Friday, May 4, 2012

Will Tiger Woods break Jack Nicklaus' Major Record?

With another major season quickly approaching, most casual golf fans are finally getting excited for the season.  Yes, the early season has had some excellent and exciting storylines, but unless you watch golf week in and week out, the summer is what you look forward to.  Fans were treated to a stellar Masters tournament, with Bubba Watson outdueling Louis Oosthuizen on the second playoff hole.  And now we have the US Open at the Olympic Club to look forward to.  And with each new major season comes the never-ending speculation into Tiger Woods' quest to best Jack Nicklaus and his record of 18 major championships.

Just 5 years ago, it was a no-brainer to assume Tiger was going to break the record and run away with it.  He was the most dominant golfer on the planet; people crumbled in his presence on Sundays.  The red meant death to any of his competitors.  The man never choked; he never let a tournament get away from him.  Then came the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.  The 2008 US Open, you might be asking.  Didn't Tiger win that tournament?  He won, but it came at a cost.  The injury he played through was much worse than everyone thought at the time.  He lost out on 2 opportunities to win majors in 2008.

2009 rolls around, and Tiger had the lead going into the final round of the PGA Championship.  Paired with YE Yang, Tiger seemingly had an easy path to his 15th major championship victory.  But Tiger was finally toppled on a Sunday.  His invincibility broken; his confidence seemingly shattered.  YE Yang beat him; Tiger did not lose this one by himself.  But since that tournament Tiger has not looked the same.

We all know what came next, the scandal, the car accident, the therapy, the divorce.  Swing coaches were fired and hired, caddies were swapped, and his game was in shambles.  No wins from the end of 2009 until December of 2011.  No PGA Tour wins in 2010 or 2011.  Never once seriously contending in a major championship.  But can he get it back?

With his win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early 2012, many thought Tiger had regained his magic and his confidence.  But a T40th at Augusta proved he is not quite ready to win on the biggest stage.  With the US Open at Olympic Club, Tiger needs to figure out his driver and keep it straight.  He also needs to start making putts again.  What were once gimmies are now a struggle.

So will Tiger break Jack's record?  As of now, I still say yes.  Sure, there are many youngsters in the game now who have the game to win major championships.  And many more players in the world who can contend week in and week out.  But if Tiger just can find one glimpse of confidence, I think he will be back to winning multiple tournaments a year and contending in all the majors.  But it will take that rediscovery to get there.  Will it be at The Players next week?  Or the US Open?  Or maybe at a regular PGA Tour event.  But wherever, Tiger needs that spark of confidence to get over the hump and start trusting his new swing.

A prediction?  Tiger will take The Open Championship title at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.  He may never pull driver.  I think his 2 iron and 3 wood will be plenty for him there.  And getting away from the American media may do him well.  After missing the British last year, I think he will be ready for the win, and that may just jumpstart another run of majors for Tiger.  But we'll see if he can do it.  Right now, it is up to Tiger finding the confidence to trust himself and the game that has won him 14 majors, 72 PGA Tour events, and numerous other times around the world.  Once he does that, he will again be able to contend and win major championships and restart the quest for 19.

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