By winning the Masters last month at Augusta National, Tiger Woods has rekindled discussion of whether he can match the record 18 major golf championships Jack Nicklaus won during his legendary career.
Woods captured his fifth green jacket and 15th major at the Masters in April, leaving him three shy of Nicklaus’ coveted mark.
At age 43, Woods at least has three more quality years to accomplish the feat if his body holds up. Find a crystal ball, look at the venues for future major championships and there’s a possibility he could tie or break Nicklaus’ record during an upcoming major in the New York area.
The PGA Championship this week at Bethpage Black is the first of three courses in the Metropolitan area that will host a major through 2022, when Woods turns 46, the same age as when Nicklaus won his last major at the 1986 Masters.
The 2020 U.S. Open will be at Winged Foot, and the 2022 PGA Championship is at Trump National Bedminster. If Woods is sitting on 17 majors by then, imagine that scene.
It figures to be crazy enough at Bethpage this week with Woods playing for the first time since winning the Masters. He should feel comfortable on Long Island after capturing the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage and finishing tied for sixth in 2009.
The Black probably won’t be as penal for the PGA Championship as it was for those Opens, which could turn it into more of a mental test than a physical grind, which probably favors Woods.
“We’re conditioned to think of Bethpage the way it was set up for the ’02-’09 U.S. Opens,” said CBS golf announcer Jim Nantz. “It won’t ever be set up like that because it’s a PGA Championship. They like birdies. It’s never going to look like it did in ’02 and ’09. Everybody thinks it’s going to be knee-high rough, and it’s not going to look anything like it did for those two U.S. Opens.”
After winning the Masters, the conversation has gone from “Will Woods ever win a major again?” to “Can he catch Nicklaus?” It also has made Nicklaus relevant again for those asking for his opinion on the matter.
Nicklaus joked during a gathering at a country club in Dallas he “enjoyed the last eight years a lot more” than watching Woods win the Masters last month. It was actually Woods’ first major championship win in 11 years.
Nicklaus, 79, was only partly joking.
“Nobody ever wants their records broken,” he said. “Nobody wants that. But I’ve said, ‘Tiger, I don’t want you to not be healthy [enough] to break those records. I want you to have a fair chance of doing that.’ ”
The Masters was no fluke, which gives credence to Woods catching Nicklaus. After overcoming a series of back surgeries, he returned to golf and has contended in his past three majors. He held the lead on the final day of the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie, won by Francesco Molinari. He also battled Brooks Koepka at the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis before finishing second.
“My last three major championships have been pretty good,” Woods said after winning his fifth green jacket. “That in itself gives me a lot of confidence going down the road.”
So should the lineup of venues over the next four years. He has won 11 majors on six of the next 13 venues that will hold majors. Here’s how it looks: The 2019 U.S. Open will be at Pebble Beach with the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. The 2020 PGA is at TPC Harding Park with the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and the Open Championship at Royal St. George.
The PGA Championship is at Kiawah Island in 2021 with the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and the Open Championship at St. Andrews. The 2022 PGA Championship will be at Trump Bedminster with the U.S. Open at The Country Club outside Boston and the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.
In addition to Bethpage, Woods will always be a threat at Augusta, where he has now won five green jackets. He’ll also like returning to Pebble Beach, where he breezed to a record-setting victory at the 2000 U.S. Open; St. Andrews, where he captured the Open Championship twice; Torrey Pines, where he triumphed through pain to claim the 2008 U.S. Open; and Royal Liverpool, where he won the 2006 Open Championship.
Nicklaus said whether Woods breaks his record will largely depend on his health.
“If his body holds together and he doesn’t have any issues, I’d say his chances of breaking my record are very good,” Nicklaus told the gathering in Dallas. “I’ll be watching very closely.
“If he breaks it, that’s fine. I have no problems with him breaking my record. I want to be the first one to say, ‘Congratulations.’ I think my record is a pretty good record. But he is a very talented guy. Pretty determined, too.”
Here’s another factor working in Woods’ favor: His performance last month at the Masters was the first time he won a major after not at least sharing the lead after 54 holes. He competed with the best talent today’s game has to offer and prevailed, adding credence to his chances of catching Nicklaus.
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