Tiger Woods' Race Against Time: Golfers with the Most Major Wins After Age 35
I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to be the one who will be proven right. Then again, I'm making a call here so I don't want to be wrong: I no longer think it's possible. It is sinking in.
If I had to pick a side to cheer, though, I'd love to see the miracle. Because that is what it is going to take.
I want to see him do it. I want to have been able to watch the greatest golfer ever from the very beginning to the end. I just don't think it will happen anymore.
Now if there is one person that can pull it off, it is Tiger, that Tiger. Surpassing Jack, by itself, was going to be the golf feat of the game's history. Now, it will take a miracle just to be in the conversation.
You can point to the philandering, the divorce, the caddy and friend issues, the swing, the putter, the competition, the injuries, the fall from grace—more than most mere mortals could manage, mind you—but none of it really matters when asking, "Can Tiger Woods win 19 majors?"
The answer is "no" for a different reason. There's another opponent.
If Tiger Woods, who will be 36 in time for the 2012 Masters, didn't have any of that other stuff going on, and sat with 14 majors as he does now, his breaking of the record might still be in doubt.
Only one golfer in the past 57 years has won at least five majors after age 35—Nicklaus, and that last one in 1986 was totally out of the blue. Only three golfers have ever done that: Ben Hogan and Sam Snead are the other two.
Tiger Woods belonged in that club for over a decade—from the 1997 Masters through the 2008 U.S. Open—but then he went down with ACL surgery in '08 and of course the infamous sex scandal of '09. He still belongs in that club, but he's not the president.
Woods' domination was cut short, he was forced to take time off, make public apologies, withstand photos of his conquests splashed all over the tabloids, and while everyone was distracted by Tiger's unkempt lawn out front, age snuck in the back door.
There's no doubt Woods' infidelities and the resulting domestic complications will be recognized as the biggest factors that brought down the House of Tiger.
But what now? What if he cleared everything up instantly—amends with and forgiveness from his ex-wife and family, a Steve Williams' handshake, a Woods-Jordan-Barkley fishing trip, the return of the swing, the game?
He would then begin the test of trying to win more majors after the age of 35 than anyone else in the modern era, other than Jack and his miracle Masters.
He no longer has the luxury of time to sit out tournaments like this year's U.S. Open and the Open Championship, nor miss any more cuts like he did Friday at the PGA Championship.
Tiger has 20 opportunities over the next five years (he will be 40 in that fifth year), to try and add five major trophies (or jackets) to his curriculum vitae. That's 25 percent: a tough ratio for even a young man.
Still, if Tiger gets his house in order, he might yet be able to do it. Plenty of players on this list have won majors past age 40. By that time, perhaps Tiger will have tended his garden.
Here are the 10 golfers with the most majors won after the age of 35.
Padraig Harrington, Ireland: Three Majors Won After Age 35
Padraig Harrington had the best two years of his career in 2007-08. In 2007, the Irishman won The Open at Carnoustie. He went back to back in 2008: The British Open at Royal Birkdale, followed by a victory at the PGA Championship (Oakland Hills).
After graduating school and passing his accountancy exams in 1994, Harrington held down an accountant’s position while playing amateur golf for a couple of years. He joined the European Tour in 1996 at the age of 25. It would be another nine years before he joined the PGA Tour.
He had five top fives in majors before 2007: two U.S. Opens, two British and one Masters, but the dam burst in 2007, when at the age of 35, Padraig won his first—The Open.
Harrington won the 2008 Open at the age of 36, then the PGA at age 37.
This little trio of major winnings puts Padraig Harrington on a pretty serious golf list with some of the best to ever play the game.
Nick Price, Zimbabwe: Three Majors Won After Age 35
Golf Hall of Famer Nick Price was the No. 1 golfer in the world for 44 weeks, thanks in part to his three major victories—all past his 35th birthday.
Price’s first came at the age of 35 at the PGA Championship (Bellerive Country Club) in St. Louis. After an off year, the 37-year-old came back to win The Open at Turnberry and another PGA, this time at Southern Hills in Oklahoma, in 1994.
Why so late?
Price played his first Open Championship in 1975 as an 18-year-old amateur. He missed the cut. In the next seven years Price played in four Opens, including a second place in the 1982 Open—which earned him a PGA Tour card the following season.
He clubbed away at the U.S. Open, PGA Championship, Masters and Open for nine years after that without a win. He did have five top 10s, though.
But in 1992, after turning 35 in January, Price began to peak. He finished sixth in the Masters and fourth in the always difficult U.S. Open. He finished the year winning the PGA, his first major.
The following year, he was named Player of the Year. In 1994, too, when after missing the cut at the U.S. Open, the 37-year-old went back-to-back, taking The Open and his second PGA.
