About a week-and-a-half ago, during the Golf Channel’s telecast of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Johnny Miller was asked by Rich Lerner whether or not he believed Tiger Woods would break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championship titles.
Miller quickly responded to Lerner’s question with a simple “nope” before going on to explain how Woods would need to essentially put together a Hall of Fame career over the next five to eight years in order to catch Nicklaus and how he simply did not think that was possible.
Of course, this is just Miller’s latest on-the-record opinion on this matter. In recent years, Miller, who is never at a loss for words when it comes to dishing out his opinion, has been all over the map on this issue.
During a 2010 ESPN Chicago Radio interview, via Chris Fedor of sportsradiointerviews.com, Miller described Woods’ chances of breaking Nicklaus' record:
I talked about it in my book, I Called The Shots. I wrote that you just never know with family life and desires and injury. Boy, he's at 14 already, and to get to 18, that's a whole career. Look at Phil Mickelson, he's worked his butt off to get to four majors. So, I know it's Tiger Woods, but he's really gonna struggle to just tie Jack's record.
Two years later, in 2012, Miller told Golf Magazine, as reported by Connell Barrett, “I think he’ll win three or four times in 2012 and have a second career that will match Phil's career, which is amazing.”
During that same Golf Magazine interview, Miller went on to say, “There’s a great chance he’ll win four and tie Jack, but I don’t think he’ll get that fifth.”
Fast-forward less than a year, and Miller’s current opinion is that Woods will not catch Nicklaus because he would need to put together a Hall of Fame-type career in order to do so.
So, just to recap, in 2010, Miller’s opinion was that Woods would really struggle to match a Mickelson-type career and even tie Nicklaus’ record. Two year later, Miller said that he thinks Woods will have a second career that will match Mickelson’s.
Just a year after that, Miller’s stance is that Woods will not catch Nicklaus, and there is no way he can put together a Hall of Fame-type career over the next five to eight years…and no, folks, this is not a joke; it would be extraordinarily difficult to even make this stuff up.
Stay tuned throughout the 2014 season for Miller’s latest opinion on this matter.
Despite Miller’s annual flip-flopping on Woods’ quest to catch Nicklaus, what he and many other Woods doubters fail to explain is that in terms of age and major championship victories, Woods is still ahead of Nicklaus’ pace.
Nicklaus was 38 years old and seven months when we won his 15th major at the 1978 Open Championship. Nicklaus then went on to win three more majors over the next seven years to finish his career with 18 major championship titles.
Woods, who just turned 38 in late December, would need to go winless in his next three majors in order to fall behind Nicklaus in terms of age and major championship titles.
In terms of their winning percentage at majors, Woods and Nicklaus are in a dead heat upon turning 38 years old. Nicklaus had won 21.88 percent of the majors he attended (14 out of 64), while Woods has also won 21.88 percent of the majors he has attended (also 14 out of 64).
This may seem a bit odd to some, being that Woods has not won a major in over five years, but at the time of his 2008 U.S. Open victory, Woods was so far ahead of Nicklaus in terms of both winning percentage and major wins vs. age that a five-year drought has simply brought Woods back even with Nicklaus in these categories.
Of course, the Woods doubters could certainly point to issues such as Woods’ health, his putter, the fact that it has been five years since Woods last won a major and the fact that Woods has had a difficult time closing the door on tournaments in recent years as reasons why he will not catch Nicklaus.
But the fact that Woods would need to put together the type of career that most golfers could only dream of over the next five to eight years should not really impact one’s stance on this matter because, once again, Woods is still slightly ahead of Nicklaus’ pace.
In addition, Woods has been, and continues to be, a far more prolific winner than Nicklaus was during his prime (at the age of 38, Woods has already won seven more PGA Tour titles than Nicklaus and has nearly amassed as many worldwide victories as Nicklaus did throughout his entire career).
Nicklaus was able to put together a Hall of Fame-type career after the age of 38 against what many Nicklaus supporters will ardently insist was better competition. So, if that were the case, then how could one predict that Woods, who has been significantly more dominant against his peers than Nicklaus was, will not continue to match or even exceed Nicklaus’ pace over the next five to eight years?
At this moment, it may seem as if Woods’ major championship world has come to an end, being that it has been five years since he last won a major. But in reality, Woods is still neck and neck with Nicklaus heading into the 2014 season.
So, barring any further injuries, a case of the yips or a complete loss of interest in the game of golf, Woods' chances of catching Nicklaus should, at worst, be considered fair to good.
Of course, Johnny Miller may not think so right now…but just ask him again in a few weeks and you might get a completely different answer.
A golfer’s career is a marathon and not a sprint, and clairvoyants and psychics aside, all we really know at this point is that Woods is more or less dead even with Nicklaus with five miles still left to go in this race.