Woods Has Work to Do in Majors, but He's Far Ahead in Wins
Through last month's Masters, the 37-year-old Tiger Woods has 14 wins in 63 major championship starts as a professional; through the 1977 Masters, the 37-year-old Nicklaus had 14 wins in 61 major championship starts as a professional.
That's some amazing career symmetry right there, but it seems appropriate, given that Tiger came out of the gate with Nicklaus' major championship record as his ultimate target.
For a long time, Woods was well ahead of Nicklaus' career pace, but a drought that is nearing five years in duration has put a serious dent in Tiger's major aspirations. Of course, Nicklaus won his last major at age 46, giving Woods nine more years of viability on the major championship scene, a reasonable assumption considering the similarity of their career trajectories.
Here are the final four majors of Nicklaus' career, all of which came at age 38 and beyond:
1978 British Open (age 38)
1980 U.S. Open (age 40)
1980 PGA Championship (age 40)
1986 Masters (age 46)
Woods turns 46 in December 2021. Between now and then, there will be 36 major championships contested; Woods needs to win five of them to reach his career Holy Grail of 19 major championships.
Of course, Tiger has already moved well past Nicklaus into second on the Tour's all-time wins ledger. Tiger trails only Sam Snead, who won 82 times over a 30-year span; Woods has crammed his 78 wins into 17-plus stellar, occasionally storm-tossed seasons on Tour.
Jack thinks he'll do it. "I still think he'll break my record," Nicklaus said during the Honda Classic. "Tiger's talent, at 37 ... it's not that old. I won four after that. They were spread out. It wasn't that difficult. I don't think for Tiger to get four or five more — or six or seven — is that big a stretch.
"But that said, he has still got to do it. He hasn't won one in five years. He had better get with it if he's going to."
So let's look at the two legends — Tiger today, and Nicklaus at a similar point in his career.
Bottom line from the data presented here: Tiger's building the better overall career, but Jack remains the greatest performer in major championship history. That's the carrot that Tiger is still chasing, and he has time to get there.
Tiger Woods Jack Nicklaus Tournaments won(through 300 starts) 77 54 Tournament winning % (300 starts) 26.0 18.0 Majors won(first 63 starts) 14 14 Major winning % 22.2 22.2 Major top 5s 31 41 Major top 10s 37 48 Longest streak of top-5 in majors 6 7 Longest streak of top-10 in majors 8 13 Lowest scoring avg. 8 times 8 times Money leader 9 times 8 times
We don’t have footage of Gene Sarazen’s famous double eagle from 1935, but on Masters Sunday 2012, we saw something just as good and just as rare — Louis Oosthuizen's double eagle, the first at the par-5 second hole in Masters history. Later, Bubba Watson joined our countdown with his stunning recovery shot from the pine straw in the playoff. Here are our choices for the seven greatest shots in Masters history.
Athlon Sports looks at athletes who have accomplished rare feats in sports
Sports are filled with statistics that uber-nerds and casual fans alike can enjoy. Numbers and records help fans define greatness and settle arguments on talk radio and at the local watering holes on a daily basis.
Who is the greatest quarterback of all-time? What about running back? How about Jordan vs. Kobe? Ruth vs. Aaron? Tiger vs. Jack?
Who would make the list for professional golf's ultimate foursome?
As my colleague Charlie Miller has continued to unveil his elite quartets for each major league baseball franchise, it got me to thinking: Who is on golf’s Mount Rushmore?
Arnold Palmer received the Congressional Gold Medal this week as that body's "highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions." Arnie is clearly one member of this elite foursome, as is Jack Nicklaus, who was also on hand for the ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.
Comparing Rory, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus Through Age 23
After back-to-back wins at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships, 23-year-old Rory McIlroy is closing in on a FedExCup title. The accompanying $10 million would buy world-class WAG Caroline Wozniacki a lot of bling, but I'm more concerned about Rory's place in history should he close the deal at the Tour Championship next week.
