DESPITE A MAJOR victory drought stretching back four years, Tiger Woods insisted last night that he still has time to surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record total of 18 major golf titles.
“Well, Jack did it at 46, right? So I’ve got 10 (years),” Woods said as he prepared to tee off tomorrow in the US Open at The Olympic Club, recalling Nicklaus’s sensational Masters win in 1986.
“Watson almost pulled it off at 59,” Woods added, a reference to US legend Tom Watson’s scintillating near-miss at the 2009 British Open at Carnoustie.
“It can be done,” Woods said. “We can play for a very long time. That’s the great thing about staying in shape and lifting weights and being fit — the playing careers have been extended.”
It once seemed inevitable that Woods would surpass Nicklaus’s mark. But since claiming his 14th major title at the 2008 US Open Woods hasn’t won one of golf’s Grand Slam events.
When he hobbled off to knee surgery after his stirring playoff triumph at Torrey Pines four years ago, Woods was the game’s dominant force.
Since then, however, injuries, the sex scandal that led to divorce, swing changes under a new coach and a new caddie have all contributed to an extended tour-level title drought that stretched from November 2009 until his victory at Bay Hill in March.
Woods missed both the US Open and British Open last year with left knee and Achilles injuries, then missed the cut at the PGA Championship in August. His Bay Hill victory raised expectations for the Masters, although Woods himself says he knew in April his swing still wasn’t all it should be.
Clearly frustrated en route to a tie for 40th at Augusta National, Woods said he wasn’t entirely surprised. However, he said his win a fortnight ago at the Memorial was a different story.
“When I went into Augusta, I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up,” Woods said. “I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
At the Memorial, Woods said, “I had those shots and I was doing it the correct way. I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long.”
One thing Woods doesn’t expect to be a factor, despite the many awkward stances produced by the hilly terrain of Olympic’s Lake Course, is his oft-injured left knee.
“It’s finally a non-issue,” Woods said. Even if he is holding up the trophy come Sunday evening, Woods said it wouldn’t end the debate on whether he is truly back to his old dominant self.
“I think even if I do win a Major championship, it will still be ‘You’re not to 18 yet, or when will you get to 19,” he said. ”It’s always something. I’ve dealt with that my entire career … it hasn’t changed.”