WHEN WILL TIGER CAPTURE MAJOR #19?
So, Tiger Woods won a major. Big deal, he didn't outplay Woody Austin!
The preceding two sentences were sponsored by Woody Austin.
So, Tiger Woods won a major. This gives him thirteen on the career and puts him just five back of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18. I think it's pretty clear that Tiger is going to break the record barring an injury or assassination by Phil Mickelson, so now the only question is when. My guess is within the next four years, which isn't exactly going out on a limb given that Tiger has won five majors in the last three years. I'm going to try to do this by looking at the sites of the next 16 majors and rating Tiger's chances at each course. Now, this is obviously inexact for a couple of reasons. 1. I'm an idiot. 2. Southern Hill wasn't a course that was 'supposed' to fit Woods' game, but he obviously dealt pretty well with it over the weekend. Here's a breakdown of the venues for each major over the next four years.
2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 Masters -- Augusta National
It remains to be seen if the 'new' Augusta National will remain its suddenly-deadly tough self in the years to come. Some golfers welcomed the new challenges presented by the venerable old classic, while others didn't like playing a second U.S. Open with more azaleas. However Augusta National ends up playing, the bottom line is that Tiger has to be considered the favourite any time he steps onto the course. He has four green jackets to his name already, and the tougher Augusta remains, the more it will favour Tiger since he is one of the few capable of all the shots that this uber-Augusta demands. He came within an inch of winning another Masters last spring, and if he keeps up that average level, it's going to be increasingly unlikely that another Zach Johnson will pop up to have the week of his life and beat him. I predict T-Woods to bring home two of these four green jackets.
Toughest competition: Phil Mickelson. This is one of the few courses where Phil can actually have a shot at standing up to Tiger for once. Then again, Phil has also already blown a couple of Masters to Tiger, and plus, he is recovering from The Most Horrific Injury In The History Of Golf (tm Phil Mickelson).
Odds of winning any of them: 75%
2008 U.S. Open -- Torrey Pines
Homer on the phone: Hello, Vegas? Give me 100 bucks on red....D'oh!...All right, I'll send you a cheque.
I wish I could pull a Homer and call up Vegas to lay odds on Tiger winning this U.S. Open. This is as close to a lock as you can get in championship golf. Tiger has played in 10 Buick Invitationals at Torrey Pines, and here are the results. T3, Win, T2, 4, T5, Win, T10, Win, Win, Win. Jesus Christ. You really think Woods won't have even more incentive to bring his A-game to Torrey Pines with a U.S. Open at stake? Mark it down.
Toughest competition: Again, Phil. He has a pretty outstanding record himself at the Buick, winning three times. Unfortunately for Phil, it's the U.S. Open. It's his answer to Greg Norman and the Masters, Ahab and the whale, me and a cheap place to park around the CNE.
Odds of winning: 95%. I'd put down the 100, but hey, it's the U.S. Open. You never know when an Angel Cabrera or Michael Campbell is lurking around the corner.
2008 Open Championship -- Royal Birkdale
The last time the Open was played at Birkdale, Tiger had one of his rare near-misses, as he finished third and one shot out of a playoff between his good buddy Mark O'Meara (who won) and Brian Watts (who then entered the witness protection program). Ergo, this is a course that Tiger knows well, and thus is the strong favourite to bring this one home. It will also eliminate the last thing that O'Meara can still hold over Tiger's head when they're out on the fishing boat. After this, O'Meara will be forced to fall back on bragging that he has a Honda Classic title and Tiger doesn't. In a related story, I pick Woods for the 2009 Honda Classic.
Toughest competition: Maybe Justin Rose, who tied for fourth at the 1998 Open before he had even hit puberty, and has since become a top pro. Maybe Padraig Harrington, who may become Mr. Major (not to be confused with Mr. Manager, George Michael Bluth) now that he has his first title under his belt. Maybe Jim Furyk, who had one of his better Open finishes here in 1998.
Odds of winning: 75%
2008 PGA Championship -- Oakland Hills
This course is something of an unknown quantity as it relates to Mr. Woods. The last major played here was the 1996 U.S. Open, when a fresh-faced amateur version of Tiger finished in a tie for 82nd. Tiger also appeared here at the 2004 Ryder Cup and played like a jobber like the rest of the American team. So this is definitely the biggest obstacle for Woods to hurdle next season, since otherwise, he has a shot at a grand slam.
Toughest competition: Hell, I dunno. It's tough to predict PGA Championships. Let's go with...uh, J.J. Henry, Ernie Els or Bradley Dredge.
Odds of winning: 30%
2009 U.S. Open -- Bethpage Black
Well heck, this one's a replay! Tiger won the 2002 U.S. Open at this course, and given how it perfectly suits his game, I see no reason why he couldn't keep the good times rolling in 2009.