The question before us: Is McIlroy the greatest 23-year-old golfer in history? There are only three clear candidates — Rory, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus — so let's take them one by one and let their numbers speak for themselves.
The Case for Rory McIlroy
Majors Won: 2
Combined Margin: 16
Major Top 5s: 5
Major Top 10s: 6
PGA Tour Wins: 6
Worldwide Wins: 9
• He's the youngest PGA Champion (23 years, three months) since the tournament moved to stroke play in 1958, beating Jack Nicklaus' record.
• His 8-shot margin of victory at the PGA broke Nicklaus' record 7-shot margin at the 1980 PGA.
• McIlroy is the second-youngest player to win two majors. Nicklaus was one month younger when he won his second; Tiger was four months older.
• His 8-shot win at the PGA reprised his 8-shot demolition of the U.S. Open field in 2011. He's the first player to earn his first two major victories in such dominant fashion.
• He's halfway to a career Grand Slam, and had he avoided a Sunday back-nine meltdown at the 2011 Masters, we'd be talking about him in the reverent tones once reserved for Tiger at his apex.
The Case for Tiger Woods (through age 23 season)
Majors Won: 2
Combined Margin: 13
Major Top 5s: 4
Major Top 10s: 6
PGA Tour Wins: 15
Worldwide Wins: 17
• Tiger also won an unprecedented three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles (1994-96), which at one time were considered majors.
• Tiger was the 1996 NCAA champion while at Stanford.
• As low amateur at the 1996 British Open, he tied a record with an amateur aggregate score of 281.
• He was PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1997 and 1999.
The Case for Jack Nicklaus (through age 23 season)
Majors Won: 3
Margin: 3 (plus playoff)
Major Top 5s: 7
Major Top 10s: 8
PGA Tour Wins: 8
Worldwide Wins: 11
• Nicklaus was a two-time U.S. Amateur Champion (1959, 1961).
• He won the NCAA title at Ohio State in 1961.
• Nicklaus won 27 events in the Ohio area from ages 10-17, many against professionals.
• His first professional win came in the 1962 U.S. Open, where he beat Arnold Palmer on Palmer's home turf at Oakmont with a partisan crowd rooting against him. At 22, he was the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.
Nicklaus was the only three-time major winner at age 23, and he took down the great Arnold Palmer when the King was at his peak. McIlroy set new standards of dominance in winning his first two majors by a combined 16 strokes, and he's established himself as the clear No. 1 player in the world. Plus, he doesn't turn 24 until next May, giving him time to add to his ledger. But for dramatic success combined with sheer impact, Woods is the choice. His 12-stroke breakthrough win at the 1997 Masters remains one of golf's greatest achievements, and his 17 worldwide wins at such a tender age remain unmatched. And that's without mentioning the broader significance of his status as the first major champion of color, a development that tapped a new market for the game.
Others Worth Mentioning
• I can't leave Seve Ballesteros out of this discussion. By the time he turned 24, Seve had two majors under his belt — the 1979 British Open and 1980 Masters — as well as 12 other wins in Europe and the 1978 Greensboro title on the PGA Tour. I only omit him from inclusion with Rory, Tiger and Jack because of the level of competition on the European Tour at the time; it wasn't what it is today. Plus, he had only one top 10 in a major aside from his two wins, leaving him well behind the top three.
• At age 23, Bobby Jones had won a U.S. Open and two U.S. Amateurs, when they were true majors. His level of competition excludes him from consideration, though.
• By the time he turned 24, Phil Mickelson was a four-time winner on Tour, including a rare win as an amateur (Tucson, 1991). He remains the last amateur to win on the PGA Tour. He's probably the greatest NCAA golfer in history, winning three individual NCAA championships and earning All-America honors all four years at Arizona State. He also won the U.S. Amateur in 1990, joining Woods and Nicklaus in winning the NCAA-U.S. Amateur double in the same season. But his success in majors would come later.
• At age 21, Ben Crenshaw became the second player in Tour history to win the first event he entered. He was a three-time NCAA champion at Texas.
