News & Opinion

You’re dreaming if you think Woods will catch Nicklaus

Sixteen majors? Maybe. 18 or 19? That’s crazy talk

It’s time to take a deep breath, and that means everybody, not just the goobers who spent all day hanging out by the Kool-Aid stand.

Inhale . . .

Now hold.

And exhale.

Inhale. Listen for three heartbeats. . . One, two, three. Now exhale.

2019 BMW Championship
Tiger Woods, absent for the first 4 weeks of the PGA Tour's 2020 restart, has given no indication of where he might return to competition.

Clear your mind, and the body will follow. Open yourself to the possibilities, by all means, but please stay in the moment. Tiger Woods isn’t winning 19 majors (“Could Woods win 19 majors? You betcha,” Oct. 28). Sixteen? That’s a realistic over/under. Seventeen? That’s a romantic notion warped by time and fate. Eighteen? That’s what you’d expect from a guy who’s been eating too many new-age gummy bears.

Nineteen? That’s where silly goes to roost. Woods turns 44 in two months. The last man of that age (or older) to claim a major title was Jack Nicklaus, at the 1986 Masters, which only goes to prove that miracles actually do cease. The most prolific big-trophy golfer ever won one major in his mid-40s. How could anyone with two hands on the wheel think that an injury-plagued, part-time player will pile up another four or five?

That’s a hall-of-fame career jammed into a window when most guys are just trying to stay sharp for the Champions Tour. Is it impossible? Of course not, but it is unlikely to the point where such a projection defies the laws of competitive gravity, which makes it something between a dream and a hallucination.

I would vote for the latter. Hey, Eldrick T. Woods is the reason I live in a house with four bedrooms, three baths and a two-car garage. He’s great for business, and when he wins a golf tournament of any size or importance, everybody starts packing their bags for a one-way trip to the Land of Lost Perspective. We see how he performed last week in Japan and instantly conclude that he’ll start reaching such a level of excellence on a regular basis, which is unrealistic.

It’s a simple case of hope emerging from a false assumption. Woods was nothing better than an average tour pro after winning the Masters 6½ months ago. He made just six starts, missed the cut at two of the three majors and managed one top-10 finish, a T-9 at the Memorial. That 15th major crown was a landmark victory, and one could sense that even the game’s greatest warrior wanted to bask in the satisfaction. Perfectly understandable, but in needing some time and space away from the game, ostensibly to preserve his fragile body, Woods appeared to be prone to rust when he did play, and that wasn’t very often.

Has it dawned on anyone that Jack’s 1986 might be Tiger’s 2019? In terms of their major-championship compositions, Nicklaus and Woods followed very similar paths. Both started gathering early, winning more big ones by their mid-20s than many terrific players collect in a lifetime. A couple of fallow periods would follow, although neither man would be gone for long. Another hearty stretch would carry them into double digits, but every harvest comes to an end.

Father Time intervenes. For Nicklaus, the drought began at age 40 and lasted about six years. Woods stopped hoarding majors at 32 and went more than a decade without claiming another. That both titans returned to glory is a tribute to their brilliance and resiliency, but swiping one major well into your 40s hardly means that several more will follow. Anything but.

Without question, Woods was superb in Japan, especially over the first 36 holes (“Move over, Sammy, and make room for Tiger,” Oct. 27). His iron play was reminiscent of 2000, when he seemed to go months without missing an approach. His short game prevented him from losing the lead throughout the weekend, but this was a very short course, with greens softer than marshmallows. The men don’t play majors from the ladies’ tees, and they rarely play them on putting surfaces so receptive to shots from the rough.

It’s easy to get carried away. Beyond being astonishingly rich and oppressively famous, Woods has become a symbol of strength among those who had it all, then lost a lot of it. Even through the trials and tribulations of his self-inflicted wounds, the Dude in the Red Shirt remains the beneficiary of massive public adulation. Did you see the size of those galleries in Japan? And though many people can’t just forgive and forget, Tiger’s tale is one of redemption and reinvention.

People eat that stuff up, and the more they devour, the more they want. With all due respect to those who cling to the improbable dream, Tiger Woods is far more likely to have already won his final major than he is to win four more. History emphatically tells us so, and it’s the same kind of history that identifies Woods as perhaps the greatest golfer ever. We can surmise that 44 is the new 34 and that players last much longer now than in the old days, or that Woods is capable of unprecedented heroics when it comes to winning big tournaments, but it all adds up to baseless conjecture.

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

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