Age, not courses, makes this a big year for Woods

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 31, 2013 at 11:19 am •  Published: December 31, 2013
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KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Four years later, the words of Jack Nicklaus resonate even louder.

"If Tiger is going to pass my record, this is a big year for him in that regard," Nicklaus said at the start of 2010.

Nicklaus was referring to his record 18 majors, and the major championship venues that favored Woods — Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, all courses where he had won before. Woods never had a serious chance on the back nine of any major that year. His tally remains at 14.

And that makes 2014 even bigger.

Woods is facing another favorable menu of major championship sites. He already has won majors at Augusta, Royal Liverpool (British Open) and Valhalla (PGA Championship). The U.S. Open is at Pinehurst No. 2, were Woods was third in 1999 and runner-up in 2005.

"I'm trending in the right way," Woods said recently. "I've finished third, second ... you get the picture, right? OK."

A new year begins Friday at the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, and while Woods is among PGA Tour winners who chose to sit this one out, his performance in the majors this year figures to be a major topic of conversation over the next eight months.

"I always think that the Masters signals a lot with Tiger," NBC analyst Johnny Miller said during a conference call. "If he doesn't win the Masters, I think it gives a great, big 'Uh-oh,' because that course is so perfect for his game. I'll leave it at that. But if he wants to get off on the right foot, I think he needs to get off at the Masters."

There's a big difference with Woods the last time he faced such a tantalizing rotation of majors.

Nicklaus spoke of a "big year" when Woods was more of a mystery than ever. No one had seen Woods in more than a month going into 2010 and didn't even know where he was. His personal life at home, his mystique in golf and his appeal in the corporate world were crumbling in spectacular fashion.

Now, he is No. 1 in the world. He won five times last year against some of the strongest fields. He won the Vardon Trophy for the ninth time, the PGA Tour money title for the 10th time and was voted PGA Tour player of the year for the 11th time.

Still, there remains an uncertainty about Woods, mainly because he hasn't won a major since 2008 and he hasn't broken 70 on the weekend of any major since the 2011 Masters. That's a startling statistic for a guy who has built a reputation as golf's greatest closer.

"It's getting much harder for Tiger because guys are not wilting on him," Miller said. "So he's got a double whammy in that he's not able to close as well as he used to, and then the guys are more heroic against him like they never were before. ... Guys are saying, 'Yeah, you're Tiger Woods and you're the greatest ever, but now at your age, I can beat you.' He needs to do it in the majors."

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