The road to the Wanamaker Trophy turned into a casual stroll for Rory McIlroy, who demolished the field and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island en route to an 8-shot win and his second major. Athlon photographer Tim Clark was there to chronicle the milestone.
Glory for Rory
2 of 8
With his win, McIlroy becomes the youngest-ever PGA Champion (23 years, three months), beating Jack Nicklaus' record.
Glory for Rory
3 of 8
McIlroy is the second-youngest to win two majors. Jack Nicklaus was one month younger, when he won his second; Tiger Woods was four months older.
Glory for Rory
4 of 8
McIlroy's eight-shot margin of victory broke Nicklaus' record of seven set in 1980.
Glory for Rory
5 of 8
Rory's eight-shot win matches his eight-shot win in the 2011 U.S. Open. McIlroy is the first player to win his first two major championships in such dominant fashion.
Glory for Rory
6 of 8
McIlroy is halfway to a career Grand Slam at the tender age of 23. Left on his agenda: The Masters, which he dominated in 2011 before a final-round meltdown, and the British Open, where he finished T3 in 2010 at age 21.
Glory for Rory
7 of 8
With the win, McIlroy once again assumes the top spot in the World Golf Ranking. He's currently first in earnings on the European Tour, and second in earnings on the PGA Tour.
U.S. Open champions
1895 Horace Rawlins (173), Newport Country Club, Newport, Rhode Island
1896 James Foulis (152, +12), Shinnecock Hills, Shinnecock Hills, New York
1897 Joe Lloyd (162, +10), Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Illinois
1898 Fred Herd (328), Myopia Hunt Club, South Hamilton, Massachusetts
1899 Willie Smith (315), Baltimore Country Club, Lutherville, Maryland
1900 Harry Vardon (313, +9), Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Illinois
1901 Willie Anderson (331), Myopia Hunt Club, South Hamilton, Massachusetts
1902 Laurie Auchterlonie (307), Garden City Golf Club Garden City, New York
1903 Willie Anderson (307), Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
1904 Willie Anderson (303), Glen View Club, Golf, Illinois
1905 Willie Anderson (314), Myopia Hunt Club, South Hamilton, Massachusetts
1906 Alex Smith (295), Onwentsia Club, Lake Forest, Illinois
1907 Alec Ross (302, +10), Philadelphia Cricket Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1908 Fred McLeod (322), Myopia Hunt Club, South Hamilton, Massachusetts
1909 George Sargent (290, +2), Englewood Golf Club, Englewood, New Jersey
1910 Alex Smith (298, +6), Philadelphia Cricket Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1911 John McDermott (307, +3), Chicago Golf Club, Wheaton, Illinois
1912 John McDermott (294, -2), Country Club of Buffalo, Buffalo, New York
1913 Francis Ouimet (304, +8), The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts
1914 Walter Hagen (290, +2), Midlothian Country Club, Midlothian, Illinois
1915 Jerome Travers (297, +1), Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
1916 Chick Evans (286, +2), The Minikahda Club, Minneapolis, Minnesota
1917 No tournament
1918 No tournament
1919 Walter Hagen (301, +17), Brae Burn Country Club, West Newton, Massachusetts
1920 Ted Ray (295, +7), Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio
1921 Jim Barnes (289, +9), Columbia Country Club, Chevy Chase, Maryland
1922 Gene Sarazen (288, +8), Skokie Country Club, Glencoe, Illinois
1923 Bobby Jones (296, +8), Inwood Country Club, Inwood, New York
1924 Cyril Walker (297, +9), Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
1925 Willie Macfarlane (291, +7), Worcester Country Club, Worcester, Massachusetts
1926 Bobby Jones (293, +5), Scioto Country Club, Columbus, Ohio
1927 Tommy Armour (301, +13), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
1928 Johnny Farrell (294, +10), Olympia Fields, Olympia Fields, Illinois
1929 Bobby Jones (294, +6), Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York
1930 Bobby Jones (287, +6), Interlachen Country Club, Edina, Minnesota
1931 Billy Burke (292, +8), Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio
1932 Gene Sarazen (286, +6), Fresh Meadow Country Club, Great Neck, New York
1933 Johnny Goodman (287, -1), North Shore Country Club, Glenview, Illinois
1934 Olin Dutra (293, +13), Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
1935 Sam Parks, Jr. (299, +11), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
1936 Tony Manero (282, -6), Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
1937 Ralph Guldahl (281, -7), Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
1938 Ralph Guldahl (284, E), Cherry Hills, Cherry Hills Village, Colorado
1939 Byron Nelson (284, +8), Philadelphia Country Club, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1940 Lawson Little (287, -1), Canterbury Golf Club, Beachwood, Ohio
1941 Craig Wood (284, +4), Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas
1942 No tournament
1943 No tournament
1944 No tournament
1945 No tournament
1946 Lloyd Mangrum (284, -4), Canterbury Golf Club, Beachwood, Ohio
1947 Lew Worsham (282, -2), St Louis Country Club, Saint Louis, Missouri
1948 Ben Hogan (276, -8), Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California
