Jack Nicklaus will be leisurely sitting back and watching the Masters that begins on Thursday. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods, with his usual stoic focus and concentration, will be swinging away in that event, the year’s first major.
Nicklaus’ work, at age 73, is done. He has won 18 majors while Woods, 37, holds 14 majors and is trying to catch and surpass Nicklaus.
Neither Nicklaus nor Woods, who can be called friends but probably not close friends, likes to talk about the possibility of whether Woods can or will overtake Nicklaus.
Three years ago, Nicklaus said, “Let’s see how he does in the next few years.”
Those few years have gone by, Woods has not added any majors to his résumé and a few weeks ago Nicklaus slightly upped the ante, saying of Tiger, “He better hurry up.”
Woods, in a recent interview with CNN, said, “If you say hypothetically [I have] 10 more years, that’s 40 more majors championships I get a chance to play in and compete in and try to win, and hopefully I can try to win five of those.”
A factor working for Woods: He has regained his form as well as the world’s No. 1 ranking, winning six of the past 20 events he has entered.
A factor working against Woods: He has not won a major in four years and 10 months, that being the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
In golf, the four majors — The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship — are held in such lofty status that they are the measurement of determining a golfer’s standing in the sport’s history. That’s why Nicklaus is considered the greatest golfer of all time, no questions asked. And there’s only one golfer within hailing distance of taking that title from him, and that would be Woods.
Before his near five-year drought in majors, Woods was considered a sure bet to overtake Nicklaus. Now, he’s a great big maybe. So, this year’s Masters looms large.
Winning majors, as the best of the pros will say, is no easy task. Just one or two major championships in a career almost certainly puts a player in the Hall of Fame.
So, who better to give their opinion on one of golf’s most discussed subjects — can Woods surpass Nicklaus? — than 10 players, five under 50 and five over 50, who have all won majors and know the difficulty that it presents.
OK, people’s opinions are certainly not a scientific process — actually, it’s definitely no t scientific. It’s a poll, and not a formula. But it’s the opinion of knowledgeable people who have dealt with the grueling, pressurized “winning-a-major experience.” Who would know more than guys who have been there and done that?
So, here’s what they had to say:
THE YOUNGER THAN 50
• Keegan Bradley, 26 (won 2011 PGA): “I think that Tiger has a great chance. I would never bet against Tiger Woods. His game is completely back, and I think he’ll be playing some pretty good golf the next couple of years. Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods. He’ll find a way to get it done.”
• Graeme McDowell, 33 (won 2010 U.S. Open): “There’s a lot of great players around, and that will make it difficult. Tiger doesn’t have the invincibility he once had. I would make it 50-50. His swing is so brutal and hard, it can wear on him. If he stays healthy into his 40s, then he might make it.”