When evaluating Tiger Woods’ illustrious professional career, most will initially gravitate toward his 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour wins.
Woods’ major championship tally, in particular, is without question the most high-profile achievement of his career.
This is partially due to the historical significance of the four professional majors and partially due to the importance Woods himself placed on these events from a young age.
Very early in Woods’ career, he made it clear that breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship titles was his top priority. As a result, Woods created a narrow prism through which to measure his success.
So while we have spent much of the past 19 years documenting and analyzing Woods’ quest to break Nicklaus’ major championship record, many of Woods’ other astonishing accomplishments have been largely overlooked, not the least of which being his 18 World Golf Championship titles.
The World Golf Championships began back in 1999. These are events held at difficult venues and open to only the top golfers in the world.
While the WGCs may not yet possess the same prestige as major championships or even events such as the Players Championship, in terms of the strength of field, the WGCs are only slightly behind the majors.
For example, the total WGR point rating (which is determined mostly by the strength of the field) for the 2016 Masters was 798. The point rating for the 2016 WGC-Match Play was just slightly behind at 779. This clearly demonstrates how close the strength of a WGC field is to that of a major championship.
Woods completely dominated the WGCs for more than a decade, racking up a mind-boggling 18 titles.
During what can be considered Woods’ true prime years (1999 – 2008), he won 15 of the 27 individual WGCs he attended. This is an incredible 56 percent winning percentage against the top players of his generation.
Just to put that into perspective, Dustin Johnson and Geoff Ogilvy have the next-most individual WGC titles, with only three apiece.
Phil Mickelson, who was clearly the other top player of Woods’ generation, has managed to capture just two career WGC titles.
Out of all of Woods’ non-major accomplishments, his WGC record may well be the most underrated achievement of his career, and just last week World No. 3 Rory McIlroy appeared to validate that claim.
While meeting with the media last Wednesday at the WGC-HSBC Champions, McIlroy was asked about his view on Woods’ dominant run at the WGCs.
His response was quite unexpected:
Honestly, I think because of the no-cut format. I think that's probably a big thing to do with it. You get to play with a little more freedom. And I never want to criticize Tiger's game at all, but if there was one thing or one negative thing you would say about him was that he probably wasn't the fastest starter in the world in normal golf tournaments.
"I think just from the get-go, you don't quite feel the pressure," McIlroy continued "Even though you shouldn't really be thinking about the cut or anything like that, but it is a little bit of a mental thing. But it takes weight off of you, and you can go and play just that little bit freer.”
McIlroy has not had the best year in the press room, and it is tough to determine whether McIlroy’s attempt to downplay Woods’ utter and complete domination of the WGC events was more or less shocking than his attempt to downplay the importance of golf in the Olympics earlier this year, or his claim that he could “use HGH and get away with it.”
First and foremost, during Woods’ entire professional career, he has missed the cut just 15 times, and between 1999 and 2008, when he captured 80 percent of his WGC titles, he missed only four 36-hole cuts at PGA Tour and PGA Tour-sanctioned events while raking up a total of 63 wins and 14 majors.
So needless to say, cut lines had virtually no impact on Woods’ ability to win.
Woods was also not the only player at the WGC stroke-play events playing without a cut line. Every single player in the field was assured to play 72 holes, so it was a completely level playing field from that standpoint. And the fact that there was no cut line may have actually made Woods’ path to victory even more difficult because it provided the top players in the world two extra days to charge up the leaderboard when many would have otherwise been sent home after 36 holes.
McIlroy broke a golden rule of peer criticism last Wednesday, which is to ensure that you have the upper hand before criticizing others.
For example, if one is to criticize another’s accomplishments, that person better have exceeded those accomplishments themselves.
If one is to criticize another’s idea or position, that person needs to have a better idea of their own or a position supported by more solid facts.
McIlroy has just two WGC titles and his contention that the lack of a 36-hole cut made it easier for Woods to win WGCs is in no way supported by fact.
If these events were so easy to win due to the lack of a 36-hole cut, then why has McIlroy, who is arguably the top player of this next generation, won just two WGC titles?
And why has no player in history, other than Woods, won more than three WGC titles?
As the old saying goes, if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it.
To be fair, McIlroy was only 10 years old when Woods won his first WGC title back in 1999. As a result, McIlroy grew up evaluating success through that major-championship-or-bust prism created by both Woods and the golfing media.
But having competed in numerous WGC events over the past seven years should have also given the 27-year-old Northern Irishman a better perspective on just how difficult these events are to win.
McIlroy did make an attempt at a press room save when he said "Can I just add one more thing to why he won so many? Because he was the best. There's another reason."
But the problem with that statement is that being the best was not “another reason” why Woods won so many WGC titles—it was the only reason.
Winning 56 percent of tournaments against the top golfers in the world over a 10-year span is an almost laughable level of domination and one that we are unlikely to ever see again.
There is plenty of blame to go around as to why so many of Woods’ non-major achievements, such as his 18 WGC titles, have been largely overlooked and undervalued.
But perspective tends to sharpen with time, and perhaps as the years go by we will all begin to gain further appreciation for Woods’ non-major career achievements, particularly as they remain unmatched by anyone in this next generation of bright young stars.