Drought-buster Woods set to chase more major glory
AUGUSTA, United States: Tiger Woods ended his 11-year wait for a 15th major title at the Masters. Now the golf world is wondering whether the hunt to overhaul Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles is back on.
The cheers and raw emotion of Woods’ victory at Augusta National on Sunday had barely subsided before the 43-year-old was asked about whether he would now resume his chase for Nicklaus’s record.
“You know, I really haven’t thought about that yet,” Woods said. “I’m sure that I’ll probably think of it going down the road. “Maybe, maybe not. Right now, I’m just enjoying 15,” he said.
Nicklaus, however, believes the record is back in play, noting that two of this year’s remaining majors — the US Open and US PGA Championship — will be staged at courses where Woods has won before.
“I thought for a long time that he was going to win again,” Nicklaus told the Golf Channel. “The next two majors are at Bethpage, where he has won and at Pebble Beach, where he has won.
“So, he has got me shaking in my boots.” Brooks Koepka, the three-time major champion who finished one shot adrift of Woods on Sunday, also believes Nicklaus’s benchmark could be under threat. “Eighteen is, I think, a lot closer than people think,” Koepka said.
“I would say that’s probably what all fans, what we’re thinking. That he’s definitely back and 18’s not far.” Woods had once seemed guaranteed to surpass Nicklaus’s record, dominating the game from his first Masters triumph in 1997 through to his 2008 US Open victory.
Then came scandal and injuries, slumping form and nearly two years on the sidelines before he was able to mount a comeback campaign that stepped up in 2018. Last year he went from strength to strength, contending in both the British Open and PGA Championship before seizing a breakthrough US PGA Tour title at the Tour Championship in September.
The revamped global golf schedule may now assist Woods on his quest for more major glory, with the PGA Championship, at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York, moved up in the calendar to May 16-19. When Woods won the 2002 US Open held at Bethpage he was also coming off a Masters win that year.
Woods was the only player to finish under par on the long, testing course, his three-under total of 277 giving him a three-shot win over Phil Mickelson. The US Open in June will be held at Pebble Beach — where Woods won by a stunning 15 strokes in 2000.
Doubts that Woods would ever win another major, or even another tournament, long centered on two issues: the crowd of young, talented, super-fit and long-hitting players he inspired and the demands majors put on his own aging and often injured body.
Assessing his impact on the game on Sunday, Woods noted that attention to physical fitness exploded in the sport thanks largely to him. “A lot of the guys are training,” he said. “They are getting bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic.
“When I first turned pro, I was the only one in the gym, except Vijay (Singh).” Now, Woods quipped, even his old rival Phil Mickelson — famed for his love of fast-food burgers — is working out. “Things have come a long way,” Woods said.
After knee injuries and multiple back surgeries, the last a spinal fusion that finally freed him from pain, he isn’t up to the ‘reps’ he favored in his prime. Although smarter training and better nutrition and physical therapy is helping older golfers compete for longer, Woods admits that preparation and recovery are as important for him as practice.