The Golf Blog: Is it time for Tiger Woods to panic over quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major record?

mulligan, 13 August 2012, Comments Off on The Golf Blog: Is it time for Tiger Woods to panic over quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major record?
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The Golf Blog says: Now that Tiger Woods has failed to win a major in 2012–the fourth consecutive year Tiger has gone O-for the year–it’s time to reassess our earlier view that Tiger Woods still remains in good position to beat the record of 18 majors set by Jack Nicklaus. Earlier this year, Johnny Miller predicted that if Tiger failed to win a major this year, Jack’s record will be “pretty safe.

Back when Johnny made his prediction, we disagreed: “We think, even with a conservative estimate that Tiger won’t win a major beyond age 41, Tiger has 5 more years left to win 5 majors, even if he fails to win one in 2012. And, if Tiger wins 2 majors in one year, which does not seem unrealistic, then he will gain some cushion to have an 0-fer year. Of course, Tiger’s recent major drought, injuries, and personal scandal have all slowed what looked like would be inevitable. But, if Tiger catches fire again, he has ample time to reach 19 majors.”

We are now not as sanguine as we were before. Johnny may indeed be right: Jack’s record may be pretty safe right now. For Tiger to win 5 more majors will be a very big task. Although he still has the time to achieve that goal, here are some troubling factors:

1. No more A game on weekends. Tiger’s “A game” hasn’t surfaced on the weekends of any of this year’s majors. Tiger Woods didn’t shoot an under-par round on the weekend of any of the majors, even though he was in contention in three of them (US Open, British, and PGA). The Tiger of 2000/2001 would have won at least 2 of them. The pressure may be creeping into Tiger’s head now. He gave a baffling explanation back at the British Open of how he supposedly was trying to ricochet the ball off the bunker face on the 6th hole, which he triple bogeyed to doom his chances of winning. Yesterday, he said he went into Saturday’s round at the PGA (holding a tie for the lead) with the game plan of “relaxing and enjoying it,” only to realize later that that strategy was not him. Whether it’s an excuse or not, we’re not sure. But for Tiger Woods to start changing mental strategy at age 36 is a sure sign that he’s starting to press. If Tiger is searching for the right mental strategy to win a major, that means he no longer is sure himself.

2. Swing changes versus putting/short game. Tiger’s swing changes may be taking longer to implement than previous swing changes. Tiger’s driver does look a lot better, along with the redeployment of his stinger off the tee. But distance control with his short irons and wedges has been a noticeable problem (Tiger says he has more distance because he is hitting it flush), especially at the U.S. Open this year. Just check out Tiger’s stats here. Moreover, working on the swing changes seems to have taken away time that Tiger could have spent working on his short game and putting, which are not as reliable or sharp as before. Tiger hasn’t made as many clutch putts as he used to make routinely.

3. Injury. Tiger’s surgically repaired knee and Achilles seem to have held up this year. But occasionally, Tiger has limped and you never know how long his body will hold up into his 40s for competitive play.

4. Rory McIlroy is a force to be reckoned with. Tiger should expect that Rory will compete for and win several more majors in the near future–majors that Tiger Woods will not win. Add to the mix: Graeme McDowell, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, and a slew of other talented golfers, both young and old, who have already won majors.

5. Intimidation factor gone. Finally, Tiger Woods no longer has an intimidation factor. The young guns led by Rory have not played against the Tiger of 2000/2001 so they aren’t intimidated by him or his aura. The rest of the field probably isn’t either because they have seen Tiger play like a mere mortal for the past 4 years.

The bottom line is that Tiger Woods still has time to catch Jack’s record, but the forces are aligning against him. A perfect storm. To win 5 more majors in let’s say 5 years is a very tall order. It may not be time yet for Tiger to panic. But pretty soon he’ll be getting there.


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