Woods has been doing that since age 3, and until the surgeries began piling up, it seemed as if he could go on doing it long enough to win more major tournaments that anyone had. But he’s been stuck at 14 since the 2008 U.S. Open, and suddenly it’s relevant that he’s playing a game that has knocked just about every other great champion off his pedestal by the mid-to-late 30s.
Woods certainly knows the litany: Bobby Jones retired at 28; Tom Watson and Byron Nelson never won another after 33; Arnold Palmer, 34; and Walter Hagen, 36. Gary Player won only one after 38 and Nick Faldo his last at 39. Ben Hogan was an outlier, winning into his early 40s, but golf was a different game back then.
Nicklaus, the one that always mattered most to Woods, won all but one of his by age 40, covering an 18-year span. And the last one, the 1986 Masters at age 46, was what people mean by the phrase, “catching lightning in a bottle.”
Woods may still be good for one of those, as well as a few more regular tour events, which he’s continued to win with some regularity. More important, perhaps, he isn’t conceding anything. He needs four more PGA Tour wins to pass Sam Snead and five more majors to go by Nicklaus.
“There are a couple (of) records by two outstanding individuals and players that I hope one day to break,” Woods said Tuesday on his website. “As I’ve said many times, Sam and Jack reached their milestones over an entire career. I plan to have a lot of years left in mine.”
Even if Woods is right, this much is already different. A lot of those kids he inspired to take up the game blow their drives past his, and they don’t spit up leads the way Woods’ peers used to the second his name popped up on the leaderboard. The last time some of them saw Woods make a putt that mattered in a major was on TV.
So it matters less, at the moment anyway, where Woods’ head is at than how quickly — maybe even whether — the rest of his body heals. Deep as that bunker he was standing in looked before, his shot looks a lot tougher now.