Tiger vs. Jack: The Race Against Time

By Adam Fonseca
Tuesday August 5th, 2014 4:08 pm EDT

Getty Images

The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool was supposed to give Tiger Woods a good shot at major No. 15. He won on that course in 2006, but this year finished in 69th place.

OK, so on we move to the 2014 PGA Championship this week at Valhalla Golf Club, where Woods won in 2000. But after re-injuring his back on Sunday, his participation there is still up in the air.

And so, Tiger’s quest to catch Jack Nicklaus is more in doubt than ever. That notion alone should worry those of us who have long believed that Tiger would not only tie Jack’s record – Tiger is four majors away – but he would eventually break it. 

Tiger officially fell behind Nicklaus’ pace to collect 18 career major victories (in terms of age) when he sat out the 2014 Masters and U.S. Open. And following his most recent major attempt at the Open Championship, at which he barely made the cut, doubt has to be creeping into Tiger’s mind.

Heh. There I go again comparing Tiger Woods to your everyday PGA Tour pro. When will I ever learn?

 

 
Even so, the “Race to Beat Jack” has shifted from a question of determination to a realistic discussion on probability. Does Tiger have enough opportunities left to break the record? Will he stay healthy enough to pull off one of the biggest personal comebacks in history?

The answer to the first question is easy: yes. Tiger has plenty of time left to break Nicklaus’ record, at least in the technical sense. We’ve all done this math before.

Tiger is currently 38 years old. Assuming he plays golf until he’s 50 – Tiger has never really speculated on when he’ll retire, but I don’t see him playing on the Champions Tour – and remains healthy enough to compete in each, he’ll play in 44 more majors after 2014. Of those, he just has to win four to tie, five to break the record.

In other words, Tiger has to win 11 percent of the majors in which he plays after Valhalla to be the new Major King. We’ll call that his “assumed winning percentage.” Piece of cake, right?

 

 
Not so fast.

Since 1995, when he played the Masters for the first time, Tiger has competed in 71 majors. He’s won 14 times in that span, establishing an incredible 19.7 percent win rate. However, that percentage will continue to drop as every subsequent tournament passes without a win, albeit slowly. But that’s not the issue.

For every major that Tiger does not win – or does not compete in for any reason – his assumed winning percentage increases. The longer Tiger stays locked on 14 wins, the more likely that percentage will eventually mirror his career major win rate. In other words, sooner or later he will have to play exactly like the Tiger we once knew in order to accomplish his goal.

As we all know, it’s been awhile since we’ve seen that Tiger.

That brings us to my second question: Can Tiger stay healthy? Grandfather Time has a lot to say about that. Bad knees, ankles, and a surgically-repaired back aren’t helping, either. All athletes go through a sense of career mortality and the likelihood of retirement draws ever so closer with every ache and pain. While impossible to predict for sure, it is highly unlikely that Tiger will never miss another major championship for the next 12 years.

 

 
No, the odds are not in Tiger’s favor. Even Jack Nickalus himself – who recently reiterated that he believes Tiger can break his record – has to see the forest for the trees at this point.

Will this year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla – the site at which Tiger last won this tournament – mark the moment when golf fans collectively realize that Jack’s record is out of reach?

Only time and Tiger can know for sure. And you better believe Tiger has a lot to say about it.

Related Link: Complete PGA Championship Coverage

More PGA Championship Links:
- Flashback: Sergio Challenges Tiger at 1999 PGA Championship
9 Greatest Moments in Valhalla Golf Club History
Live Updates: 2014 PGA Championship Long-Drive Contest
‘Walk-In Putt’ at Valhalla Just One Of Tiger’s Famous 16th-Hole Shots
2014 PGA Championship: Rounds 1 & 2 Tee Times and Pairings
2014 PGA Championship: adidas & Ashworth Scripting 
PGA Championship 2014: PUMA Golf Scripting
2014 PGA Championship: Nike Golf Scripting 
2014 PGA Championship Scripting for Oakley’s Bubba Watson 
Why the PGA Championship Is Not a Minor Major
Return to Valhalla: Tiger Woods vs. Bob May 14 Years Later
The Odds: Rory Remains Huge Favorite at PGA Championship
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy Get Custom Louisville Sluggers
2014 PGA Championship: Valhalla Hole-By-Hole
2014 PGA Championship Scripting for Jason Dufner
Last Shot: Colin Montgomerie Gets Final Major Chance at Valhalla
9 Greatest Moments in PGA Championship History
PGA Championship To Welcome Back Long-Drive Competition
You Can Influence the PGA Championship’s Outcome
Players & PGA Championships To Offer $10 Million Purses
The Fringe: Bubba Watson Won’t Drive for Show
The Fringe: Tiger’s Caddie Carries On & Fowler Turns Some Laps
‘Stay Tuned’: Keegan Bradley Teases Fans With Jordan Shoes
Greg Norman Collection Featured at PGA Championship, Ryder Cup
The Breakdown: Rickie Fowler’s Majorly Impressive Year
Oh, the Places Golf’s Majors Trophies Have Been

Bleacher Report

More in The PGA Championship

Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy Promise Each Other More Battles

Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy Promise Each Other More Battles

11 Best GIFs from the 2014 PGA Championship

11 Best GIFs from the 2014 PGA Championship

By the Numbers: 2014 PGA Championship

By the Numbers: 2014 PGA Championship

Studs & Duds From the 2014 PGA Championship

Studs & Duds From the 2014 PGA Championship

Photos: 2014 PGA Championship

Photos: 2014 PGA Championship

2014 PGA Championship: Best Day 4 Style

2014 PGA Championship: Best Day 4 Style

Round 4 Recap: Rory Makes It Reign at PGA Championship

Round 4 Recap: Rory Makes It Reign at PGA Championship

Rory vs. Rickie: Will McIlroy-Fowler be Golf's Next Great Rivalry?

Rory vs. Rickie: Will McIlroy-Fowler be Golf's Next Great Rivalry?

2014 PGA Championship: Round 4 Tee Times and Pairings

2014 PGA Championship: Round 4 Tee Times and Pairings

2014 PGA Championship: Best Day 3 Style

2014 PGA Championship: Best Day 3 Style