The official World Golf Rankings debuted in April of 1986. Jack Nicklaus was a week away from winning his final Major championship. The 46-year-old wasn't given much of a shot at Augusta. He turned back time on the last nine holes, shooting 30 and winning his 18th Major. His world ranking at the time was 33.
Tiger Woods currently shares that number following his missed cut at the PGA Championship. The formula has been tweaked over time and there is stronger depth in the rankings today. Still, this number shows the extent of Woods' decline.
The Official World Rankings originated from Mark McCormack's World Golf Rankings, published from 1968-1985. Jack Nicklaus was ranked in the Top 10 every year until 1984, with the exception of 1981. In that year, Nicklaus finished second in the Masters, sixth at the US Open and fourth in the PGA Championship. He held the No. 1 ranking from 1968-1977.
Many note that Jack Nicklaus had a career slump in the late 1960s. However, this slump pales in comparison to Tiger Woods' current state.
Nicklaus missed the cut in the 1968 PGA Championship and followed with 24th- and 25th-place finishes in the 1969 Masters and US Open. The slump followed consecutive runner-ups at the US and British Opens.
Tiger Woods has missed two cuts in 10 Majors played since 2009. His best finish is a runner-up in the 2009 PGA Championship. Between Nicklaus's missed cuts at Majors from 1968-69, he won, finished second three times, finished third and finished fifth. Although Tiger has some good finishes, he isn't contending the way Nicklaus did during a slump.
There is no doubt that Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers in history. However, his play is declining at the age of 35—it's almost like he is 10 years older. His play resembles an over-the-hill golfer more than one who is just in a slump.
Failing to qualify for the FedEx Cup even on a short schedule is alarming. Yes, he's had major injury problems, but so did Ben Hogan. He's had personal problems that could be a distraction, but so did Jack Nicklaus. Neither had their careers go downhill in such a dramatic way.
I did not expect Tiger Woods to get back to the level where he was dominating golf. However, I did not expect a fall off like this, either.
In a prior article, I suggested that the 2008 US Open could have been the final Major for Tiger Woods. It was more to point out that the Major-well dries up quickly, sometimes at a young age, and usually it happens when the putting slips. The big examples of this were Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. Woods has declined worse than they did.
Tiger Woods ruled the golf world for a dozen years. It was probably the best 12-year stretch that any golfer ever had. For some reason, it seems that he has prematurely aged. Other great golfers didn't play like this until they were old and permanently over the hill.
He could win again, after all Nicklaus did. Even still, tournament after tournament, Woods looks more like a shot golfer than one in a slump.