Tiger Woods, with his playoff victory over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open, won his 14th major, and breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles seemed certain. Three years later, this is no longer the case.
History shows that many of the greats lose their winning ways suddenly. Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson all suddenly stopped winning majors after dominant periods. Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros also saw a sudden drop-off in their games after very solid stretches.
There are many factors that will determine the future of Tiger Woods. However, it is not uncommon to see a golfer stop winning majors while in his prime years.
Number of majors: Nine
Age at final major: 41
Hogan won all nine majors within a total of 18 starts. Following a car accident in 1949, he played a limited schedule and had permanent leg issues. In 1953 he won all three majors he entered. Hogan never won another major and only won once more on the Tour.
In six majors entered from 1954 to 1956, Hogan finished second four times. He was tied for the lead on the 71st hole of the 1960 U.S. Open. His putting declined severely with age.
Number of majors: Eight
Age at final major: 33
Watson supplanted Jack Nicklaus as the No. 1-ranked player in the late 1970s. In addition to eight major victories, Watson finished in the top five seven times. Inconsistent putting would lead to his early downfall. He would only win three Tour events after 1984.
Amazingly, in 2009, at age 59, he would have won the British Open with a par on 18 but bogeyed and lost in a playoff.
Number of majors: Seven
Age at final major: 34
Arnold Palmer won six of his majors from 1960-1964 and also recorded five runner-up finishes. In 1960, he won both the Masters and U.S. Open. He narrowly missed equaling Ben Hogan, as he finished second in the British Open.
Palmer would remain a solid contender until 1970. He recorded a runner-up finish each year from 1965-1968. His reckless style made him very popular among fans but probably cost him some victories. His putting decline coincided with the end of his run.
Number of Majors: Six
Age at Final Major: 38
Faldo won five of his majors between 1987 and 1992. He also recorded six finishes in the top four during that stretch. From 1993 to 1996 Faldo had four more finishes in the top four and won the 1996 Masters.
In the 12 majors from 1997 to 1999, Faldo missed the cut seven times, and his best finish was a tie for 41st. Faldo struggled trying to revamp his swing to gain more power and never recovered.
Number of majors: Five
Age at final major: 31
Ballesteros was never as dominant as Hogan, Watson or Palmer. He recorded eight top-five finishes during his run. Except for 1981, he finished in the top five in a major every year from 1979 to 1989. He would never record another top-five finish again.
Ballesteros was erratic off the tee and had a unique, homemade swing. As he became more erratic, his exceptional short game was unable to compensate.
Number of majors: 18
Age at final major: 46
Nicklaus won 14 of his majors through 1975. He would win The Open in 1978 and two majors in 1980. With the exception of 1969, Nicklaus finished no worse than second in at least one major from 1962 to 1983.
His remarkable Masters victory in 1986 served as his last hurrah, with his career in serious decline by that point. Nicklaus did have a more gradual fall from the winner’s circle than his peers.
Number of majors: 14
Age at last major: 32
Woods has had two incredible four-year stretches. From 1999 to 2002 he won seven majors, and from 2005 to 2008 he won six. Woods had a strong 2009 with six victories but lost a Sunday lead at the PGA Championship.
Following revelations of infidelity, Woods has failed to win a tournament and has dropped to eighth in the Official World Golf Ranking. His putting has clearly slipped recently.
Ben Hogan during his stretch won 50 percent of the majors he entered, a greater percentage than either of Tiger Woods’ four-year stretches. Like Hogan did, Tiger has injury problems.
Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Hogan all saw their putting decline, as has Woods. Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros both had struggles with swing adjustments. Nicklaus did not have this happen to him and sustained a high level of play for many years.
As shocking as it may seem, Torrey Pines could well have been Tiger’s last major victory.