Vijay Singh, Fiji: Three Majors Won After Age 35
Continuing the trend is another late-bloomer and No. 1 ranked golfer who took home all three of his major trophies after the age of 35. But unlike Price, Vijay Singh made his major debut later: the 26-year-old came in 23rd at the Open Championship.
He did better the next two years, finishing 12th both times, and between 1993 and 1996, Singh had five top 10s in the 14 majors he played.
Vijay Singh had 26 majors appearances before finally snagging the 1998 PGA at Sahalee at the ripe old age of 35. After blanking in 1999, Singh came back to win the 2000 Masters at 37.
Then, he went off.
Between 2001 and 2006, Vijay recorded 13 top 10s in 22 majors, including five Masters top 10s in a row, a top 10 finish in all four 2005 majors and his third major victory: the 2004 PGA at Whistling Straits.
He’s the first golfer on the list to win a major past the age of 40. He was 41 for that last one and was rewarded with PGA Player of the Year honors and the No. 1 Golf Ranking, supplanting 29-year-old Tiger Woods who held the top spot for over five years.
Phil Mickelson, U.S.A: Three Majors Won After Age 35
Believe it or not, the once “best player to never win a major,” Phil Mickelson, got an earlier start in major wins accumulation than the three preceding golfers—all of whom won their first past age 35—and he now has more of them.
Mickelson has four majors to his credit; his first was the 2004 Masters when lefty was a "mere babe": 33.
Before that one, though, fans wondered if Mickelson would ever win a major. He had gone 14 years and 46 majors empty-handed, but for excellent finishes: 17 top 10s, including five third-place and three second-place finishes.
That must have been torture, especially finishing third at the Masters three years in a row (2001-2003).
But he never gave up. His watershed year was 2004 when he took the season's first major, then second in the U.S. Open, an improbable third at the Open Championship and sixth at the PGA.
The Open had vexed him like no other: His previous finishes across the pond were: 73rd, 40th, 41st, 24th, 79th, 11th, 30th, 66th, 59th and a couple of missed cuts. Still today, other than last month's second place at Royal St George's, Mick's got issues with British links.
In 2005, at age 35, Mickelson won his second major—the PGA at Baltusrol. He followed that up with a win at the 2006 Masters and a second place at the U.S. Open.
The next three years, 2007-2009, were trophy-less. In 2009, Phil's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he sat out his first major, the U.S. Open, in 15 years.
But he came right back to win his fourth major (third after 35), the 2010 Masters, at the ripe old age of 39.
James Braid, Scotland: Four Majors Won After Age 35
Scotsman James Braid, one of two old-old-timers on the list, was born in 1870. Let me tell you how far back this guy goes: as a course architect, he is credited with inventing the “dogleg.” Seriously.
Also, he was mostly retired before there was such a thing as the PGA Championship (1916) or Masters (1934).
The Open Championship was first played in 1860 and Braid would go one to win five of the them, four after the age of 35. The U.S. Open was first played in 1895 but he never made it over to play.
Over his career, Braid would play in 28 "British" Opens, beginning in 1894 and ending in 1938.
He won his first Open, against a field of 58 golfers, in 1901 at age 31. He was a top 10 finisher in the six Opens he had played previously. In fact, Braid would have 18 straight top 10 finishes in Opens he played between 1894 and 1912.
In 1905 and 1906, Braid went back-to-back at ages 35 and 36, respectively. He won again in 1908 at 38. Finally, at 40, he took the 1910 Open.
But it gets older…the next golfer was winning Open Championships before James Braid was born. Even his name is “Old.”
Tom Morris, Sr., Scotland: Four Majors Won After Age 35
Any discussion of Tom Morris requires a trip back to the very beginnings of professional golf and the origin of the Open Championship.
Old Tom Morris was born fifty years before James Braid, in 1821, in St. Andrews itself, before there was such a thing as a golf major or even much properly organized golf.
He started at a young age whacking makeshift balls with makeshift clubs in pickup games around the streets of Scotland. For the professionals, few as they were, it was the feather-ball era.
Just into his teens, a young Tom Morris was taken in by Allan Robertson at St. Andrews.
Robertson is traditionally known as the first pro golfer ever (though variations of the game had been played in the area since way back in the 1400s), was the No. 1 manufacturer of golf balls and clubs in the world at the time and a headman/greenskeeper/golfer at St. Andrews. He was the best golfer in the world.
Until Tom Morris, his protege.
“Tom Morris is acknowledged as the single greatest influence in the development of the early game of golf. Old Tom Morris was a golfer, an architect, a business man but above all Tom Morris was a family man whose life was touched by triumph and tragedy in equal measures. He was a master of innovation as well as a sporting hero and his development of the early golf course has stood the test of time and has been replicated across the globe.”