1949 Cary Middlecoff (286, +2), Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois
1950 Ben Hogan (287, +7), Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
1951 Ben Hogan (287, +7), Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
1952 Julius Boros (281, +1), Northwood Club, Dallas, Texas
1953 Ben Hogan (283, -5), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
1954 Ed Furgol (284, +4), Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
1955 Jack Fleck (287, +7), Olympic Club, San Francisco, California
1956 Cary Middlecoff (281, +1), Oak Hill Country, Club Rochester, New York
1957 Dick Mayer (282, +5), Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio
1958 Tommy Bolt (283, +3), Southern Hills, Tulsa, Oklahoma
1959 Billy Casper (282, +2), Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York
1960 Arnold Palmer (280, -4), Cherry Hills, Cherry Hills Village, Colorado
1961 Gene Littler (281, +1), Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
1962 Jack Nicklaus (283, -1), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
1963 Julius Boros (293, +9), The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts
1964 Ken Venturi (278, -2), Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Maryland
1965 Gary Player (282, +2), Bellerive Country Club, Saint Louis, Missouri
1966 Billy Casper (278, -2), Olympic Club, San Francisco, California
1967 Jack Nicklaus (275, -5), Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
1968 Lee Trevino (275, -5), Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York
1969 Orville Moody (281, +1), Champions Golf Club, Houston, Texas
1970 Tony Jacklin (281, -7), Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota
1971 Lee Trevino (280, E), Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
1972 Jack Nicklaus (290, +2), Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
1973 Johnny Miller (279, -5), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
1974 Hale Irwin (287, +7), Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York
1975 Lou Graham (287, +3), Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois
1976 Jerry Pate (277, -3), Atlanta Athletic Club, Duluth, Georgia
1977 Hubert Green (278, -2), Southern Hills, Tulsa, Oklahoma
1978 Andy North (285, +1), Cherry Hills, Cherry Hills Village, Colorado
1979 Hale Irwin (284, E), Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio
1980 Jack Nicklaus (272, -8), Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
1981 David Graham (273, -7), Merion Golf Club, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
1982 Tom Watson (282, -6), Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
1983 Larry Nelson (280, -4), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
1984 Fuzzy Zoeller (276, -4), Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York
1985 Andy North (279, -1), Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
1986 Raymond Floyd (279, -1), Shinnecock Hills, Shinnecock Hills, New York
1987 Scott Simpson (277, -3), Olympic Club, San Francisco, California
1988 Curtis Strange (278, -6), The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts
1989 Curtis Strange (278, -2), Oak Hill Country Club, Rochester, New York
1990 Hale Irwin (280, -8), Medinah Country Club, Medinah, Illinois
1991 Payne Stewart (282, -6), Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota
1992 Tom Kite (285, -3), Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
1993 Lee Janzen (272, -8), Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, New Jersey
1994 Ernie Els (279, -5), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
1995 Corey Pavin (280, E), Shinnecock Hills, Shinnecock Hills, New York
1996 Steve Jones (278, -2), Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
1997 Ernie Els (276, -4), Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Maryland
1998 Lee Janzen (280, E), Olympic Club, San Francisco, California
1999 Payne Stewart (279, -1), Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, North Carolina
2000 Tiger Woods (272, -12), Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
2001 Retief Goosen (276, -4), Southern Hills, Tulsa, Oklahoma
2002 Tiger Woods (277, -3), Bethpage State Park. Farmingdale, New York
2003 Jim Furyk (272, -8), Olympia Fields, Olympia Fields, Illinois
2004 Retief Goosen (276, -4), Shinnecock Hills, Shinnecock Hills, New York
2005 Michael Campbell (280, E), Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, North Carolina
2006 Geoff Ogilvy (285, +5), Winged Foot Golf Club, Mamaroneck, New York
2007 Ángel Cabrera (285, +5), Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
2008 Tiger Woods (283, -1), Torrey Pines, San Diego, California
2009 Lucas Glover (276, -4), Bethpage State Park, Farmingdale, New York
2010 Graeme McDowell (284, E), Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, California
2011 Rory McIlroy (268, -16), Congressional Country Club, Bethesda, Maryland
For any other player, it would have been a career-defining moment. For Tiger Woods, it was just another Sunday — even if those Sunday moments have become a little more rare lately.
