John Feinstein Blog: Majors Are All That Matters When It Comes To Tiger Woods
It is remarkable how quickly the apologists line up behind Tiger Woods.
Woods completed a fifth straight year in which he was shut out in the majors on Sunday when he limped home in a tie for 40th place in the PGA Championship. That makes 18 times Woods has teed it up in a major championship since his 14th major win in June 2008 that he has come away empty-handed.
Woods didn’t even let a reporter finish a question in which he asked if he was ‘concerned,’ about another major-less year slipping away.
“I’m not concerned,” Woods insisted in the same tone that someone says they aren’t worried when the IRS calls about a tax audit. He then went on to — again — talk about how he’d been close a couple of times this year and as long as he put himself in contention he was bound to win again sometime soon.
Certainly you never count out the most talented golfer in history — which Woods, with all due respect to Jack Nicklaus — happens to be. During his dominant period from 1997 to 2008 no one — NO ONE — ever dominated golf in the ways Woods dominated. Woods will be 38 when he gets to the Masters next April which, in most sports, means your skills are fading quickly unless you’ve discovered the magic elixir of PED’s.
Not so in golf. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 and Nicklaus won the Masters at 46. In the last two years Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson have all won majors with their 40th birthday in the rear mirror. So, to count Woods out at this point would be silly.
But to claim that he ‘isn’t concerned,’ is equally silly. Of course he’s concerned — beyond concerned. He’s let five years in which he could have been building the most historic majors resume in golf history slip away. He may still get to Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors but he isn’t going to roar by it and put up some beyond mind-boggling number like 25 major wins the way most of us thought he would when he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg back in 2008.
To all the apologists who scream, ‘he’s won 14 majors and Phil (Mickelson) isn’t even close to him!’ — every time someone brings up his futility since the miracle of Torrey Pines — you’re right. You can even take it a step further and point out that Mickelson, Els and Vijay Singh — who also won a major after turning 40 — the three men who have been Woods greatest rivals during his career have won 12 majors — COMBINED. That’s how remarkable Woods’ record has been. He won 14 majors in 12 years — a total of 46 starts. Nicklaus won his first 14 in 64 starts. Woods was SO far ahead of him once upon a time it wasn’t even close. Now, their records are identical: 14-for-64.
To put that in a little bit of perspective: Mickelson, the second best player of the Woods era and already a member of The World Golf Hall of Fame is 5-for-81 in majors.
But none of that changes who Woods is right now. He’s a man who has gone through multiple swing changes, coaches and caddies. He publicly humiliated himself in a way few athletes in history have when he was outed as a serial adulterer and went away to a sex-addiction clinic in 2009 and 2010. He has had numerous injuries and surgeries to his knees and Achilles and even missed a few weeks earlier this year with a shoulder injury that, according to some, was still bothering him during the PGA.
The apologists will point out — correctly again — that Woods has won five times this year and, according to them, should be player-of-the-year. That’s flat out wrong. No one should be player-of-the-year without winning a major and here’s why: If you walk onto any range at any PGA Tour event and ask 99 percent of the players if they would rather win five regular tour events in a year or ONE major, they’d all look at you like you were nuts to even ask and say, ‘the major, of course.’
There are two reasons for that: one is money. Winning one major is ultimately worth far more than winning five regular tour events — and those who yammer on about how winning a World Golf Championship event or The Players Championship is somehow more important than your run-of-the-mill Wyndham Championship or Arnold Palmer Invitational simply miss the point. There are four majors and there’s everything else.
Brandel Chamblee, the Golf Channel analyst who analyzes numbers better than anyone else on television, did some research a few years back and came to this conclusion: if you win a regular tour event it will ultimately be worth about $3 million to you over your career when you factor in prize money, endorsement opportunities, outing fees and potential overseas appearance fees. Chamblee won on the PGA Tour during his career so he’s quite familiar with those numbers — which have, of course, gone up with inflation since his victory in Vancouver in 1998.
According to Chamblee, a win in a major championship is probably worth closer to $30 million over the course of a lifetime, not only because all the various endorsement and overseas opportunites are so much greater but because you have a lifetime pass to the world of golf. Jason Dufner will ALWAYS be a PGA champion, just as Jack Fleck was able to live quite nicely off of his 1955 victory in the U.S. Open even though he was a moonlighting club pro when he won that title.
So, if you are strictly looking at numbers, you take the one major over the five tour wins.
But there’s far more to it than that. Tom Kite said it best and most bluntly when he finally won his major, the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach: “Well, at least now I know what the first line of my obituary will be.”
Exactly. You win a major, you’re part of history. And no one knows that more than Woods. He never once said when he first burst onto the tour in 1996 that his goal was to surpass Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 wins — which he will pass, probably early next year since he’s now just three wins shy of it. He said — and has repeated over and over — that his goal was to surpass Nicklaus.
For a while, it looked as if he would blow that goal away. Now, at the very least, it is in doubt. And if you don’t think Woods is concerned, you simply haven’t paid attention to who he is and what he’s been about for the last 17 years.
No one is saying that Woods hasn’t played wonderfully at times the last two years. He’s won eight times — far more than anyone else in golf. In fact, he’s won 14 times since his post-’08 Open ‘fall,’ which is a borderline Hall of Fame career — IF one of those wins was a major.
But those wins only matter to Woods if they lead to major victories. Another apologist raised this question on Monday: If the other tournaments don’t matter, why does Woods bother playing in them? Two reasons: One — to PREPARE for the majors — that’s what he builds his schedule around. Two — like everyone else in golf, Woods’ sponsorship contracts require him to play in a minimum number of tournaments (usually it’s 15) each year to promote product. So, let’s not act as if saying the other events don’t matter to Woods is foolish because no one knows better than Woods why he plays in them.
So, here’s the cold reality of it all: No one has ever played golf better than Woods once did. But not lately, not when it matters. And NO ONE knows that better than Eldrick Tiger Woods.