Friday, August 15, 2014

McIlroy, Woods, Nicklaus: Major Debate

By Jeffrey Boswell

As it stands now, Tiger Woods is four majors away from catching Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, while Rory McIlroy is 14 away from matching Nicklaus.

Who has the better chance of equaling Nicklaus? Both? Neither? Only Woods? Only McIlroy? John Daly? Not Daly, of course. But speaking of Daly, any wise betting man would put his money on Nicklaus' record remaining safe. So, I guess that means Daly would bet on someone other than Nicklaus. Which is smart.

Assuming Nicklaus record is safe, what then is the most likely scenario of the following: McIlroy matching Woods at 14 majors, or Woods not winning another major?

Sure, McIlroy is on a roll now, having won the last two majors this season and three straight tournaments. McIlroy called off his engagement to tennis star Carolyn Wozniacki in May, an action which he credits with markedly improving his play. Does this mean McIlroy can't excel with women in his life, or that he can't excel with only one woman in his life? Apparently, McIlroy and Woods have this in common: they both need freedom from one woman to be successful at golf.

In the future, can McIlroy remain as dominant at golf and maintain a serious relationship? Woods tried to do both, and apparently succeeded. That is, until his wife discovered that the so-called "serious" relationship wasn't so serious to Woods.

What does this have to do with McIlroy's quest for majors? Very little, assuming he steers clear of the mistakes and poor decisions that hastened the downfall of one of the greatest golfers in history. If McIlroy can avoid asimilar epic crumble, is he a lock to reach 10, 14, or 18 majors? Of course not. Nothing is a sure thing. Woods matching Nicklaus was a sure thing back in 2009.

McIlroy will face obstacles, like injuries, slumps, bad luck, letdowns, etc. But overcoming those is a lot easier than overcoming a personal crisis of the magnitude of which Woods has dealt with. Would Woods wish that upon another golfer? No, but I would, just out of curiosity, to see how someone else would handle it.

What of Woods and his quest for just another major? Woods' problem is he's too motivated to reclaim the form that propelled him to 14 majors in 12 years. He often returns from injury too soon, and although he won't publicly state it, he hates to see success from a young golfer like McIlroy. And it eats at Woods even more when a golfer other than himself is mentioned as a threat to catch Nicklaus. Granted, that may be the same motivation that helped Woods win 14 majors. But then, Woods was on top, and his motivation was knocking golfers down before they even got close to his pedestal. Now, he's not on that pedestal anymore, and not even in position to be the one to knock down others.

So what can Woods do to get back on top? First of all, he doesn't need to get better, he needs to get healthy. In reference to his past sexual transgressions, he should sleep on it, not with it. 2014 was a very unhealthy year for Woods, with numerous back issues. Wisely, Woods has chosen to skip the Ryder Cup, a decision that makes sense physically as well as mentally for Woods.

Woods had a horrible year in majors in 2014, but was solid in 2013, with two top-six finishes. He was also named PGA Player of the Year in 2013. It's okay to say Woods won't win another major because it's your personal opinion. But to say that Woods isn't good enough to win another major because his play doesn't support the assertion is just plain anti-Woods rhetoric.

Right now, Woods isn't great. But he's good enough to win one major, maybe more. McIlroy certainly is. The biggest obstacle to winning more majors is one they both face: other golfers. Golf analysts often speak of "the best golfer never to have won a major." That list is as long now as it ever has been. And golfers are remaining competitive longer than ever. Nicklaus won the last of his 18 majors at the age of 46. Tom Watson was one short par putt away from winning the 2009 British Open at age 59.

To catch Nicklaus, Woods would have to do something incredible. To reach 14 majors, McIlroy would have to do something even more incredible. And even more so to reach 18. All are possible, but none are likely. Woods and McIlroy both probably feel good about their chances. Nicklaus feels the best about his.

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