As he prepares for this week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah, Tiger Woods says he hears no ticking clocks, feels no urgency, despite not having won a major since 2008.
“I’ve got plenty of time,” Woods said Tuesday of his lifelong chase of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
His estranged coach, Hank Haney, isn’t so sure time is on Woods’ side.
“When you look at all the factors that are involved in breaking Jack’s record right now the odds probably don’t favor Tiger,” Haney told FOXsports.com.
Haney bases his opinion on Woods winning one of every three majors in which he contends — the rate at which Nicklaus won — which means he’ll need to contend in 15 more majors to get the five he needs.
That’s unlikely, Haney believes, especially given that Woods has really contended in only one — the 2011 Masters, where he was tied for the lead on the back nine before stumbling — of his past 11.
Of course, those were mostly played under mitigating circumstances; first in dealing with the fallout of his 2009 scandal and then with injuries, and all the while trying to learn Sean Foley’s swing.
Woods, who turns 37 in December, thinks he’s a different player now that he’s healthy and has regained control of his golf swing under Foley.
“I figure it’s going to take a career,” he said of the record he most covets. “It’s going to take a long time. Jack didn’t finish his until he was 46, so if you go by that timetable, I’ve got ten more years. Forty more majors is a lot.”
But does he really have 40 more majors?
“Remember, Jack won only four majors after the age of 36,” Haney says.
“The last one at 46 — the 1986 Masters — was a miracle even to Jack, so it seems like giving Tiger 40 more chances is generous.
“You also have to assume that Tiger is able to stay healthy and avoid any other kind of personal turmoil that could derail his pursuit of Jack’s record.”
To Haney’s point, what is astonishing about Nicklaus’ career is that in the decade from 1970 to ’80, he not only won 10 majors but finished outside the top 10 six times in the 40 tournaments.
But after Jack’s resurgence in 1980 — the year he rededicated himself and went on to win two majors — the drop-off in performance is dramatic.
He would contend only three more times, and he needed Greg Norman to fall on his sword at that 1986 Masters.
But Woods — an incurable optimist — believes his window might be even bigger than 40 majors, not smaller.
“With the training regimes that we have now and seeing guys play well (into middle age), you can get on the right golf course and contend,” he said.
“You saw what happened with Tom (Watson) being 59 (and almost winning the British Open at Turnberry in 2009). Greg (Norman) almost did it at Birkdale at 55-ish.
“So we can play late in our careers.”
Haney won’t dismiss his former pupil’s chances entirely because, as he says, “to me he is clearly the best player in the world again.”
But being the best in the world isn’t the same as being at his best.
Jerry Kelly used to like to say that Woods was a V-12 in a room full of V-8s.
Despite leading the PGA Tour this year with three wins, does Woods still have that much more horsepower than his rivals?
“His game is not as sharp as it once was,” Haney said “He isn’t as consistent. He has some holes in his game.
“His wedge play, which represents real scoring opportunities, is not as good as it was. From 50-125 yards during the six years I worked with Tiger he was first, first, first, third, fifth and 15th on tour. Currently he is 134th.
“Tiger’s putting is not what it once was, either. Steve Williams always kept statistics on Tiger during the years he worked for him and his stats said that Tiger would win 85 percent of the time he didn’t have a three putt in 72 holes.”
Woods concedes he’s become a streaky putter, though his lows seem much worse — and come far more frequently — than they did a decade ago.
“Players who have lost their putting some in their mid- to late-30s have never seemed to get it back,” Haney said.
But beyond the mechanical, Haney — who wrote "The Big Miss," an insightful, if graphic, account of his years with Woods that’s become a best seller — thinks golf’s fallen king needs to rekindle the fire that once drove him.
“Tiger appears to have summoned the work ethic that was his trademark during the most successful parts of his career,” he says. “It remains to be seen whether he can maintain that work ethic for the next 5 to 10 years if it is needed to catch Jack.
“I think it is important for Tiger to get some reward for his hard work and at this point in his career it is the major victories that are the reward, not regular tour wins.
“I said before that I thought if Tiger won a major this year the odds of beating Jack’s record would swing in his favor.
“If he doesn’t win at Kiawah, it’s going to be that much harder.”