Riddle me this. What happens when a professional golfer returns from an injury and doesn’t immediately win the first two tournaments he enters? Oh, right, that’s part of the recovery stage and getting back to competition. Unless you are Tiger Woods. Then not winning your first two events means the chances you’ll be the game’s greatest has somehow diminished.
Former Sports Illustrated scribe and current ESPN writer Rick Reilly looks at the notion that maybe Woods’ injuries will slow him enough that his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors is in jeopardy:
“So here we are at the crossroads of Tiger Woods’ career,” Reilly writes. “Which is weird, since I never thought there would BE a crossroads.”
Reilly’s take is the knee injury — and Woods continued torquing on that knee — might suggest he may not last as long as many thought. And if he doesn’t last that long, could Nicklaus’ record have a chance of remaining in place through the Tiger generation.
So the question after this near nine-month halftime of his fabulous career becomes: Is passing Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors still the five-star lock we all thought it was? Is the Nicklaus Speedbump growing?
Even Jack, who grows more and more curmudgeonly as he gets older, says he’s not sure if Tiger can eclipse his record. “It is a little less certain,” Nicklaus says.
Truthfully, Jack is raising some of the same old points: How his competition wasn’t as deep, but the best (Arnie, Watson, Trevino, etc.) were better than the second-best of the PGA Tour today and that fatherhood might change Tiger’s focus. Oh,and then there’s all that money.
But what about all these young puppies bouncing around at Tiger’s ankles — Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas and Rory McIlroy? They make Tiger look like the den master waiting for the cub scouts to settle down so he can take roll.
“Maybe Tiger’s real competition hasn’t surfaced yet,” Nicklaus says. “You never know. How many majors would Arnold have won if I hadn’t come along?”
Also consider: Woods is a father of two now. He’ll be a billionaire by the end of next year. He’s an avid underwater spear fisherman. (He can hold his breath for four minutes). He is addicted to skiing. (Starting to hit the black slopes). He is crazy for his 155-foot yacht (“Privacy.”) With any other player, you’d ask, “How does a guy like that stay hungry?”
I think Rory McIlroy looks outstanding, but he’s yet to win on the PGA Tour. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And Camilo Villegas? Come on. Anthony Kim could be the real deal, but he’s also pretty wildly inconsistent at this point in his career, and this year seems more intent on chasing marketing dollars than PGA Tour wins.
Truthfully, Reilly actually feels Woods will surpass Nicklaus, just not as wildly as before the knee injuries:
I expect Future Tiger to remain the bloodless, unblinking hit man, but with more vacation time between kills. I used to think he could get to an unthinkable 30 majors. Now I think he’ll end up at 22 or 23. He’ll pass Sam Snead’s PGA Tour wins mark of 82, but I don’t think he’ll get to 100. I think the knee will require at least another operation but I’d cringe at more than that. Because someday I’d like to see Eldrick play golf with Sam and Charlie without a Namath limp.
Where Reilly and I disagree is what happens if Woods doesn’t surpass Nicklaus’ majors total. To the ESPN columnist he’d be second-best. I think he’s probably the best now, more dominant than Nicklaus ever was. There I said it.
Either way, at least this column has some thought, unlike the pundits at PGATour.com who continue to pick Tiger to win every week he tees it up. They did it at the Match Play, then again at Doral. Bay Hill? You guessed it. Considering Woods typically wins between half to one-third of the tournaments he enters, if you pick him you’ll be right at least 33% of the time. But that hardly makes the tour’s website very insightful. “If [Woods’] putter gets hot, he will win,” writes the tour’s Mike Vitti. That’s for that Einstein.