Jack Nicklaus has said he still believes Tiger Woods will break his record of 18 major championships.
First, a disclosure. I didn’t see Jack Nicklaus in his prime. In fact, the only major I remember the Golden Bear winning was his last, the ’86 Masters.
But I did see Tiger Woods when he was dominating—no, make that obliterating—the PGA Tour. His emphatic coming out party at the ’97 Masters. The way he carved up the field at both the 2000 U.S. Open and the Open Championship.
And just for an encore, winning the U.S. Open with a torn ACL.
So that makes his current struggles so compelling. Whether or not you’re a fan of Tiger the person, most golfers have an opinion as to “Will he or won’t he?”
Here are my two cents. I invite your comments.
Why He Will
1. He’s got a two-stroke lead. When Jack Nicklaus was the age Tiger is now, he had won 11 of his 18 majors. Tiger has 13. Even if you assume that Tiger will not win a major after the age of 46, you have to like his chances of winning what would amount to one major every two years.
2. He gets to play Augusta every year. It’s a course that favors Tiger. Don’t believe it? Perhaps his greatest accomplishment last year was being in contention on the back nine on Sunday after five months of doing nothing. I’ll say it again. One major every two years. Even the biggest cynic won’t bet against one or two more green jackets in Tiger’s future.
3. He still wants it. As long as the fire is burning in Tiger, I can’t say he won’t break the record. In fact, I truly believe the hardest one to get will be the next one. He believes he will do it. Now he needs to prove to himself that he can do it.
Why He Won’t
1. Father Time. Tiger has lost two seasons for a variety of reasons. He can’t get those prime years back. But he also can’t get back his 22-year old body.
Tiger is a golf historian. He knows that Jack only won three of his 18 majors after the age of 40. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not that Jack Nicklaus suddenly forgot how to play the game.
Tiger has tweaked his swing before and still won major championships. What’s different now is four knee surgeries and other injuries have taken a toll. Tiger has alluded to the fact that he’s trying to find a swing that won’t be as physically demanding. As a result, the “did you see that” shots that he used to make routine are just not happening.
2. The field has adjusted to him. As in every sport, the new breed of golfer has studied Tiger. They’re stronger and in better shape than the golfers that were rookies with Tiger. And as Rory McIlroy is showing, in our what-have-you-done-for-me lately society, they’re confident in their abilities and not intimidated by Tiger’s past heroics.
3. Where’s the joy? I agree with those that say he needs to play more. But Tiger has always said he doesn’t play a tournament that he doesn’t believe he can win. And did anyone look like they enjoyed winning more than Tiger?
Tiger was groomed to be a winner, as much as being a golfer. I don’t know if he can play through this slump simply for the love of the game.
This much I do know, though. The magic bullet he’s looking for is most likely not in his swing.
We all have the ability to do something better than most people. And sometimes we forget to appreciate the joy it gives us. And to do that, he may just want to look to Jack Nicklaus who seems to still love the game, even as he’s known more to current golfers as a course designer.