My fondest golfing memory was watching Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate on the 19th hole of a Monday playoff in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008. I can’t see anything even approaching it.
I also can’t believe it’s been five years. Come to think of it, it was the weekend Tim Russert died. I can recall one of my old college roommates looking up from his computer to tell me that Russert was gone.
Mediate was 45 when he took Woods to the wire. Last weekend, he played in his first U.S. Senior Open. It reminded me how much it would have meant for Mediate to win. Only four men have won a major after their 45th birthday.
It also reminds me that time is running out for Woods. There have been 20 majors since Torrey Pines, when Tiger won his 14th major title. He hasn’t won one since.
After Woods beat Mediate, I was sure he would pass Nicklaus. He was 32, still in his prime. Winning five more majors seemed a snap. The question was whether he would obliterate Jack’s mark and get to 25.
Woods, who beat Mediate on a bad left knee, had surgery and missed eight months. In late 2009, there was the minor car accident, revelations of infidelity and, eventually, the collapse of his marriage.
In time, Woods found his game. He’s the No. 1 ranked player in the world, and a favorite to win at Muirfield. He has won four times this year. But that five-year major drought hangs over him, like one of those dark clouds at a British Open.
Maybe golf is getting even for the years when Woods dominated majors. He won seven of 11 from 1999 to 2002. He reinvented his swing and won 6 of 14 majors from 2005 to ’08. He made it look easy. Then came the humbling.
Winning any major is hard. Ask Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald or Lee Westwood, who have yet to win one. Nicklaus won six majors after his 35th birthday. In that sense, Woods has time. But if he could go 20 majors without one, what are the chances he’ll win five more after 37?
Rory McIlroy is finding out how hard it can be. Two years ago, McIlroy won the U.S. Open at 22, shooting a record 16 under. People began anointing him as the successor to Nicklaus. He won a second major at last year’s PGA Championship. He hasn’t won since.
McIlroy changed management companies and equipment this season. Critics suggest that his focus has been compromised by his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.
The last 19 majors have been won by 18 different men. McIlroy is the only repeat winner in that time. Fourteen were first-time winners. A horde of talented players is waiting to do the same. Last weekend, Jordan Spieth became the first teenager in 82 years to win a PGA event. Maybe he’ll be the next threat to Nicklaus’ record in majors.
I have my doubts. As time goes by, I’m more amazed by what Woods did, winning those 14 majors. At this point, I can’t see him passing Nicklaus. In fact, I’ll be shocked if anyone else gets to 10.