Tiger Woods is in the final weeks of what has been an outstanding year of golf and if the results from his 2013 season serve as a window into his not-too-distant future, he will end a lengthy major championship victory drought with a win—or more—in 2014.
Scandal. Injuries. Swing changes.
Woods has dealt with adversity while facing enormous criticism under an oftentimes unforgiving public microscope, but he has weathered a five-years-and-counting storm of winless major tournament appearances and seems to have his golf game and life in an order that will put an end to the dry spell.
That's the good news.
The bad news? He'll need to overcome the apparently debilitating mental hurdle of having to win four more major championships.
Four. More. Majors.
That's no small task given the pressure that exists for him to match or surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles. It has plagued him since winning the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, when he was 32 years old and—aside from a bum left knee—feeling pretty good about where he was on his historic journey.
The clock has been ticking impatiently since, but Woods is right on time when compared to Nicklaus, who was 38 years old when he won his 15th major.
Following an impressive T-3 finish at the Turkish Airlines Open last week, Woods pondered his future with reporters following the event, via ASAP Sports.
"You know, a couple years ago, there were a lot of guys, so many of you guys here, that were saying I could never win again. Got eight wins since then, so it's been good and I'm very happy with the progress I've made."
Those wins speak of an ongoing improvement in Woods' mental and physical game—and the satisfaction in his personal life—as he catapulted up the World Golf Ranking to reclaim his No. 1 position.
Granted, he didn't capture his most coveted prize, a major championship victory in 2013, but he won big tournaments on difficult golf courses against the best players in the world, including two World Golf Championship events and the exalted Players Championship.
Understandably, Woods is waxing upbeat about his golf game, especially the progress with the swing changes he established with coach Sean Foley in 2010.
"I just want to continue to work on the things that we were working on this summer," Woods said during a phone interview with the media last month to promote his upcoming Northwestern Mutual World Challenge tournament at Sherwood Country Club, via ASAP Sports. "I felt like towards the end of the year, even though I was a little bit dinged up, I was doing some really positive things. To have a five‑win season, I've done some pretty positive things to accomplish that."
Woods will begin 2014 with a customary game plan: to be at his best heading into each of the four major championships and make some progress in his ongoing quest to catch Nicklaus.
"As far as some of the things I'd like to get better at, that's obviously peaking at the right times and getting the four big events next year that I'd like to win," Woods continued. "Hopefully I can do that."
It's something he couldn't do in 2013, but Woods is feeling good about his chances in 2014, in part because of the locations of the majors, where he has enjoyed career victories at three of the four host courses. That familiarity will only help his chances.
"I'm looking forward to the four venues," Woods told reporters in Turkey, via ASAP Sports. "I like them and obviously I've played well on them."
Woods' record at Augusta National is well documented. He has four green jackets. But what about the other majors in 2014?
The British Open Championship will be held at Royal Liverpool Golf Club where Woods won in 2006. The PGA Championship will be played at Valhalla Golf Club where he won in 2000.
The only place Woods hasn't won is Pinehurst No. 2, site of the 2014 U.S. Open. But within that lack of a victory, there's a silver lining.
Woods finished T-3 behind Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open there in 1999, then second behind New Zealand's Michael Campbell in 2005. From a recent Pinehurst Resort blog entry on the same topic, Woods said: "I’ve had a third and a second, and hopefully it will keep improving like it has."
As long as Woods keeps improving like he has, his seemingly endless absence from a major championship winner's circle will soon be a thing of the past.