News & Opinion

History could aid Tiger Woods, but he’s got a major problem

Tiger Woods
In theory, Tiger Woods should have the inside track to another major title, given the venues for the next 9 major championships.

6 of next 9 majors will be played on courses where Woods has won, but his health woes and age could negate that potential edge

Honestly, we can put the debate to bed. Tiger Woods is no longer chasing Jack Nicklaus. It’s the other way around, and it’s been that way for some time now. 

You think not? Woods had his fifth back surgery a few days ago, and he’s also had four knee operations. That’s nine surgeries; Nicklaus can’t touch that. 

But this is a golf column, not a medical journal, and the conversation remains open-ended. People still consider the possibility that Woods might match or surpass Nicklaus’ record cache of 18 professional major championships. 

In fact, chase chatter has spiked in recent days, with the PGA of America picking Southern Hills to replace Trump Bedminster as host of the 2022 PGA Championship. Southern Hills is one of those placesYou know, one of those places where Woods has won a major championship. 

He won the 2007 PGA at Southern Hills for his 13th major title. He also won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines for his 14th major, and guess where the U.S. Open is this year? Bingo, Torrey Pines. What’s more, he won the 2019 Masters at Augusta National for his 15th. And just guess where the Masters is the year? Oh … right. Silly question.

Point is, six of the next nine majors will take place at venues where Woods has previous victories: Augusta National (’21, ’22, ’23 Masters), Torrey Pines (’21 U.S. Open), Southern Hills (’22 PGA) and St. Andrews (’22 British Open).

Historically, the conversation considers any of those places to be special opportunities for Woods. That's because, historically, Woods has been a creature of habit, one who repeatedly dominates at familiar haunts.

At the same time, where the chase is concerned, the next two-three years represent the home stretch. Woods turned 45 a few weeks ago, and only five players have won majors beyond their 45th birthday: Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters at 46, Hale Irwin won the 1990 U.S. Open at 45, Old Tom Morris won the 1867 British Open at 46, Jerry Barber won the 1961 PGA at 45 and Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA at 48.

So, the thinking follows that in these late innings of his career, Woods has an opportunity. Six of the next nine at-bats will come against vulnerable pitching, or something to that effect.

But it’s flawed thinking. We are not talking about the skinny 21-year-old who scorched the Augusta bentgrass in 1997, or the body builder who dominated the early 2000s. This is the guy highlighted in the opening paragraph, the guy who had his fifth back surgery in recent weeks, the guy who was in discomfort playing in a father-son tournament last month

Woods still can dress like he used to, still think like he used to, still turn the wrists like he used to. But the rest of his body is a Quentin Tarantino movie. The likelihood of his being able even to compete in six of the next nine majors is far more relevant than the likelihood of his winning any of them. 

He followed his remarkable Masters in ’19 with a tie for 38th last November at Augusta. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open in September, and he tied for 37th in the PGA at Harding Park in August, another of those places

This “horses for courses” theory of home-field advantage has been invoked often in recent years. But at those places, such as Muirfield Village, Bay Hill, Torrey Pines, Firestone and Pebble Beach, it hasn’t held water. 

The anomaly, of course, is Augusta, where Woods won for a fifth time. One might argue – good Lord willing and the surgeons don’t cut – he always will be a threat at Augusta, similar to Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson and others before him. Then again, Bobby Jones’ hilly joint becomes increasingly difficult for Woods physically. It is not a good walk spoiled; it is a spoiled walk from the get-go. 

Where Woods is concerned, the same might be said for any golf course not located in flatline Florida.  

None of this is to suggest that Woods isn’t capable of winning these approaching majors, or that the sites are completely irrelevant. Success certainly can breed success, and there’s corroborating evidence. And as they say at Faber College, “[local] knowledge is good.”

No, this is more a reality check on where Woods stands in this long-running pursuit of the Nicklaus 18, nine surgeries and a month over 45 years in.

You don’t step on superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind and, all things the same, you don’t bet against Tiger Woods. But, regardless of where six of the next nine majors will be played, all things are not the same.

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