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Punch Shot: Aside from health, why won't Tiger catch Jack?

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On Monday at the Quicken Loans National media day, Tiger Woods told us he still doesn't have a timetable for his return to competitive golf. He's endured knee, neck, Achilles, elbow and back injuries throughout the years, and it seems his health is his biggest obstacle to catching Jack Nicklaus' all-time record of 18 majors. Aside from that, our writers debate what else might keep Woods from catching Nicklaus.

By JASON SOBEL

These guys are good.

That's not just a slogan; it also explains why this year's slate of winners have been so unpredictable. This is hardly a new idea, but it seems like fields are getting deeper by the week.

All of which leads us to Tiger Woods. Even if he returns unscathed from injury, even if he regains his world No. 1 status, the fact remains that if fields don't have more quality than over the first two decades of career, there's certainly more quality at the highest level.

Woods not only has to deal with familiar foes like Phil, Adam and Rory; youngsters such as Jordan Spieth are proving themselves major-ready in an astonishing hurry these days.

Give Woods the benefit of the doubt - he comes back at 100 percent; his game follows suit; he picks up where he left off last year - and still the greatest variable toward his future success is the deeper competition that doesn't show any signs of letting up. 


By RANDALL MELL

If Tiger Woods comes back truly healthy and rejuvenated, his biggest obstacle to catching Nicklaus will be his own shadow. It will be his ability to keep mustering the determination to find his best again. It will be motivation, because at his best, nobody stops him. If Tiger’s really healthy, it’s a question of whether he can keep doing the tireless work required to put all the pieces in his game back together again. Beating the talent he’s up against this year isn’t the exhausting task he faces. It’s beating his shadow. It’s continuing to find the drive and energy it takes to be Tiger Woods. At 38, he still has the time, assuming good health, which is a huge assumption. The question then is: How long can anyone be great in a sport? How long can a mortal push the limits required for sporting immortality? Woods is going on two decades.


By REX HOGGARD

When the story is finally written, it won’t be the assorted injuries that have sidelined Tiger Woods throughout his career or the increased level of competition or even his inability to convert 5-footers like he once did that will keep him from catching Jack Nicklaus in the Grand Slam sprint.

It will be time.

At 38, the inevitable march of the calendar is Woods’ greatest opponent. It will be time, and the toll and tear of decades of perfecting his swing, that will be his ultimate opponent.

More than five years have lapsed since his last major victory and it seems likely that back surgery on March 31 will keep him on the bench for at least one more Grand Slam turn.

Nicklaus won four major championships after turning 38 on his way to his total of 18, so it would seem Woods is officially on the clock and there can be no more “lost seasons.”

There is no more room for trial and error, be it via another swing change or injury, if Woods is going to stake his claim to the title best player ever.

If Tiger doesn’t reach Jack, and after a five-win season in 2013 that betting line is now at even money, it will be time that kept him from that summit.