Woods was in contention for his 73rd win to tie Jack Nicklaus for second on the all-time list, nine behind Sam Snead, and in just another example of Woods' incredible flair for the dramatic, he was at Jack's tournament, the Memorial, with the Golden Bear calling the action from the booth. He found himself a single shot out of the lead when he airmailed the green at Muirfield's par-3 16th hole, leaving himself an impossibly delicate chip shot from a fluffy, scraggly lie. Then, like so many times before, the magic happened. Woods' full-swing flop shot out Mickelson'd anything Lefty could summon, landing softly and perfectly and trickling into the hole for a birdie.
Tiger's host was suitably impressed.
"I just said out here a couple times, that under the circumstances, the circumstances being Tiger has been struggling, he found himself in a position in a tournament, and it was either fish or cut bait, he had one place to land the ball, he's playing a shot that if he leaves it short, he's going to leave himself again a very difficult shot, if he hits it long, he's going to probably lose the tournament," Nicklaus said afterwards. "He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. It doesn't make a difference whether it went in the hole or not. Going in the hole was a bonus. But what a shot. I don't think under the circumstances I've ever seen a better shot."
Playing partner Rickie Fowler, who was in the process of imploding with a final-round 84 — 17 shots worse than Woods' 67 — took time off from calculating his score to enjoy the moment. "He had obviously a shot that — I guess not lucky, but you hit a good shot to get it inside 10 feet, and it came out perfect, landed kind of right on the crown of that ridge there, and the rest is history," Fowler said. "I mean, he obviously loves being in the moment, and that's where he kind of gets down, focuses and hits those shots. It was fun to see."
In case you missed it, here's the shot:
But there was more to his final-round 67 than one hero shot. Woods put a stamp on one of the best ball-striking weeks of his career, a week when he led the field in greens in regulation (73.6%).
He even impressed himself. "Boy, I hit it good today," Woods said. "That was some good stuff out there. I never really missed a shot today. It was just, as Sean (instructor Sean Foley) likes to say, go out there and put on a stripe show, and I did today. I hit it great, and I had the pace of the greens really nice today, where I struggled yesterday, and made a few putts."
Obviously, there's a little tournament in a couple of weeks at San Francisco's Olympic Club that Woods would dearly love to win, as he chases his personal Holy Grail — Nicklaus' 18 major championships. Woods thinks the current state of his game bodes well for his U.S. Open chances. "I'm excited because of the way I hit the golf ball this week," he said. "I hit the ball really well. At Olympic we're all going to have to hit the ball great there. That golf course, you can look at the history of guys who were in contention or who ended up winning, all were wonderful drivers of the golf ball and good, solid iron players. That's what it's going to take there at Olympic, more so than most U.S. Open sites."
Obviously, Tiger still has what it takes. He's still four away from Jack, but 19 majors are in play again.