Tiger Woods turned 38 on Dec. 30, making all of us who remember his emphatic entrance onto golf's main stage feel old. To say that a lot has transpired since he sheepishly said "Hello world" after turning professional in August of 1996 would be quite the understatement.
He's won 79 total tournaments, has the lowest scoring average of anyone in PGA Tour history and has been voted the PGA Tour Player of the Year a record 11 times. He's achieved nearly everything a professional golfer could ever dream of achieving, with just one thing missing.
Surpassing Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major championships.
The problem is, Tiger hasn't won a major championship since the U.S. Open in 2008 and although he's gotten close, he's uncharacteristically failed to close the deal despite nine top-10 finishes since.
Honestly, Tiger just wants these wins too badly.
He now structures his entire schedule around performing well in the majors, and he's putting too much pressure on himself to play perfect golf. The brutally honest Johnny Miller said recently, per Randall Mell of GolfChannel.com, that, “He [Tiger] won five times last year, but in the majors, he seems to be a little bit prone to being nervous. You never would say that about Tiger. He wants it so badly.”
Looking on the bright side for the world's No. 1 player, the slate of major venues in 2014 is tailor-made for him to return to the winner's circle. He's won majors at three of the four courses, with the U.S. Open at Pinehurst being the only exception.
It's never too early for predictions! Let's go through his chances at each major in 2014.
It's no secret that Tiger loves Augusta National. With its relatively open fairways and very little rough, the winning recipe at Augusta is accurate iron shots, stellar short-game play and par-five performance. Tiger's game fits right into this mold, and when he's won the Masters he's absolutely torched the par fives.
He has the lowest scoring average of anyone with 50 or more Masters rounds played at 70.87, and he's slipped into the green jacket four times. He'll undoubtedly be the favorite to win in 2014, but it's been awhile since Tiger has closed the deal at Augusta.
He hasn't won since 2005 when he defeated Chris DiMarco in a playoff.
As Johnny Miller opined, “Tiger’s not closing out the deal, and guys aren’t scared,,” Miller said. “Before, guys just wouldn’t do that against Tiger. So, it's getting much harder for Tiger. Guys aren’t wilting."
Miller's right that Tiger's fellow tour pros are less likely to collapse in fear when they see "Woods" on the leaderboard, but he's perfectly capable of winning majors when other players are at their best. His "A game" simply trumps that of everyone else, and often times his "B game" does as well.
Tiger's finished in the top five at the Masters six out of the last eight years since winning in 2005 and as the saying goes, he's due.
The U.S. Open returns to North Carolina this summer when the famed Pinehurst No. 2 will play host to the world's best. With its heavily sloped greens that include countless false fronts and run-offs, it's always made for an interesting golf tournament.
Despite being the only venue in 2014 that Tiger hasn't won a major on, he's certainly played well there. He was in the mix in 1999 when Payne Stewart won in dramatic fashion over Phil Mickelson. He also finished second to Michael Campbell when the U.S. Open was held there again in 2005.
When asked about his chances in 2014, Tiger said, per Mell, "I've had a third and a second, and hopefully it will keep improving like it has." He's had modest success on Donald Ross-designed courses throughout his career, including a Tour Championship victory at Ross' East Lake Golf Club in 2007.
My gut tells me he will fall just short at Pinehurst once again in 2014, although I'd be surprised if he wasn't in contention on Sunday.
It'll be an emotional return to Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake for Tiger in 2014. In 2006 Tiger captured his third Claret Jug just two months after the passing of his father, Earl Woods, and he broke down in tears shortly after his winning putt fell.
"I was thinking of all the things that my father had meant to me and I was wishing he would have seen it one more time," Tiger said, via LPGA.com. "He was always on my case about thinking my way around the golf course."
Think he did, as he devised a unique course-management plan and stuck to it all week. He hit driver off the tee just one time in four rounds, opting to lay up short of the menacing fairway bunkers at Hoylake that often required players to wedge it out sideways or even backwards.
Unless Hoylake experiences a similar heat wave in 2014 that will once again bake out the fairways and make the golf course play firm, Tiger will be forced to hit drivers on the 7,350-yard course. With his perpetual inaccuracy off the tee, this could present problems.
The PGA Championship returns to Louisville, Kentucky in 2014 as Valhalla Golf Club will play host once again. Back in 2000, Tiger and Bob May engaged in a memorable back-nine battle that couldn't be settled in regulation play. After finishing at 18 under, Tiger took control on the first playoff hole and held on for his second consecutive PGA Championship and his fifth overall major.
Can he find the winning recipe once again in 2014?
With Tiger furiously chasing Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major championships, there's a bit of irony in the fact that Valhalla is a Nicklaus-designed golf course. With their wider-than-average fairways and demanding approach shots, Tiger's had plenty of success on Nicklaus courses in his career.
In addition to his win at the PGA in 2000, he's won Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village a record five times and has also won his own tournament at the Nicklaus-designed Sherwood Country Club five times.
You get the idea—Nicklaus courses fit his eye.
Back in September, Nicklaus said that he still expects Tiger to break his record. "If you look at it realistically, Tigers' probably got another 10 years of top golf," Nicklaus told USA Today. "That's 40 majors. Can he win five of them? I think he probably will."
I think he probably will too, but there's no doubt that 2014 is an important year for Tiger in the majors. My prediction is that Tiger will win at the Masters and close out the major schedule with another PGA Championship victory at Valhalla.
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