Now Robertson and Morris were tight, touring as a golf pair, and beating everyone in their path. Robertson was one of the biggest golf equipment makers in the world, but was threatened when a new ball hit the market—the guttie ball. Allan and Tom went separate ways over ball technology.
Morris split with the guttie ball and headed over to the Prestwick Golf Club, where the first Open Championships would be held. The major was held there from the inaugural 1860 tournament thru 1872.
Old Tom Morris, and his son, Young Tom Morris, won eight of those first 12 Opens (four apiece). The field for most of those tournaments was 10 the most.
All of Old Morris' four majors were won after age 40: 1861 (40), 1862 (41), 1864 (43) and 1867 (46).
Gary Player, South Africa: Four Majors Won After Age 35
Gary Player has nine total majors (tied with Ben Hogan)—that's fourth all-time behind Nicklaus, Woods and Walter Hagen.
Player has donned the Green Jacket three times (Masters), kissed the Claret Jug three times (Open), hoisted the heavy Wanamaker Trophy twice (PGA) and the U.S. Open Championship Trophy once (guess) for the career grand slam.
He had the slam wrapped up by the age of 29, having won one of each major just 10 years after his first major appearance (1956), when he placed fourth in The Open. He was 20.
Easily one of the greatest golfers to ever pick up a club, Player wasn't close to done.
At 32, he won The Open again (1968), his fifth major title, and he'd win four more past the age of 35.
In 1972, he took a second PGA title (36), then in 1974 at age 38 he won two more: another Masters and another Open.
Player still wasn't done. Four years later, he snagged his final major, another Masters. He was 42.
Guess what, the 5'6" tenacious son of a gun still wasn't done. He came in 2nd at the 1984 PGA—at the age of 49! Now that's a player.
Sam Snead, U.S.A.: Five Majors Won After Age 35
Here he is, Sam Snead, the golfer with the most wins on the PGA Tour ever: 82. And he's tied for second most professional golf wins with Gary Player: 165.
His 53-year pro golf career includes 41 top 10s in majors (of those 18 were top five).
Slammin' Sammy's got seven majors to boot, including five after age 35. He started late: Snead's first major win came seven years into his pro career: the PGA in 1942. He was 30.
Snead did not play in a major between 1943 and 1945 as he went to war with the rest of the world.
He returned in 1946 to win his second major: The Open. He was 34.
Then, Snead went off, placing in the top 10 in at least one of the majors for the next 13 years in a row. It was during that period Sammy would take home five more major wins:
At 36, he won the Masters (1949).
At 37, he won his second PGA (1949).
At 39, he won his third PGA (1951) and second Masters (1952).
Finally, in 1954 at the age of 41, he won his last major: his third Masters.
And check this: In 1974, Snead finished third in the PGA Championship. He was 62!
Jack Nicklaus, U.S.A.: Six Majors Won After Age 35
In the U.S. that means either Nicholson or Nicklaus. Both play golf.
But here, we're talking about the greatest golfer of all time.
Nicklaus absolutely dominated the game of golf for longer than anyone—even longer than Tiger.
In the 1970s, Jack finished in the top 10 in 35 of 40 majors, including 20 top fives and eight wins. Now that's insane. Not even Woods can claim that.
He already had carried over six majors and 16 top 10s (15 of which were top fives) from the 1960's. But he wasn't even close to done. Nicklaus would win eight more majors, including six past his 35th birthday.
In 1975, at age 35, Nicklaus won the Masters and the PGA. Three years later he won his third Open.
Nicklaus won his three final majors past the age of 40, including two in 1980: the U.S. Open and PGA Championship (40 years old).
Finally, Nicklaus became the oldest golfer to win the (miracle) Masters in 1986. He was 46.
He's not the oldest to win a major though. That honor belongs to Julius Boros who won the 1968 PGA Championship at the age of 48.
Ben Hogan, U.S.A: Eight Majors Won After Age 35
Some might argue Ben Hogan is the greatest golfer of all time. One of his more astounding achievements was winning eight (!) of his nine majors after age 35.
In 1948 he polished off the U.S. Open and PGA at that age.
Six of Hogan's major wins came after an early 1949 car accident in which Hogan was hit head-on by a Greyhound bus. Photo of Hogan's car, here.
Hogan broke his pelvis, ankle and collar bone. He missed all of 1949. The following year, he won the U.S. Open (37).
Hogan would play a limited schedule after the accident and elected to skip most of The Open Championships and PGAs for the remainder of his career. In the 1950s, he played in just one Open—and won it (40). It was his last major victory.
In between, Hogan won two more Masters and two more U.S. Opens (in 1951 at age 38 and 1953 at age 40).