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Nicklaus on 18, Woods Still on His Front Nine

August 28, 2003|THOMAS BONK

The list of the most unassailable records in professional golf is short but formidable. Byron Nelson's 11 consecutive tournament victories and 18 in one year. The 82 wins by Sam Snead.

Or the big one -- Jack Nicklaus' mark of 18 major championships.

That's the record that most experts point to as evidence that Nicklaus is the best player of all time, and it's hard to argue against it. There's only one question.

Where does that leave Tiger Woods?

That's easy, 10 behind Nicklaus, a deficit that hasn't changed since Tiger won his last major, 14 months ago at the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

When Woods won seven of the 11 majors played in a streak that began at the 1999 PGA Championship and continued through the 2002 U.S. Open, many believed it would be only a matter of time until Woods caught Nicklaus.

It's going to be a matter of time, all right. Woods has not won the last six majors and will end the year without at least one major title for the first time since 1998, his second full season on the PGA Tour.

What this means is that Woods has some big numbers working against him if he is going to match Nicklaus. Let's examine these numbers, because there are a lot of questions that need answers in this major race.

Is this an age-old problem?

Woods will begin the 2004 season days after celebrating his 28th birthday. When Nicklaus was 28, he had seven major titles and didn't win his eighth, the 1970 British Open, until he was 30.

One of the most productive periods in Nicklaus' amazingly consistent career was from the 1971 PGA Championship through the 1975 PGA Championship. He won six majors in that period, even though he experienced a dry spell that would have had Tiger watchers wringing their hands in despair.

Between his victory in the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and his victory at the 1975 Masters, Nicklaus won only one of 10 majors -- the 1973 PGA -- and was blanked in 1974.

At age 38, Nicklaus had won 14 majors.

Assuming Woods is still playing when he turns 38, he would have to win six of the next 44 majors to stay even with Nicklaus' pace, or about 14% of them.

Woods has won eight of the 28 majors he has played as a pro, or about 29%.

Will Tiger be playing when he's 38?

You could get better odds that Ben Curtis will win the Grand Slam.

Remember, Woods turned professional right after his third consecutive U.S. Amateur championship and was only 20. A 20-year career would be an upset for Woods, who is not content unless he plays at a very high level.

Can you imagine him keeping that going for 12 more years?

If Tiger does keep playing when he's closing in on 40, it won't be the money that does it for him.

Look at it this way: Worldwide, Woods already has made more than $51 million, and that's only in prize money. Figuring in his current endorsement deals and add the ones to come, adjusting for inflation, and, well, you can see where this is going. In fact, Earl Woods, Tiger's dad, has said that he believes Tiger could be sport's first $1-billion athlete.

What's the problem with Tiger in majors now?

Nothing, except he hasn't won any recently. But if he had played the last nine holes better and come through at Royal St. George's to win the British Open instead of Curtis, no one would be talking about his shortcomings in the majors.

How soon we forget that it was only 14 months ago when Woods had a chance at the Grand Slam. That's after he began 2002 by winning his third Masters and second U.S. Open.

Also, we've been reminded of Nicklaus' drought in majors, a gap of nearly three years between his victories in the 1975 PGA and the 1978 British Open.

So what's the formula?

Nicklaus won the 1978 British Open at 38, the U.S. Open and PGA Championship at 40 and his 18th and last major title, the 1986 Masters, when he was 46.

If Woods is going to be out the door after the 2014 season, when he'll be 38, the math is simple. Woods must win 11 of the next 44 majors.

Can he do it?

The best stretch Nicklaus had was from his first major victory, the 1962 U.S. Open, to his victory at the 1972 U.S. Open -- a span of 11 victories in 41 majors.

Sound like familiar numbers? Woods has some work to do.

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