Toughest competition: Any of the usual U.S. Open suspects, plus the runner-up in 2002, Phil Mickelson! Ha ha, just kidding! If I can get off on a rant about Phil for a moment, his recent comment about how he didn't consider his year in 'big' events a failure because he won the Players cements him in the underachiever hall of fame. The Players may be "like a major" but guess what, Phil? It's not a major. It's a tournament that has the field befitting a major championship but none of the historical pressure, which is why fellow major underachievers Greg Norman, Fred Couples, Davis Love III, Tom Kite, and Adam Scott have been able to win there since they're not swallowing their owns tongues. Trying to atone for a year of bed-shitting in majors by pumping up your Players win is like a music executive signing Pete Best to a recording deal in 1965 and saying that's just as good as signing a Beatle.
Odds of winning: 60%
2009 Open Championship -- Turnberry
Another unknown quantity for Tiger, as he didn't play in the Open the last time it was at Turnberry. This one is a big who knows, as it could be anything from a middling top 25 finish to a total domination. Maybe someone will step up to duel Woods in this generation's version of the legendary Watson vs. Nicklaus battle at Turnberry in 1975.
Toughest competition: ...and maybe that someone will be Ernie Els. Poor Ernie. You have to wonder how many majors he would have by now if it weren't for Tiger. I'm holding him out of the aforementioned Underachievers Hall of Fame just because I like Ernie a lot and he does have three majors (the same as Phil, in fact, but Phil sucks). Els has a wonderful record at the Open and perhaps he just needs one huge win to snap out of this mental funk he's been in for the last couple of years. Maybe he could put together a Vijay-esque late career run and become the signature rival that people have always thought he'd end up being to Tiger.
Odds of winning: 20%
2009 PGA Championship -- Hazeltine
Oh man, you think Tiger won't want this one? It was at Hazeltine in 2002 that Tiger had the one semi-choke of his professional career in a major, when Rich Beem barely outlasted him down the stretch to capture the PGA title. We've seen what Tiger does in vengeance situations -- just ask Rory Sabbatini or Stephen Ames. Tiger will want to win at Hazeltine and win big to erase the memory of 2002.
Toughest competition: The Beemer? Yeah, he has done jack and all since 2002. Beem's 15 minutes were up long ago.
Odds of winning: 75%
2010 U.S. Open -- Pebble Beach
It's been seven years, and thus the amazement has faded somewhat from memory. It also came just a few years after another titanic win, Tiger's 12-stroke victory at the Masters, and thus it perhaps didn't seem as impressive on its own. But I still think the most amazing feat of Tiger's amazing career came when he won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble by 15 shots. I'll repeat that again, by FIFTEEN GODDAMN SHOTS. This is at a U.S. Open, where birdies are near-impossible. He finished 12-under par! If you think I'm picking against Tiger on a course he's picked apart this surgically, think again.
Toughest competition: The wind. I'm not sure any mortal man can beat him at Pebble, so it'll take one of those crazy weather weeks that sometimes occurs at Pebble Beach to have any chance of Tiger losing. I can't believe this man is so good that I'm resorting to a scenario of Tiger vs. Thor. This is turning into one of those SNL Da Bears sketches.
Odds of winning: 90%
2010 Open Championship -- St. Andrews
Another slam-bolt lock. Tiger loves St. Andrews. If his next child is a boy, he should name it Andrew. In his two Open wins at St. Andrews, he has won by a combined total of thirteen shots. Game over, man. Game over.
Toughest competition: The ghost of Old Tom Morris, who isn't a kindly old spirit like in that golf commercial. He's a vengeful wraith searching for blood. Knowing Tiger, however, he'd show up with the Ghostbusters in his gallery. Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, shows up with Rick Moranis but argues that he's just as good as an actual Ghostbuster.
Odds of winning: 99.99%
2010 PGA Championship -- Whistling Straits
Tiger didn't do much at the 2004 PGA at the Straits, finishing an indifferent T24th. This was, however, during his two-year major drought when he was going through swing changes, knee surgery, a marriage, and all sorts of things. It's quite possible that a focused Tiger can tear this course apart, especially given how much it resembles both Pebble Beach and a British links venue.
Toughest competition: I'd say 2004 champ Vijay Singh, but by 2010 Vijay will be 47. I don't think even the Veej is that much of a late-career marvel to keep playing at a major level in his late forties. Literally anyone could win here, given that it's three years in the future and anything could happen in golf in that time. Maybe Boo Weekley could even learn what the Ryder Cup is by then.
Odds of winning: 20%
I'm going to halt my projection right here, since though I said I'd track the venues through 2011, the number of Tiger-friendly sites over the next three years leads me to believe that he'll get it done by 2010. Just look at the last two years -- Tiger won two majors in 2006 despite his father's passing. He won the PGA and nearly two other majors this year in spite of his first child and trying to get the AT&T National tournament started from scratch in six months time. A fully-focused Tiger over the next couple of years could be downright scary. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see him repeat his 2000 feat of three majors in a season or maybe even a Tiger Slam again. If I were a betting man, I'd say the record is broken at either Pebble or St. Andrews. For one, it would be a nice piece of history in either case. Pebble often considered America's best course, it's in Tiger's native California, and it was at Pebble that Nicklaus went ahead of Bobby Jones' career majors mark in 1972. St. Andrews, of course, is only the course where the modern game was developed and is considered by many to be the best course in the world, period. What better place for the greatest golfer of all time to break the sport's greatest record? At least until Woody Austin passes Tiger in 2018.