Thursday, August 9, 2012

He's Not Going to Make It

Jack Nicklaus was in the Fox Valley yesterday as part of the US Venture Open fundraising golf tournament.  As he is pretty much anywhere he goes nowadays, Jack was asked if he thought Tiger Woods will still catch him for the all-time record for career majors victories.  Right now, Jack is four ahead--18 to 14 (although Jack always likes to claim 20 majors--including his two US Amateur titles--but that would give Tiger 17 majors--since he won the Am three times in a row before turning pro).

Two things I noticed in Jack's answer: 1--He appears to have grown tired of this question about six years ago.  And 2--I don't think he believes Tiger is going to do it anymore.

As recently as a couple of years ago, Jack's standard answer was that he fully expected Tiger to break the record.  He even thought Tiger would push it out to 20 or 25.  But now, I get the feeling that Jack is getting more confident that his record will stand--likely forever.

Jack remains diplomatic, pointing out that Tiger won 14 in in the space of 10 years--so four more over the rest of his career should be "no problem".  But the Tiger that won those 14 majors (usually in dominating or dramatic fashion) is not the Tiger playing the PGA Tour anymore.  His knees will likely give him trouble for the rest of his career.  He doesn't hit it 20-yards past everyone.  He no longer can go an entire four rounds of never missing a green in regulation.  His short game isn't as sharp as it once was--saving him from errant shots with miracle recoveries.  And probably most importantly, he no longer makes every must-make putt.

And the guys that Tiger plays against now aren't as scared of him as some of the older guys were in the past.  Most weeks, Tiger had 99% of the field beat just by showing up and teeing it up on the first hole--because they thought (and he knew that they thought) they had no chance to beat him.  But all these 20-somthings on Tour now grew up playing (and beating) Tiger in his video game.  And they don't see him hitting the ball way past them--so the intimidation factor is all but gone.

Like Jack, I once thought that Tiger winning at least 20 majors was a foregone conclusion.  But then came Y.E. Yang breaking the air of invincibility by coming from behind to win at the 2009 PGA Championship.  And then came that Thanksgiving night with the fight and the SUV crash.  And then came the umpteenth swing change that always seems to be a "work in progress".  And now, like Jack, I don't think its going to happen.

To put this in perspective, Tiger will have to win more majors after the age of 38 as Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els have won in their entire Hall of Fame careers to break Jack's record.  And the number of guys who have won multiple majors after the age of 40 can be counted on one hand.  So as the number of majors in Tiger's career begin to dwindle, it looks more and more like The Golden Bear will remain the greatest of all time.

And you can tell he will be very happy with that.

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