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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

V: When Will Tiger Catch Jack?

Guest Blogger V is back with his prediction as to when Tiger Woods will overtake Jack Nicklaus.

You heard it here first:

I have a pretty good idea about when Tiger Woods will break Jack’s record of 18 professional major championships. As of today, Tiger has 13 majors and so he needs five more majors to tie, six more to surpass Jack’s record. Now, here’s the major championship schedule for the next three years:

2008: Masters at Augusta National,

US Open at Torrey Pines South,

British Open at Royal Birkdale,

PGA at Oakland Hills;

2009: Masters at Augusta National,

US Open at Bethpage Black,

British Open at Turnberry,

PGA at Hazeltine;

2010: Masters at Augusta National,

US Open at Pebble Beach,

British Open at St. Andrews Old Course,

PGA at Whistling Straits.

I have put bold emphasis on courses that Tiger performs well on---and he takes the ‘horses for courses’ idea to ridiculous heights as exemplified by his record at some events in his (and this is important) eleven-year career. He has won the WGC event at Firestone six times in its nine-year existence, he has won the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines five times including 3-in-a-row, he won the Bay Hill Invitational four times in a row from 2000-2003, and of course, has won the Masters four times in just eleven tries as a professional. Anyway, so you get the idea---anytime he tees it up he’s the favorite to win, but when he likes a course he is the prohibitive favorite to win.

I’ve highlighted Bethpage Black because the last time the US Open was held there Tiger won it. It is a long and brutal course and only a handful of the top tour players stand a decent chance of winning it and when you eliminate the bulk of the field, you only help Tiger. I’ve highlighted Pebble Beach because it is one of Tiger’s (and Jack’s) favorite golf courses and the last time the US Open was held there Tiger won it by fifteen shots. I’ve highlighted St. Andrews because the last two Opens that have been held there have been won by Tiger in comfortable fashion.

And then there’s the history. Few courses in the world are as steeped in history and mystique as Pebble Beach and, the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews. It is no coincidence that Jack said farewell to the US Open at Pebble and said farewell to the British Open at St. Andrews. Jack is famously quoted to have said "If I had one last round to play, I would likely choose Pebble Beach'. And his bond with St. Andrews is just as close---heck, when he played his last Open at St. Andrews in 2005 the Royal Bank of Scotland issued 5-pound notes with his image on it. You know you’ve done all right when your face shows up on currency; you know you’ve done really well when it shows up on foreign currency!!

Anyways, with Tiger’s keen sense of history I’d think he’d love to tie Jack’s record at Pebble Beach and break it at St. Andrews. And my guess is that Jack, if he had to see his record broken, would deem three places most fitting for that singular honor---Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and Augusta National (more on this in a moment).

So for Tiger to be able to even try the Pebble/St.Andrews scenario, he will need to win four of the next nine majors. To achieve it he’d have to win six of the next eleven majors. Sounds silly, but then again he reeled off seven wins in an eleven major stretch from 1999-2002. His game has been steadily trending toward the fearsome form of 2000. The only reason he hasn’t won more majors in the past couple of years is that his putter let him down. The past two Masters could have been his, but for the fact that he narrowly missed those crucial putts that he normally drains. The performance he put on the last two weeks at Firestone and Southern Hills shows that his putting is back--- and when that happens it is curtains for the field. By the way, Tiger had Lasik surgery in October 1999 before he went on that impressive tear in 2000-2002, and he had Lasik done again the Monday after the Masters this year. I don’t think it is coincidence that he is draining crucial par putts again.

I think he does it. Five of the next nine majors set up very well for him. And he’s no slouch on the other four either. The old refrain “the course does not set up well for Tiger’s game” is just verbal diarrhea. Tiger has honed his game into the ultimate Swiss Army knife---it is sharp, sleek, portable and versatile and it will help him carve up any course he wants. More often than not, if he putts well, he wins----it is as simple as that. So while I don’t know much about the two British Open and PGA venues 2008 and 2009, it would be foolish to count him out of those. Also, as a pro he has won 13 of 44 majors he’s played and at that clip he should have 3.5 more majors by the end of 2010. Anyway, I think he wins four majors coming into Pebble Beach in 2010 and then proceeds to do the double he did in 2000---win the US at pebble and the British at St. Andrews for his 18th and 19th professional majors. There’s too much historic symmetry in this scenario for it not to happen.

PS: A couple of twists:

1) Many consider the US Amateur title to be a major (I agree). Taking that view Jack has 20 total majors while Tiger now has 16. So in this scenario, four more majors ties Jack and five more sets a new record. So St. Andrews promises to be site of a historic win for Tiger one way or another.

2) If Tiger manages to win 2 more Masters and 5 more total majors by the end of 2010, there is also the intriguing possibility that Tiger will go into the 2011 Masters with a chance to break Jack’s 6-Masters and 18-pro majors records in the same tournament.

Not quite the history as breaking it at St. Andrews, but not bad either.

Comments on "V: When Will Tiger Catch Jack?"

 

Blogger The Author said ... (10:39 PM) : 

Excellent post! Great writing, stats and perspective on the history of the game. Ballsy predictions...but I don't doubt for a moment that Tiger can do it.

 

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