DUBLIN, Ohio – Jack Nicklaus is golf’s most accomplished player.
With 18 major championships among his 73 career victories, the Golden Bear is the most revered and insightful figure in the game. But in his annual news conference Tuesday at the Memorial Tournament, Nicklaus was asked numerous questions about Tiger Woods.
By winning his 15th major title in April at the Masters, Woods put Nicklaus’ major record back in play, at least in the eyes of many observers.
Of course, when asked whether his record might be in jeopardy, Nicklaus answered the way he always does.
“It always has been,” Nicklaus said. “He has another 10 years of major championships, another 40 major championships in front of him that he’ll be playing.”
When asked about Woods and his chances in two weeks for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Nicklaus said: “I would consider him a favorite. He won by 15 shots when he played there [in the 2000 U.S. Open].”
I respect Nicklaus and his opinions, but I have to object vehemently to his thoughts that Woods will win at Pebble Beach and catch or pass Nicklaus’ major-championship record.
Woods’ victory at Augusta was believed to be possible by many, but still awe-inspiring when it happened. Woods walked off the 18th green and hugged his kids and mother in a storybook scene.
To many, that victory marked the beginning of a new run for Woods. In reality, it seems more like the end of a phenomenal two-plus-decade run.
Since that victory, Woods’ game has been less than inspiring. Woods missed the cut at the PGA Championship in his only two competitive rounds since the Masters, showing his age in the process.
The argument can be made that two rounds is not enough to make an objective assessment, but the two rounds reinforce the argument.
At 43, Woods was the second-oldest player, behind a 46-year-old Nicklaus in 1986, to win the Masters, and 10th-oldest golfer to win a major title.
But if you consider the results after 1950, the list of major winners 43 or older shrinks to eight, and none would go on to repeat as a major champion.
An investor would view Woods as a bad risk, if winning were the endgame.
Add in the fact that the others who won majors after age 43 – such as Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd – were healthy into their 50s and enjoyed successful careers on the Champions Tour. Irwin won 45 times on the senior circuit, with few injuries.
Woods endured eight surgeries, on his knee and back, before his victory at Augusta. It is hard to comprehend another victory coming his way in a major championship.
Obviously, Nicklaus considers the 15-shot victory in the 2000 Open as reason enough for Woods to win again at Pebble Beach, but here’s a more pragmatic analysis: Before he won the Masters last month, Woods had not won a major championship since 2008, when he prevailed in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 91 holes on what was later found to be a broken leg.
After that, Woods went nearly 11 years without a major title.
Since 2010, when Woods tied for fourth in the Open’s most recent visit to Pebble Beach, he has played in four U.S. Opens, with two missed cuts and a scoring average of 73.83, including only one of 12 rounds under par.
Many oddsmakers, such as Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, like Woods at 12-1 odds, just behind 6-1 favorite Brooks Koepka and 7-1 second choice Dustin Johnson. However, they were just as enthusiastic before the PGA Championship, when Woods was the favorite at 8-1 but missed the cut.
Spending time with Nicklaus every year always proves to be interesting, even when he is spinning a yarn, such as what he did Tuesday.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli