DORAL, Fla. —Tiger Woods already has left his own mark in world golf.
History will decide what it means.
The number that defines greatness in golf is 18. It has been that way since 1986, when Jack Nicklaus won his 18th professional major at the Masters. And it will stay that way unless—or until—Woods wins the five more majors he needs to pass him.
“While he has been gone for 2 1/2 years, these guys who have all learned how to play, or all learned how to win, are probably no longer afraid of Tiger,” Nicklaus said. “In my opinion, I still think Tiger will regain what he does. He will come back and play very, very well. Whether he breaks my record is another issue. I still think he will. But he still has to go do it.”
If not, Woods might have to settle for another standard.
The next step below the majors are the World Golf Championships and Woods has amassed an amazing record. When he last won a WGC at Firestone in 2009 that gave him 16 world titles out of the 32 he played, at an astounding rate of 50 percent.
What does that mean?
For one thing, he has padded his bank account. Woods has made more than $22.2 million in the WGCs alone, which is nearly 25 percent of his career PGA Tour earnings. His official WGC money is more than all but 25 players have made in their careers.
More than money, and more than trophies that probably are packed away in a box, it means that Woods won 16 events against the best players in golf. The fields are small, and they tend to include players from overseas who are just getting started (Louis Oosthuizen) or might never be heard from again (Shiv Kapur). But for most of their 13-year existence, they have included at least the top 50 in the world.
The World Golf Championships are still not what they should be.
Along with bringing together the best players from all corners of the globe, it would help to take the tournaments around the world. And if they are mostly going to be in America, it would be better to move them to iconic venues instead of merging them with former PGA Tour events, which is what happened at Doral.
They deserve a higher status based on the players they attract and the winners they produce.
Hunter Mahan joined elite company two weeks ago when he won the Match Play Championship and became only the sixth player to win multiple WGC events. The others are familiar names—Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy and Darren Clarke.
Martin Kaymer won the HSBC Champions last November and became the 10th player with a WGC title and a major. He joined Woods, Mickelson, Els, Ogilvy, Clarke, Mike Weir, Stewart Cink, David Toms and Vijay Singh.
The WGC event this week at Doral used to travel to Europe every other year until 2006. Woods has won it six times on six courses in four countries. That gives it a little more punch than winning the Bridgestone Invitational seven times, all at Firestone.
“I think Tiger gave them credibility by winning 14 of the first 20, or whatever it was. He won almost every one of them,” Ogilvy said. “If you do look at the list of guys who have won them, generally, at that time they were one of the best in the world.”
That’s because the best in the world are there.
In that respect, it can make them the most difficult events to win next to the majors. The majors have history and prestige, and with that comes pressure that cannot be compared with other events.
Paul Azinger is famous for saying cash and prestige are the only things that made him choke. The WGCs are heavy on cash.
These aren’t the best 74 players in the world at Doral, rather 74 top players who qualified through the world ranking of the money lists on the six major tours.
Then again, the majors have their share of players who can’t be considered serious contenders —aging champions at the Masters, amateur qualifiers at the Opens, club pros at the PGA Championship.
What might boost the credibility of the WGCs is to expand the field and introduce a cut. To some, the WGCs have the appearance of free money. The courses? No one can argue with Firestone, which once hosted a PGA Championship. And while Doral has produced a winning score of at least 16-under par the last four years, a course doesn’t have to have high scores to be a good test.
“I don’t think Doral is close to being a top 100 course, but it finds good players,” Ogilvy said.
Asked the difference between majors and World Golf Championships, Clarke said there was “absolutely no difference whatsoever,” except for the title.
One is a major. One is not.
“The title is the obvious thing,” he said. “As players, we are judged by major championships. We’re not judged by World Golf Championships. We’re not judged by regular tournaments. We’re judged by majors. It’s easy for me to say now that I’ve got one, but I would have told you the same if I hadn’t got one.
“It means more because of tradition and history. There’s added pressure because of that.”
The notion of how many world titles Woods has won doesn’t grab anyone’s attention beyond the fact it reflects the dominance he once had in this game. Over time, that might be a standard behind the majors.
“People that speak to me, especially Europeans, say, `You’ve won the Open, and you’ve won two WGCs.’ So there is an importance placed on it,” Clarke said.
Perhaps another example is the joking reference to Phil Mickelson when he won his first world title at Doral three years ago: He no longer was the best player to never win a World Golf Championship.