Tiger Woods sets sights on emulating Nicklaus Major record
American in prime form for PGA Championship after 15th Major title win last month
Tiger Woods looks on during a practice round prior to the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Bethpage, New York. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
Tiger Woods has numbers in his sights, again. There’s 18: that’s the record of career Majors held by Jack Nicklaus, which is back in play for Woods who reached 15 with his win in last month’s Masters tournament. There’s also number 1, because – as fanciful as it seemed in recent years – Woods is within touching distance of returning to the top of the pile in the official world rankings.
With his boat berthed in Oyster Bay on Long Island since last week, and a number of practice rounds already under his belt at Bethpage Black, Woods is ahead of the game in preparation for a tilt at this week’s US PGA Championship, the move to a new May date – rather than the traditional slot in August – providing a quick turnaround since he again slipped on the green jacket as Masters champion.
Woods hasn’t played a competitive round since that final round at Augusta National, but he is again on everyone’s radar as he bids for a 16th career Major title. That pursuit of Nicklaus’s record is very much on again, that Masters success – his first Major since the 2008 US Open – reopening the possibility.
As his caddie Joe LaCava said, “If there was any doubt in his mind about winning Majors again, and this is the most mentally strong player I’ve ever known, well, there is no doubt now. He beat some of the best players in the world coming down the stretch in Augusta . . . [and] Bethpage sets up well for him because you have to hit some shots, you have to hit it both ways. He has just as much experience playing the course as anyone.”
LaCava added: “He knows you have to worry about 16 before you get to 18. It’s hard not to think about 18, especially now that he’s gotten to 15. But he’s smart enough to know the win at Augusta wasn’t a free ride to 18. He know he has to continue to grind. And he will!”
In a recent streamed interview, Woods – winner of the 2002 US Open at Bethpage – too admitted that Nicklaus’s record was back on the agenda. As he put it, “I always thought it was possible, if I had everything go my way. It took [Nicklaus] an entire career to get to 18, so now that I’ve had another extension to my career, one that I didn’t think I had a couple of years ago, if I do things correctly and everything falls my way, yeah, it’s a possibility.”
Forced to lighten his schedule as he protects his body, Woods has nevertheless found a way to target the Majors. He has contended in the last three. Firstly, going down the stretch with Francesco Molinari in the Open at Carnoustie (ultimately finishing sixth; then, getting into the mix in the US PGA at Bellerive (finishing runner-up behind Brooks Koepka); and, finally winning at the Masters last time out.
Woods opted to skip every tournament on the PGA Tour since claiming the Masters title, but his return to competition at the PGA offers a tantalising double possibility. One, of increasing his career Majors haul to 16; two, of reclaiming the world number one spot. For that to happen, Woods would need to win and also to get help from others: for Dustin Johnson to finish worse than solo 11th, and for Koepka and Justin Rose to finish worse than solo second.
Another player headed into this 101st edition of the PGA Championship with a pep in his step is Pádraig Harrington, after a tied-12th in the Byron Nelson. Having missed a large part of the early season due to a wrist injury, the Dubliner’s effort in Dallas represented his best finish since a tied-seventh in the Dunhill Links last October.
Harrington, a PGA champion in 2008, will be playing for a fourth straight week as he adopted an entirely different approach to Woods in his effort to run into form. “I normally play two. Everybody has a different way. I’m pushing it . . . the idea was [to play] three weeks into the PGA to try and get ready.”
A final round 65 in Dallas would indicate that his plan has worked, also moving him from 264th to 240th in the latest world rankings and improving his position on the FedEx Cup standings from 246th to 196th.