Get Your Tickets Now
By Kickntrue on 9/10/06
Now that we've had a couple days to reflect on Tiger Wood's 12th career major win this past weekend at Medinah Country Club at this year's PGA Championship, I thought it would be fun to look at what lies ahead of Woods in his quest to become the greatest golfer of all time. While some would argue that Tiger is already there, it is commonly accepted within the golf community that he will need a 19th Major Championship, one better than Jack's 18, before he can supplant Nicklaus as "The Greatest of All-Time"

What could be most phenomenal about this whole conversation is that it is happening so soon. When Tiger joined the PGA Tour 10 years ago nobody could deny his talent or his potential. We'd seen this guy on television when he was two years old, whacking balls around the set of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson; we knew he was good. We saw his accolades in the U.S. Junior Golf circuit. But this good? This soon? Tiger just turned 30, an age when most golfers are just hitting their prime. I think most golf fans thought we could have this conversation, but not for another 5 years, not until Tiger had a good 15 years or so on tour to build his win totals. And just maybe, in the later days of his career, Woods would have a chance at a magical Major or two, to catch and pass Nicklaus.
Event Wins
WGC-Bridgestone Invitational 5
Buick Invitational 4
Bay Hill Initational 4
Buick Open 2
WGC- Accenture 2
WGC-American Express 4
Funai Classic 2
Western Open 3
Mercedes Champ 2
Memorial Tournament 3
Masters 4
US Open 2
British Open 3
PGA Championship 3
45 of 52 wins have come in 14 events on just 20 courses.

We've been proven wrong. Woods has shown to not only be the most dominate athlete in the most individual sport in the world, but he has also grabbed the torch left by Michael Jordan as the face of U.S. sports worldwide and is clearly our countries most recognizable sports icon. So the question has shifted. It is no longer an "if" but "when" Jack's record will fall to Tiger.

Of course there is no way to be certain when this will happen, but we can have some fun and speculate. The best way to guess on something like this is to look at history. Since past performance predicts future behavior, we can get an idea by looking back on Tiger's career to figure out when he should break the record.
I think the best bet to see the record fall is in 2011 at Atlanta Athletic Club

Before I dig in deep, it needs to be said that this is still no gimmie. Six major titles is still a lot of work. All you have to do is look at a list of golf's greats to see the task still at hand. Byron Nelson (5), Raymond Floyd(4), and Hale Irwin(4) have all fallen short of 6 majors in their careers. Nick Faldo and Lee Traveno matched six career Majors. Even the great Arnold Palmer had "just" seven. To think that Tiger needs to produce the Majors career of Arnold Palmer yet to catch Nicklaus makes it seem monumentally out of reach. But those are just numbers, and this is Tiger.

Though Tiger Woods played in some majors before the 1997 season that is where we should start looking at the stats. At 21, it is the first full year as a professional on the PGA Tour. From 1997 through 2006, Tiger has played in exactly 40 Major Championships. By winning 12 of the 40 Majors he's entered, Tiger has amassed an astounding 30% winning percentage. This number is about 4% higher than his winning percentage on the rest of the tour for his career. He now has 52 wins, in just under 200 career events. This could be attributed to luck, a smaller sample size for Majors, or as many would speculate- Tiger actually raises the level of his play for Major Championships. Another factor- could be course familiarity. While 3 of the four majors shift venues each year, the Masters is always at Augusta National, a course Woods has scored 4 of his victories in on 10 tries.

If you take a deeper look at Wood's career, you see that he is clearly more dominate on certain courses and scores most of his wins in the same events year after year. This chart shows his victories by event over his 10-year career. The numbers show that 45 of his 52 career wins have come in the same 14 events. Even when you consider that some of the events, specifically the Majors, are played on different courses you realize it Tiger's dominance on a select group of courses that makes him great.
Masters US Open British Open PGA Champ. Other Wins Total Entered
1997 1st 19th 24th 29th 3 21
1998 8th 18th 3rd 10th 1 20
1999 18th 3rd 7th 1st 7 21
2000 5th 1st 1st 1st 6 21
2001 1st 12th 25th 39th 3 19
2002 1st 1st 28th 2nd 3 18
2003 15th 20th 4th 39th 4 18
2004 22nd 17th 9th 24th 0 19
2005 1st 2nd 1st 4th 4 21
2006 3rd -cut- 1st 1st 3 12
Win % 40% 20% 30% 30% 23%

So, where does that put us for the future? It took Tiger forty events to reach twelve major titles. The simplest formula would be to just assume Tiger will win 30% of the Majors he plays in, which means he will need 20 Majors to win 6, tying Jack's record. To play 20 more Major events, Tiger will need 5 years, making his 20th event the 2011 PGA Championship, at Atlanta Athletic Club, in Duluth, Georgia. This projection would have him breaking the record in 2012 sometime, most likely at the Masters, US Open, or British Open. His 40% winning percentage at Augusta National would make that even the odds on favorite to be the record-breaking event. Of course, this is if you just go by the math.

