesn't mean it can't happen. We must all remember he is human.
Tiger needs, as stated above, to win five more Majors to pass Jack’s record. As mentioned above, winning at least five Majors past the age of 33 is a rarity; only Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan have done it, having won six, seven, and nine respectively.
That is right, only three golfers, in the history of golf, have won five Majors past the age of 33. And yes rampant Tiger fans, I know there have been a few golfers that have won two or three or even four Majors past the age of 33 (please relax and don’t jump out of your seats).
However, you need to keep reminding yourselves that Tiger needs five more wins, not three or four, to break Jack’s record. The key number is five.
Tiger may break Jack’s record, but it is most defiantly not almost a 100 percent certainty, as rampant Tiger fans want us all to believe.
If anything can be learned from history it is that, without a doubt, history repeats itself. This happens because human nature is consistent and quite simply we are all human. (Sorry rampant Tiger fans, Tiger is human and he will be susceptible to human nature like anyone else.)
In summary, Tiger may break Jack’s record of 18 wins in the four professional major golf tournaments, but it is not a given as the rampant Tiger fans want us all to believe.
Tiger may not regain his competitive sharpness; he may have further knee problems (remember rampant Tiger fans that left knee has been operated on four times), he loses his desire to win; new competition comes along (which I purposely choose not to address in this article); or like Palmer and Watson, fate steps in and says you have won enough.
19 Major Wins for Tiger? Rampant Tiger fans' answer: Without a doubt! Sorry, but I have to stand up and try to be a voice of reason by saying, "I don't think so"!
There are many things that suggest, as discussed above, that can lead one to have a lot of reasonable doubt beyond Tiger being involved in a tragic or bizarre event—e.g. a plane crash, falling down stairs and breaking his neck, falling into a lion cage, losing a leg, deciding to have his arms cut-off for no reason, etc.
Without a doubt (excluding tragic or bizarre events)?
No, sorry rampant Tiger fans, there is a lot of reasonable doubt.
Do I think he will do it?
If I was asked this question before the injury last year, I would have said 70-80% chance he would do it. Now with the injury last year, I think a reasonable answer is that he has about 50-50 chance of doing it.
And depending how the next year or two goes, in terms of trying to regain his form and retaining his aura of invincibility, the odds could fall below 50 percent quite quickly.