Professional golf is in a very weird place right now. In many ways, it still feels like Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world. It wasn’t too long ago that people were debating not if, but when he would break Jack Nicklaus’s record for most major tournament victories. But this is a different Woods.
In 2013, it looked like Woods might be back. He made every cut in every PGA Tour event he played in, tallying eight top-10 finishes and five wins. Albeit none of those were majors, but he still made a solid $8.5 million. In terms of professional sports, that’s a good bit of money for a 37-year-old.
2014 looked a lot different. Woods struggled with injuries all year and it showed. He entered just two major tournaments, missing the cut at the PGA Championship and finishing 69th overall at The Open Championship. In total, he earned just over $108,000 in official PGA Tour events—his lowest total since turning professional in 1996. In terms of professional sports, that’s a pretty decent salary for a National Football League equipment manager.
Woods played in his first official event of 2015 starting on Thursday Jan. 29. He missed the cut after posting a +13 from Thursday Jan. 29-Friday Jan. 30. His performance dropped him to 56 on the World Golf Rankings—his lowest ranking since 2011. This ranking would mean that he would be ineligible to compete in the upcoming Cadillac Championship. Woods would have to climb back into the top 50 by March 2 in order to make the field.
Spectators have asked, “Is Woods done?” every year since his infamous extramarital affairs became public in November 2009. It’s a valid question—he hasn’t won a major tournament since the U.S. Open in 2008 and hasn’t finished in the top 10 in a tournament since The Barclays in 2013. That question has multiple layers, however.
I don’t think we’ve seen Wood’s last tournament win. Golf is a sport that can be played—and played well—for a very long time. Sam Snead won a tournament when he was 52 years old. Tiger is 39 years old now. It’s fair to assume he will win at least one tournament in the next 13 years. I think he’ll even pass Snead for the most wins on the PGA Tour of all time. Woods is just three wins behind Snead.
The most scrutinized part of Wood’s recent career, however, has been his lack of major victories. He’s won 14 major championships in total, four off of Nicklaus’s aforementioned record. Nicklaus, however, never went more than six years between major victories. It will have been seven years since Tiger won a major come June.
In this aspect, I think Woods is done. I don’t think he will ever win a major again. If he does, it’ll be a fluke in the twilight of his career—much like Nicklaus’s victory at the 1986 Masters.
This will not be the last year that we have this talk. Not even close. Woods is still the greatest golfer that ever lived. He is Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Babe Ruth rolled into one. Like the legend that he is, this topic will never die.