Tiger Woods ' thats all you need to say. Hes been a professional for seven years, a portion of an eighth. Sundays victory was his 39th overall. Sundays victory also marked the fifth consecutive year that he has won at least five times. In case youre wondering, no one has ever done that in the history of the game ' not Nicklaus, not Hogan, not Snead, not Watson, not Palmer.
This year hes already passed Lloyd Mangrum on the all-time win list. At 39, he has now tied two greats in Tom Watson and Gene Sarazen. His next win, No. 40, will match Cary Middlecoff. There will be only seven more names to strike off the all-time win list. Seven more ' and he is only 27!
Sam Sneads all-time record of 82 once loomed as safe, safe as DiMaggios 56-game hitting streak in baseball. Now, it doesnt look nearly as impregnable. Woods took just seven years to record 39. Thats almost half. That puts him 43 short of tying, 44 shy of breaking Sneads record.
Now, you wouldnt expect him to win 39 again in the next seven ' though its not totally far-fetched. But Tiger will be 34, 35 then ' still a relatively young man. He can expect to be a top performer until hes, say, 45. Eighty-two becomes eminently reachable now. Just roughly speaking, thats approximately 18 more years of top-level play. For arguments sake, say he averages four wins a year for just the next five years. He will be 32 then with 59 victories. He has to average just two victories a year from then until hes 45 to reach 82. And this is presupposing he wont win after 45 ' obviously a long stretch.
Think he can do it?
Of course he can. And Nicklaus record of 18 majors? That should be well within reach, too. Woods has eight now, and his failure to win one this year caused major tremors. Do you think he can win eight ' or nine ' in the next 15 years? I think so.
If something should happen to Woods tomorrow ' say he ruins his arm carrying his sack of hundred-dollar bills ' and he can never again play golf, where do you think history will place him? Will he be forgotten in 10 years? Will we overlook the records he has already compiled? Will he be swept away out of our consciousness, replaced by another young hotshot?
I hardly think so. He already has built something only a handful out of the thousands to play this game could muster. At the age of 27, he already is tied for ninth on the all-time win list. He already is tied for fifth on the majors list. He stands tied for second in the most consecutive wins, tied for fifth with the most wins in one year.
He owns the largest margin of victory in a major ' 15 at the 2000 U.S. Open. He is going to tie the record his next tournament for the most consecutive tournaments without missing a cut ' 113 is Byron Nelsons mark, Tiger has 112. He has won 30 of 32 times when had the lead going into the final round.
Oh ' did I mention the guys just 27?
Its now getting to the point where you have to consider him one of the finest to ever play the game ' in just seven years of competing. I was waiting for a period of time to pass before I elevated him to such lofty status, but I think this is the year I stop fidgeting. Tiger Woods has reached the level of great, and thats even if he has to quit playing before he tees up another ball.
Walter Hagen? Bobby Jones? Gene Sarazen? Byron Nelson? Hogan or Nicklaus, Palmer or Trevino or Watson? This young man is now on a par with any of them. Go shout that across the backyard fence to your neighbor. Thats how much he has done already.
Longevity is the only area in which he has not excelled. And that is the one area about which he can nothing. You cant hurry the clock. In, say, 10 years, that little prerequisite will be satisfied.
People of this generation are witnessing something that has never occurred before, not in the age of Old Tom Morris, not in the age of Hagen or Jones, not even in the age of Nicklaus. If Tiger Woods laid down the clubs tomorrow and walked away from golf, he already has carved out an enduring legacy. He is ' in a word ' great.
Email your thoughts to George White