Run­ning in place, Woods might not catch Nick­laus

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS BRIEFING - Gary Shel­ton

Here in the His­tory Open, Tiger Woods has been on top of the leader­board for about a decade. He was go­ing to be the best, by golly. An­other few putts, an­other few tro­phies, and it was in­evitable. No one could chal­lenge, and no one could com­pete. He was go­ing to be bet­ter than Jack, bet­ter than Arnie, bet­ter than Ben, bet­ter than Tom, bet­ter than Bobby, bet­ter than Gary, bet­ter than any­body.

No one has ever been re­ferred to as the Great­est of All Time at a younger age than Woods, and no one has had fewer ar­gu­ments over the des­ig­na­tion. Tiger was Tiger, and he was five strokes up on his­tory with four to play.

Don’t look now, but just like that, Jack Nick­laus is back in the lead.

Just like that, it is no longer in­evitable that Woods will over­take him.

Who knows when it hap­pened? Maybe Woods left his great­ness be­tween the sheets. Maybe he left his dom­i­nance on a night­stand at the No-Tell Mo­tel. What­ever, he is no longer a lock to fin­ish his ca­reer as the best ever.

Af­ter all of his vic­to­ries, wouldn’t it be a shame if Woods’ last­ing me­mory was how his ca­reer was de­railed af­ter he hit into a sleaze bunker? Since his scan­dals, it cer­tainly seems as if some­thing has been missing.

This was go­ing to be Tiger’s year, re­mem­ber? Three of the four ma­jors were go­ing to be on grounds that Woods had con­quered be­fore. Be­tween Au­gusta Na­tional, Peb­ble Beach and St. An­drews — cour­ses where he had won half of his 14 ma­jors — it fig­ured Woods would fin­ish the year right be­hind Nick­laus.

In­stead, Woods has gone 0 for 3, and com­peti­tors no longer seem as ner­vous when his shadow gets close. Blame it on the scru­tiny, or blame it on the scan­dal, but Woods has not been Woods for a long time now. And with ev­ery ma­jor he does not win, the odds of him pass­ing Nick­laus be­come a lit­tle bit longer.

The truth be told, it prob­a­bly sur­prises Nick­laus to find out he is still in con­tention in this race. Af­ter all, he is 70 now, old enough to re­mem­ber nib­licks. For years, he has con­ceded that Woods was go­ing to pass his 18 vic­to­ries in ma­jors. Heck, there for a while, the ques­tion was whether Woods was go­ing to win more than the 25 Nick­laus and Arnold Palmer won com­bined.

Be­fore this year’s Masters, how­ever, Nick­laus had a word of cau­tion. This was go­ing to be a very im­por­tant year for Woods as far as break­ing the record. Af­ter all, Woods hasn’t won in 2010, didn’t win a ma­jor in 2009, and he won only one in 2008. Con­sider this: From 2000 to 2002, Woods won six ma­jors in three years. Over his past eight years, he has won only six more.

Maybe that’s why it’s eas­ier to doubt Woods these days. If you pay at­ten­tion, the lat­est chat­ter is whether Woods will ever win an­other ma­jor.

That’s ridicu­lous. He’s only 34, and golf is a game where Julius Boros won a ma­jor at 48 and Nick­laus at 46 and Hale Ir­win at 45. Of course Woods will win again. But will he win again five more times? In ma­jors? Maybe not. mean old me­dia, make peace with his put­ter and still win more ma­jors than Mick­el­son’s ca­reer to­tal.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t be easy to chase down a leg­end such as Nick­laus.

In hind­sight, maybe some of us tried to take the Great­est of All Time des­ig­na­tion away from Nick­laus too quickly. When you deal with statis­tics for a liv­ing, there are times you be­come numb to them. Most num­bers leave you feel­ing like an ac­coun­tant. But this is one that al­ways struck me as amaz­ing. Be­sides his 18 vic­to­ries in ma­jors, Nick­laus also has 19 sec­ond places.

That means he was one of the top two in a tour­na­ment 37 times. (By con­trast, Woods has four sec­ond places in ma­jors). That also means that — while the 40th-best player in the world in 2010 is prob­a­bly vastly su­pe­rior to the 40th-best player in Nick­laus’ hey­day — Nick­laus had some guys who could snatch vic­tory away from him.

To sum up: Golf isn’t such a bad place if Nick­laus is thought of as the best player of all time.

Be­fore he can take that des­ig­na­tion away, Woods has a lot of rough to avoid. Maybe he has a chance. Af­ter all, he is the sec­ond-best golfer of all time.

Af­ter all, it’s hard to win ma­jors. It’s been said be­fore: There is no de­fense in golf. Woods can play as hard as he wants, but he can’t in­flu­ence the way, say, Phil Mick­el­son plays. He can’t do any­thing about a golfer such as Louis Oosthuizen hav­ing one of those kissedby-the-an­gels week­ends like he had in the Bri­tish.

Do you know how many ac­tive play­ers other than Woods have won five ma­jors? None.

Do you know how many play­ers have ever won five ma­jors in his­tory? Only 18.

Do you know how many golfers have ever won five ma­jors af­ter their 35th birth­day, the age Woods reaches in De­cem­ber? None.

Think of it like this. Be­tween now and the time he turns 40, Woods has 21 ma­jors to play (count­ing this year’s PGA). By the way, in his last 21 ma­jors, Woods has ex­actly five wins. That means he has to be as good over the next five years as he has been the last five. He can­not lose any­thing to age, or to his wob­bly knee, or to the drama his life has be­come.

In other words, this is no longer a gimme putt for Woods. To do it, Woods has to en­dure a bad knee, live with the

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