On occasion, he surprises and doesnt get there. But if its tight and hes involved, forget it. Number 1, hes going to win. And No. 2, the rest of the field is going to see his name up there and self-disintegrate trying to do the things necessary to get to the finish line first. If necessary, he outduels them (see Bob May in the 99 PGA). Other times, he just gets to the top and watches the field fade, one by one, as they scurry around in a futile effort to bump him off (see the 2002 Masters).
Its interesting to see how Woods career parallels that of two of the greatest, Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus. Comparisons like these are difficult since they are about players from different eras with different equipment on different golf courses. And each era has different challenges as well Jones was a lifelong amateur who didnt have a pro tour to conquer Nicklaus married early and raised a rather large family, so golf wasnt a constant priority Woods has to cope with 7,200-yard monsters and non-stop golf without much of a letup. But it is interesting to see some benchmarks at various stages of their lives.
Jones career is a little harder to track and compare, since he played solely in the 1920s and one final year in 1930. He retired at age 28 and settled down to establish Augusta National and the Masters. The PGA Tour wasnt a reality when he played - most of the top golf was played at big amateur events. Therefore, the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur were majors. He wasnt a PGA of America member, so he didnt play in the PGA. At that time, though, the PGA wasnt considered a major.
Its an amazing coincidence that the numbers on all three are almost identical. Tiger and Jones won their first majors at age 21, Nicklaus won his first in his first full year at age 22. Nicklaus, in fact, made the U.S. Open his first professional win. Woods won the Masters in his first full year on tour in 1997.
By the time he was 22, Jones won his second major. Tiger and Nicklaus won their second by the time they were 23. Nicklaus also won his third at the age of 23, the same as Jones.
Tiger didnt win his third until he was 24, but that year, he won three majors. So Nos. 4 and 5 followed before he turned 25. Jones also won Nos. 4 and 5 at a similar age, before the 25th birthday.
Jones won Nos. 6 and 7 at age 25. Woods won No. 6 at age 25. Nicklaus didnt win any at age 25, but at age 26, he won his fifth and sixth. At age 26, Jones won his eighth major. Tiger, now 26 himself, just won his seventh major. But he has the rest of the year ' and three remaining majors ' before the end of his 26th year.
Jones played less than 10 times a year, so a comparison of overall victories isnt fair. But consider Nicklaus and Woods ' at this early stage of his career and judging only by number of wins, Woods is the superior by a good margin.
Nicklaus won for the 10th time in his third year, at age 23. Woods won for the 10th time in his third year, at age 23. But Nicklaus 20th win didnt come until his sixth year, while Woods had won 20 by his fourth full year. Woods started late in 1996 and played eight events that fall before his first full season in 1997.
Thirty wins? Nicklaus won No. 30 in 1970, in his ninth season. Woods won No. 30 at Bay Hill this year, his sixth full season.
Nicklaus didnt hit his stride until the ages of 32 and 33, when he won seven times each for a total of 14 wins. Tiger has already surpassed that victory total twice, in 1999 at the age of 23 when he won eight times, then again in 2000 at the age of 24 when he won nine times.
Suddenly, Nicklaus official record of 70 wins doesnt seem nearly as impossible. Woods already has won 31 times and he isnt even halfway through his 26th year. Actually, Nicklaus won 73 times by todays records ' his three British Opens didnt count as PGA Tour wins, though Tigers do.
Jacks 70 (or 73) wins is second in career victories to Sam Sneads 81 (82 counting Sneads one British Open victory). Anybody want to bet that Tiger doesnt eclipse 81 ' or 82 - by the time he is through?
That is 50 more victories for Woods. Whew ' what a bunch of Ws! But its almost certain to fall if Woods remains healthy. He wont get to play in tournaments like the West Virginia Closed Pro, the Inverness Four-Ball, the Goodall Round Robin, or the Miami Four-Ball (all Snead wins), but its likely he will get to 82 if he plays long enough.
Friends, we are seeing something that is unique in sports history. A young man is rampaging through the pages of history, and we are the fortunate witnesses. Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930, an enviable accomplishment. Nicklaus won six Masters titles and 71 victories, certainly a great career. But Woods ' what is there that this young man cant accomplish?