Tiger may reach Snead's record before Nicklaus' major record
Wednesday, August 9, 2006
It was the one time Tiger Woods could be accused of setting the bar too low.
He is three weeks away from the 10-year anniversary of his pro debut -- "Hello, world," he said on Aug. 27, 1996, in Milwaukee -- when his only goal was to earn his PGA Tour card without having to go through qualifying school.
The first victory came six weeks later in Las Vegas when Davis Love III became the first of his many victims. By the end of his first full year on tour, Woods already had six victories and one major championship. That's a career for Tom Lehman.
And Woods has shown no sign of stopping.
After five full years, he was at 29 victories and six majors, and he was the youngest to win the career Grand Slam.
Ten years, three swings, two coaches and one marriage later, Woods hit another milestone Sunday when he collected his 50th title on the PGA Tour, a victory that looked like so many others. He overpowered the course, built a 54-hole lead and dared anyone to catch him.
About the only thing he couldn't do was grasp the magnitude of the milestone.
"I've had a lot of just really wonderful things happen to me on tour in my career so far in 10 years," Woods said. "Been very blessed. Started out my career just hoping to get my card and I was able to do that. And lo and behold, I got on a nice little run.
"It's been a great ride, really."
It has been a ride like no other.
At 30 years and seventh months, Woods became the seventh player -- and the youngest by three years -- to hit the half-century mark in PGA Tour victories. Jack Nicklaus was 33 when he captured his 50th career victory at the 1973 PGA Championship.
"Tiger Woods is so talented that if we cut holes in the asphalt, he'd find ways to win," former Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton said in a recent interview. "You can't get away from Tiger no matter what you do."
He has won nine times in a playoff. Nine other victories were by at least five shots. Woods has 10 victories in his native California, nine in his adopted home of Florida and he used to win more often in Ohio than the Bengals.
"We haven't seen an equal of that in the last I don't know how many years," Jim Furyk said after finishing three shots behind at Warwick Hills. "Definitely, my era hasn't seen it."
Snead comes into view
The number that identifies Woods -- for now -- is his 11 majors. He has been chasing Nicklaus' benchmark of 18 majors since he picked up his first one at the 1997 Masters. Now, however, the 50 victories brings Sam Snead's record of 82 career victories into view.
That's a goal that means just as much to Woods.
He showed how much he was paying attention to the record books last year in the parking lot at Doral, when asked if he knew about Snead's record for all-time victories.
"Eighty-one," Woods replied. "No! It's 82 now because of the British Open."
Indeed, the PGA Tour a few years earlier decided to retroactively count the British Open as an official PGA Tour event, which bumped Snead's tally to 82 and took Nicklaus (second place on the all-time list) from 70 to 73.
Greatness ultimately is measured by majors, which is why 18 resonates more than 82. But at this rate, Woods might reach Snead's mark before he gets to Nicklaus.
"That's also a big number," Woods said. "It's going to be a lifetime, a career, basically, to get to that point and attain something like that. It doesn't happen overnight, and it's not going to happen next year. It's going to take a long time. It took me 10 years to get here. Hopefully, I can continue playing well over the next 10, 20 years."
At this rate, he won't need that much time.
Woods had two seasons with only one victory (1998 and 2004), both times while revamping his swing. Otherwise, he has won at least four times every year on the PGA Tour. If he maintains his pace of averaging five wins a year, he might be able to break Snead's record in just over six years.
His 50 victories came in 196 starts, a winning rate of 25.5 percent.
Woods has won 11 majors in 39 starts as a pro, winning 28 percent of the time. But he only gets four cracks a year, and at his current rate, he would need seven more years to break Nicklaus' record in the majors.
A lot of that depends on the competition, which now seems to be recycled.
Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, David Duval and Ernie Els have all taken their cracks at Woods, and all but Mickelson have replaced him at No. 1 in the world ranking at one time or another.
But as Sutton said, there's no getting away from Woods.
Since 1996 when he turned pro, Woods has won more times than Singh (26) and Mickelson (20) combined.
Not quite a decade
And he still has some work left before he puts in his full 10 years. It starts next in the PGA Championship at Medinah, where Woods won in 1999 for his second career major, and is followed by the Bridgestone Invitational, a tournament Woods has won four times in eight trips to the meaty South Course at Firestone.
And here's something else to consider.
Nicklaus went 17 years before he had his first winless season on the PGA Tour (he bounced back the next year by winning two majors at age 40). If Woods were to have close to same success he's had the first 10 years, is 100 victories out of the question?