On Sunday one man will be crowned the US Open golf champion, winning arguably the world’s most difficult major golf tournament. If that man is Tiger Woods it will mean an end to his four year drought of not winning any of the sport’s ‘big four’ tournaments. As well as ending the drought it may finally lead to a drought of its own as golf writers may have to leave the, ‘Woods is finished’ script firmly in the past.
It may not be the US Open that sees Woods re-starting his attempt to overhaul Jack Nicklaus’ record of eighteen major titles but it would be churlish to suggest that Woods will not win another major. A little over a year ago, most ‘experts’ had predicted his decline, a corrupt social life had seen his marriage collapse and companies break off their sponsorship deals. Added to that his previously robust physique had also betrayed him, a catalogue of potentially career affecting injuries started to build up. Woods was easy fodder for some of the sports main media protagonists; it became too easy to write him off, as laziness replaced clear objective study of the man who dominated his sport for over a decade previously.
Woods is exceptionally driven and he would always ‘come back’, however, what kind of golfer would come back wasn’t clear. His comeback became comebacks, till late last year he won a small select event to return to winning ways. This season, he has won a further two more times and he is slowly creeping back up the world rankings (now at number four). Added to this his statistics are starting to show some promise too. He is currently third in scoring average, seventh in greens in regulation, fourteenth in proximity to the hole and nineteenth in scrambling. It’s safe to say he’s back and he’s focused back on breaking the record.
It appears that nothing else matters for Woods, he has to break Nicklaus’ record and theoretically be installed as the greatest golfer of all time.
This record has been the main focus of his life, his purpose, his reason for being. His father, Earl drilled this objective in to his son from the moment he could walk and his life has been defined by that pursuit. It appears that nothing else matters for Woods, he has to break Nicklaus’ record and theoretically be installed as the greatest golfer of all time. Earlier in his career, his father had loftier aspirations for him to become something akin to the greatest human of all time, talking of how his son would transcend his sport. It safe to say the latter objective is firmly in the past; he has shed the image of superhuman, and showed his vulnerability, heralding the final chapter of his career.
The record is really not far away and those who doubted he would do it have been far too entwined in their own agendas and haven’t stepped back to gain genuine perspective. In taking a step back and taking a comparative look at Nicklaus’ career timeline; you can see that he is more than on track to beat the record. Nicklaus’ career spanned twenty five years, and when mapped out against Woods’ first fifteen years their records are remarkably similar in that both of them had bagged fourteen majors each at the same stage of their careers. Assuming that Woods’ displays the same longevity of the Golden Bear then he has a further decade of being competitive in major championships. Given that Woods averaged one major for each of his first fifteen years then given another decade at the top then to win a further four majors really doesn’t appear to be insurmountable. The sooner he breaks his ‘winless’ streak, the sooner he will get to his objective. However, this is assuming that his career spans as long as Nicklaus’. It may be less, it may be more. His recent injury issues may suggest the former; however, he may now have a new found resilience that extends his career beyond that of Nicklaus.
Woods has had a turbulent past few years, but he’s clearly ready to start winning majors again, and when he does it shouldn’t be too long before the record goes. The tone here is one of certainty, and at the moment, there’s no reason to doubt it. However, as a word of caution, it’s important to understand that the landscape in which he plays this chapter of his career is much different to the one he left. Young players such as Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are starting to break through and at a level that means that they are competitive at major championships. Added to this there is a band of world class talent (Donald, Westwood, Oosthuizen Watson, Mahan, Zach and Dustin Johnson) winning consistently throughout seasons that Woods used to dominate. He may not win tournaments at the same rate he did at his peak, but given the time left in his career, it’s hard not to see him picking up the wins he desperately craves.
Regardless of how the rest of Woods’ career plays out, he will always be remembered as one of the greatest exponents of his sport and one of the finest athletes in the history of sport.
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