Tiger Woods has proven his whole career that with him, you should expect the unexpected. I think there are some other factors that will favor Tiger getting to 19 even quicker than this. Between now and through the 2011 season, Tiger will get 5 more cracks at Augusta National. While the math says he will win 2 of those, would it really surprise you if he won 3? Also, the U.S. Open will return to venues that he has won in the past, setting him up to continue his same course dominance. In 2009, the Open returns to Bethpage Black, in Farmingdale, NY, a course so long, it seems like only Tiger could win it. In 2010 the U.S. Open will be played at Pebble Beach, where Tiger obliterated the field. There is no reason to think that won't be another win. In 2010 Tiger also gets another shot at St. Andrews for the British Open, a course he has won his last two tournaments at. My point is, the cards could be lined up for Tiger to get things done a lot quicker.
Between now and the end of 2010 he'll win two Master's, two more British Open's, and the U.S. Open at either Bethpage or Pebble Beach.

There is also the distinct possibility that we are seeing a reemergence of the Tiger we saw from 1999-2002 where he won 7 of 11 Majors. If he is at the start of a stretch like that, he could have nineteen wrapped up by 2009. There is also the fact that most golfers are just hitting their prime in their early to mid 30's, just the era Tiger will be going through. It could be a long couple years for the rest of the PGA.

I guess it's time for me to make my prediction, which is all it is. At this point, Tiger never ceases to amaze. There are a lot of things that could lengthen the time it takes to break the record; like injury, time away from the game to start a family, or a meteor storm, but these things look like unlikely distractions at this point. I think the best bet to see the record fall is in 2011 at Atlanta Athletic Club. I think between now and the end of 2010 he'll win two Master's, two more British Open's, and the U.S. Open at either Bethpage or Pebble Beach. That will leave him 1 short of the record at the start of 2011. I don't think Tiger will let us down, by failing to win a Major, and it seems likely it could be the Masters or British Open again that year to tie Nicklaus.

I don't see him sitting tied for Jack for very long, it's not his style. He will enter the 2011 PGA Championship as the favorite, and leave victorious, officially with the title of "Greatest Golfer Ever." Tiger will flash his smile, pump his fist, and Jack will graciously hand over the distinction. At this point, who could possibly know how many Majors Tiger will end with, but for now- only one number matters- 18. Get in line for tickets soon, it's going to be something to see.


[ comments ]
mjaber says:
I have a Tiger-related question. I remember reading somewhere that Tiger will not play certain tournaments because the course "does not suit his eye." Obviously he's going to play a major regardless of what course it is on, but does his picking and choosing of only certain tournaments/courses change the "greatest player ever" argument? Jack played almost every week, if I'm not mistaken, regardless of the course.

If a marathon runner is going to be considered the "best ever", he would have to run, and win, a great number of marathons. He wouldn't be able to skip the Boston Marathon, just because he didn't like to do hills.

Are majors the only factor in determining the best ever? Or should there be more to it?
8/20/09
 
mjaber says:
I'm not trying to start a fight between the "Tiger haters" and "Tiger lovers." I'm simply asking if there is more to being the best golfer ever than winning majors? I'd love to see a comparison of the number of different courses Tiger has won on to the number of different courses Jack won on.
8/20/09
 
Kickntrue says:
I thought Tiger's reduced schedule was a direct copy of how Jack chose to schedule. I thought it was a piece of advice Tiger was given by Jack at a young age. I don't think Jack played every week (but I didn't live it- so I could be wrong). These numbers are probably off by a year after winning only 1 major in the past 2 years.
8/20/09
 
bducharm says:
Jack played very much like Tiger does - picking and choosing based on getting primed for the majors.
8/20/09
 
mjaber says:
I was not aware Jack selectively played tournaments. I stand corrected. :)
8/20/09
 
kidputter says:
When was this article written? It makes no sense. The numbers and years are all wrong.
"Between now and the end of 2010 he'll win two Master's, two more British Open's, and the U.S. Open at either Bethpage or Pebble Beach." This will DEFINITELY not be the case since he didn't win ANY this year.
8/20/09
 
kyfrydan says:
I think he'll get his record breaking major at Valhalla at 2014 PGA championship
8/20/09
 
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