Woods’ win in Masters puts Grand Slam possibility in play
Next two majors are on favorable courses
Jack Nicklaus was fishing in the Bahamas on Sunday as Tiger Woods resumed circling him in the quest for Nicklaus’ record of 18 major golf championships. But in his news conference after winning the Masters for his 15th major title, Woods didn’t sound exactly bloodthirsty.
“I’m sure that I’ll probably think of it going down the road,” Woods said, referring to Nicklaus’ 18 victories at golf’s four major tournaments. “Maybe. Maybe not. But right now, it’s a little soon, and I’m just enjoying 15.”
Then again, Woods didn’t have to say much. His clubs had delivered a convincing argument that he is “trending in the right direction,” as Woods is fond of saying. Tony Finau, who was grouped with Woods in the final round, was more succinct.
“From what I saw today,” Finau said Sunday, “obviously he’s not going anywhere.”
Brooks Koepka, who has won three majors since 2017, felt confident going out on this limb: “I think 18 is a whole lot closer than people think.”
How about three-months-off close? What Woods put into play Sunday was the elusive calendar Grand Slam — winning all four majors in the same year. No player in the modern era has done it.
In golf’s storied history, only one man, amateur Bobby Jones in 1930, has managed it.
Woods has come exquisitely close. He claimed the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship in 2000 and the Masters in 2001 for what became known as the “Tiger Slam.”
The next two majors are at courses on which Woods has a proven track record of success.
The PGA Championship will take place next month at Bethpage Black on Long Island, site of Woods’ wireto-wire victory at the 2002 U.S. Open (he also tied for sixth when the tournament returned there in 2009).
The U.S. Open is in June at Pebble Beach in California, where Woods won the 2000 tournament by a record 15 strokes — and where he also won the annual PGA Tour event the same year.
If Woods is going to chase the great white whale of golf records, he couldn’t ask for more inviting seas.
During a 11-year major title drought that was exacerbated by injuries and ignominy, Woods needed to be in contention on the back nine in the final round a couple of times before he broke through. His first tests came at last year’s final two majors and Woods acquitted himself well, sharing sixth place at the British Open and finishing second at the PGA Championship.
“The 15th was always going to be the hardest,” said Rickie Fowler, 30, who joined the PGA Tour in 2010 and had seen Woods win nine tour titles before Sunday.
But two of the golfers who finished one stroke behind Woods — Xander Schauffele, 25, and Koepka, 28 — joined the tour after Woods’ last dominant season, his five-title haul in 2013. Of Woods’ 81 tour victories, one shy of tying Sam Snead’s career mark, they experienced only the 2018 Tour Championship up close and personal.
And yet, if anything, they seemed energized, not enervated, by their head-to-head battle with Woods.
“It’s what I saw as a kid,” Schauffele said.
Schauffele and Koepka are too young to have been demoralized by Woods in his peak years. They saw his name at the top of the leaderboard Sunday, and they rejoiced.
“You want to play against the best to ever play, you want to go toe-to-toe with them,” Koepka said.
He added: “I enjoy the battle. I enjoy everything that goes on with it. He got the better of me this time and it’s fun and I’m sure he’s ecstatic about it, but hopefully there will be more.”
Even with the depth in the men’s game, do you really want to bet against Woods?
In the past three majors, his worst finish is a sixth, and if you calculate his average finish, he has fared slightly better than Italy’s Francesco Molinari (tie for fifth, tie for sixth, win) and much better than Koepka, who won the PGA Championship but finished outside the top 30 at last year’s British Open.
Justin Thomas? He has a tie for 12th, a tie for sixth and a missed cut. Schauffele? He has two second-place ties but finished outside the top-30 at the PGA Championship.
“My last three major championships have been pretty good,” Woods said, “so that in itself gives me a lot of confidence going down the road.”
Woods’ fifth Masters victory drew comparisons to Nicklaus’ sixth, which came in 1986 when he was 46. Nicklaus never won another regular tour event, although he contended at the 1998 Masters at the age of 58, finishing tied for sixth. He was four strokes behind the winner, Mark O’Meara, but two ahead of Woods, who, at 22, was the defending champion.
Woods rarely played more than two tour events — if that — between majors during his prime, so this year’s schedule, which is compressed to facilitate a Labor Day finish, shouldn’t pose a problem. People underestimate his enduring passion for competition at their peril.
“In the tournaments I do play in,” he said Sunday, “I’ll be fully invested and committed to playing and trying to win.”
Tiger Woods’ victory at the Masters on Sunday lines up the possibility of him finally winning a Grand Slam.