Tiger Woods is playing his best golf in five years, and he's winning tournaments with ease—they just aren't the right tournaments. As 2013 comes to a close, Woods can reflect on his PGA Player of the Year award, as he steels himself for a run at an elusive 15th major in 2014. There is ample reason to believe he will get it, even if the all-time record of 18 majors will remain permanently out of reach.
The 37-year-old Woods decided to stay sharp with a late-season appearance at the Turkish Open. Though he has not displayed singular focus—waking up at 3:30 a.m. to watch Stanford outlast Oregon in Thursday night's college football bonanza—he shot a 9-under 63 in the second round, moving himself from six strokes back of the leader to only one (per Associated Press, via ESPN).
Woods has not won a European Tour event since 2009, but he has positioned himself for a run at Turkish delight with his sharp, if somewhat sleepy, shooting. He will have to contend with Swede Henrik Stenson, but Woods' last European Tour event proved to be a rabbit's foot. He missed the cut in Abu Dhabi back in January and won the Farmers Insurance Open on native soil the very next week. That was the first of Tiger's five tourney wins in 2013.
It certainly seems like Tiger is ready to carry over his strong play into the next calendar year, and he gets a friendly run of some of his favorite courses with next year's majors held at Augusta National, Pinehurst, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla (in Kentucky, not Viking heaven). In fact, he is already the favorite to with the 2014 Masters.
On any given day, Tiger can dominate the field. He is still that good, but inconsistency has been his chief hurdle over the last five years. Woods enjoyed an excellent 2013 and sits atop the world rankings after playing his finest golf since 2009.
He barely missed another $10 million payout when he finished second in the FedEx Cup and settled for a measly $3 million. He is progressively rounding back into form after battling injuries, scandal and different theories about how to swing a golf club. However, he has still not won a major since his U.S. Open title in 2008 at Torrey Pines, which required a playoff to beat Rocco Mediate.
During the intervening half-decade, Tiger's next major title has proved painfully evasive. Not long ago, Woods appeared set to cruise past Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, but he lost his mojo and probably a shot at passing the Golden Bear.
But 2013 provided ample evidence that Tiger's game and mental resolve are strengthening. In this year's majors, Woods finished sixth at The Open Championship and fourth at the Masters. Last year, he finished third at The Open Championship and 11th at the PGA Championship. He will have four chances next year to capture another major, and that could very well be the sweetest of all his wins.
|Tigers Woods Major Tournament Finishes 2010-13|
|U.S. Open||4th||Did Not Play||21st||32nd|
|The Open Championship||23rd||Did Not Play||3rd||6th|
|PGA Championship||28th||Missed Cut||11th||40th|
With Rory McIlroy experiencing growing pains and Phil Mickelson's penchant for finishing second, Woods does not have to slay any obvious dragons. Tiger's primary obstacle is, of course, himself.
Paradoxically, the recent glut of different golfers to win majors actually demonstrates the power vacuum at the top of the sport. Since 2011, 11 players have captured the 12 major titles. They are: Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke, Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner, Ernie Els, McIlroy and Mickelson.
Els capturing the Claret Jug in 2012 at the age of 42 reminds us that Woods could have a long career on the PGA Tour ahead of him. It seems both naive and overly pessimistic to think that Tiger will not capture another major. With him playing his best golf in five years, expect to see Woods pursue major No. 15 with an elan not seen since before Elin Nordegren was a four-letter word to him.