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Tiger might not have won 14 majors against this group!

by J.W. Miller on 08/14/18

Make no mistake about it, Tiger Woods’ runner-up finish to Brooks Koepka in last weekend’s PGA Tournament was one of his best performances in a major. And he’s won 14 of them. In all his previous victories in majors, Woods had never shot a 64 in the final round as he did on Sunday. In fact, Tiger’s final three rounds of the PGA Championship (66-66-64) is the lowest score over 54 holes of a major in his career. By four shots! On the back nine, he stalked leaders Koepka and Adam Scott, making clutch shot after clutch shot, waiting for them to fall. His steely resolve, the determined glint in his eye and even the fist pump were back for the first time since he ruled the sport. 

So why didn’t he win? 

I spent much of Monday looking for that reason, and I believe the solution is crystal clear. The competition today is simply better than Tiger faced between 1997 and 2008 when he won four Masters, three U.S. Opens, three British Opens and four PGA Championships. Here’s what I found, and you can judge whether I’ve made the case or not. 

I agreed with the comment that the “Tiger Effect” - the buzz and dazzle of fans cheering every shot - was a bit unfair to Koepka, who did not fold. The 28-year-old from West Palm Beach displayed Tiger-like cool with birdies down the stretch and has emerged as the best money player on Tour over the past two years, And that is part of the reason why Woods did not win. Although Tiger was playing as well as ever, he is facing a much different locker room of opponents than he did the first time around. 

I looked at the players who won when Tiger didn’t over those years, the men he had to beat, and the results were interesting. During that dominating period between Woods' first major, the 1997 Masters, through 2002 when he won his ninth, the majors he did not win were won by guys who happened to get hot at the right time. And, for most, their only time. Only Mark O’Meara, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els won twice in those years and Retief Goosen won his first of two majors, while a boatload of solo winners won, including: Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, Lee Janzen, Jose Maria Olazabal, Payne Stewart, Paul Lawrie, David Duval, David Toms and Rich Beem. 

Woods was shut out of the majors in 2003 and 2004 when Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel won their only majors and Phil Mickelson won his first. If Tiger had an arch-rival, it was Mickelson during 2005-06 when Phil won twice while Woods prevailed in four of the eight majors and finished second to Michael Campbell in the 2005 U.S. Open. In 2007-08, Woods won the PGA (2007) and U.S. Open (2008) and finished second in the Masters both years and in the U.S. Open in 2007. Padraig Harrington won the Open in 2007 and both the Open and PGA in 2008 when Woods missed both after knee surgery. 

Harrington has not won another major, and maybe today’s crop won’t either, giving way to another wave of emerging stars. But those who have won multiple majors and are still playing at a high level include McIlroy (4), Koepka (3) and Spieth (3), and you can throw in Dustin Johnson who has won only one major, but he has won 19 Tour events and is the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world. 

I believe the tour players at the top today are better as a group than the tour players when Tiger amassed his 14 major victories. But for him to compete with the young bucks I’ve mentioned plus Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed and even Jason Day and Zach Johnson, presents an unprecedented grind. They are better because equipment today is better. The training is better. Game planning is more analytical and precise. The travel is easier. And the money is astronomically larger. 

Woods showed at Bellerive that he is playing as well as he has ever played. Unfortunately for Tiger fans, it might not be enough for him to get off his decade-long schneid and win another major tournament. 

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