Tiger Woods Continues To Chase Jack Nicklaus
Tiger Woods' 2011 season is essentially over.
He is going to be 36 years old at the end of this year, and what once seemed the inevitability of Tiger's breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional major championships now seems increasingly unlikely.
Here are the top reasons why Nicklaus' mark looks safe.
Nobody can know for sure how close to 100 percent Woods is or will be going forward. But we do know he has had multiple injuries and surgeries and has missed tournaments because of them.
Even Tiger can't win if he doesn't play.
More important than possibly missing tournaments, though, is that it is not unreasonable to think that Tiger will have to adjust his game in order to stay healthy. Obviously, Tiger will find a way to make things work, but at what level? Does it even seem possible that Woods could play out his career completely unaffected by injuries?
This is simple math. Woods has to win five more major championships in order to eclipse Jack's record. For a bit of perspective, this is equivalent to Nick Faldo/Seve Ballesteros/Phil Mickelson type numbers. But they did it in a full career and Tiger has to do it all after the age of 35. Even without the injuries, this is no bargain. It's going to require Tiger to win a major every couple of years for the remainder of his career.
Winning five major championships on the backside of a career is a feat almost no one, save Nicklaus himself and Ben Hogan, has been able to accomplish.
This one is a bit harder to forecast.
On the one hand, we have had 13 different major champions in the last 13 major championships. Not exactly an indication that anyone is rising to a position of dominance.
But names like Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Jason Day, Charl Schwartzel, Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler are just a few players that are much younger than Tiger and clearly ready to win. Certainly not the likes of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson or Lee Trevino, all players Nicklaus had to battle in his prime.
The sheer number of quality, hungry, up-and-coming players is going to make it more difficult for Woods in his chase of Jack.
When Tiger was winning majors in blow out fashion, destroying fields and leaving players in his wake, it could be easy to overlook how incredible his putting was, because he rarely had to rely on it to win.
But putting is the biggest difference between winning and just coming close. History has shown the erosion of putting to often be the biggest factor in great champions losing their edge.
At the height of his game, Tiger simply never missed from three to six feet. In the last couple of years, that hasn't been the case. Ask Mickelson how missing even just a few short putts during a tournament can move you from champion to just out of the winners circle.
By pressure, we are talking about self imposed pressure. Tiger himself talks about having Nicklaus' records taped to his bedroom wall as a child. Chasing Jack's record has been the be-all, end-all of Tiger's career.
Early on, it looked like a foregone conclusion that the record was Tiger's. People were talking about him winning 25 majors.
As he creeps closer to the record while at the same time his career creeps closer to the end, Tiger is going to feel more and more heat from within to get it done. Although Woods may have made it look easy early in his career, it is hard enough just to win an individual tournament without the constant weight of history bearing down while trying to do it.
When Nicklaus set his record, he simply played and added up the wins at the end. There wasn't a target.
For Tiger, there is a target. And what once was a target with a huge bulls eye right in front of him is now a target that is drifting farther and farther away. It hasn't disappeared yet, but it is getting harder and harder to see.