But after his flop in the U.S. Open this past week, for the first time in five years Woods is not the reigning champ of any of the majors.
The question isn't whether he will win more. He will.
The question isn't even whether he's done being TIGER WOODS. You know, 33 years old, wife, kids, receding hairline. But I saw firsthand at the TPC that other players were still scared of him. Then, he failed there, too.
The question here is whether Woods is starting his decline. That's how it will come, as a process. And for that one, I think the answer is yes. The drop-off is just now starting.
It's true he was out eight months for knee and leg surgery, but that's no excuse anymore. It's evidence. That knee is a problem from years of a violent swing. And he has been back long enough now to feel comfortable, feel his touch and win a U.S. Open.
Last year, he won it on a broken leg with torn ligaments.
I'm going to admit a little discomfort at saying this. Years ago at a Masters, I wrote that Jack Nicklaus was just for show. He had every right to play wherever and whenever he wanted. But he had never been a ceremonial golfer the way Arnold Palmer had. And here he was, years after winning the Masters in his mid-40s, still playing? Why?
Well, it was the 10th fairway on Sunday's final round that a reporter came up to me with a pen and pad out asking if I was the guy who had written that about Nicklaus, who was on the leaderboard while the Augusta crowd was going nuts.
Nicklaus didn't win, but he could have.
The point is, Nicklaus was a whole lot older then than Woods is now. So you'd have to be an idiot to write off Woods for good now. He is a true champion and he's going to be around for a while.
But I think the days of wondering whether he can win all four majors in one year are done. The race for best ever, Woods or Nicklaus, seems to have been boiled down to a mathematical count of major titles. Woods has 14 and Nicklaus 18. And I don't think Woods is going to pass him by much.
If he wins, say, one major a year, even giving him one this year, then he won't pass Nicklaus till he's 37. And that might preclude any more knee surgeries, or troubles, or other injuries.
Woods is already the greatest ever, by the way. Nicklaus had to face down much bigger stars in his era, in Palmer, Trevino, Miller, Floyd, Watson. But while Tiger's era has fewer great players, it has way, way more very good ones. And Woods has just been too dominant in his era.
But at some time, Woods' victory march is going to slow down. And that's now.
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Lucas Jackson, Reuters
Ray Stubblebine, Reuters
Jonathan Hayward, The Canadian Press/AP
Don Wright, AP
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Darryl Graham, AP
Petr Josek, Reuters
Look, he has played eight tournaments since coming back in March. He has seven top 10 finishes and two victories.
But he fell apart at the end at the Masters, and he was never in the running at the Open, even though he finished sixth at even-par.
Those aren't exactly bad numbers. But Woods is the one who has made his legacy a count of major titles. Even last week, when asked who was the greatest player of all time, he said, "Jack. He's got 18. I'm at 14."
No one had mentioned majors. So that's his measure. And in this Open, he was out of it after the first day.
Someone asked Woods Monday, when he was leaving the Bethpage Black course, if he beats himself up over this Open, or whether ...
"Yes," he interrupted.
He had the bad luck of being on the side of the field that amazingly got all the bad weather conditions. But the water on the greens psyched him out.
"And then, when I tried to hit it harder, I gunned it past the hole. I didn't make the adjustment the right way."
Two weeks ago, Woods won the Memorial and I thought he was back. I expected a blowout from him at this Open, with the only chance being that Phil Mickelson would give him a run.
Woods thought he had it, too.
"I like my chances in a major," he said before the tournament.
Do you still feel that way about him? Since his comeback, first it was that he wasn't hitting well, but was scoring OK. Now, he says his swing is fine, but the scores aren't?
He has been back now for nearly four months, and his greatness has been there for only one week.
Is it gone? No.
Never. But you can't count on it anymore.
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