Tiger Woods makes his 2014 season debut at the Farmers Insurance Open at a course he loves, Torrey Pines. At this point in Tiger's career, every non-major tournament is merely a step toward his goal of peaking for the majors. You've heard this before, but this is a critical season in Woods' pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major championship wins. Tiger remains stalled at 14, with his drought now well into its fifth year.
Still, here's a little math that could shut up the naysayers who claim that Tiger's pursuit is permanently stalled.
Heading into this year's Masters, the 38-year-old Tiger has 14 wins in 64 major championship starts as a professional; heading into the 1978 Masters, the 38-year-old Nicklaus had 14 wins in 64 major championship starts as a professional.
That's some amazing career symmetry right there, but it seems appropriate, given that Tiger came out of the gate with Nicklaus' major championship record as his ultimate target.
For a long time, Woods was well ahead of Nicklaus' career pace, but his drought has put a serious dent in Tiger's major aspirations. Of course, Nicklaus won his last major at age 46, giving Woods eight more years of viability on the major championship scene, a reasonable assumption considering the similarity of their career trajectories.
Here are the final four major wins of Nicklaus' career, all of which came at age 38 and beyond:
1978 British Open (age 38)
1980 U.S. Open (age 40)
1980 PGA Championship (age 40)
1986 Masters (age 46)
Woods turns 46 in December 2021. Between now and then, there will be 32 major championships contested; Woods needs to win five of them to reach his career Holy Grail of 19 major championships.
Of course, Tiger has already moved well past Nicklaus into second on the Tour's all-time wins ledger. Tiger trails only Sam Snead, who won 82 times over a 30-year span; Woods has crammed his 79 wins into 18-plus stellar, occasionally storm-tossed seasons on Tour.
Jack thinks he'll do it. "I still think he'll break my record," Nicklaus said last year. "Tiger's talent, at 37 ... it's not that old. I won four after that. They were spread out. It wasn't that difficult. I don't think for Tiger to get four or five more — or six or seven — is that big a stretch.
"But that said, he has still got to do it. He hasn't won one in five years. He had better get with it if he's going to."
So let's look at the two legends — Tiger today, and Nicklaus at a similar point in his career.
Bottom line from the data presented here: Tiger's building the better overall career, but Jack remains the greatest performer in major championship history. That's the carrot that Tiger is still chasing, and he has time to get there.
Jack Nicklaus (entering the 1978 season)
Tournament winning %
Majors won (first 64 starts)
Major winning %
Major top 5s
Major top 10s
Longest streak of top-5 in majors
Longest streak of top-10 in majors
Lowest scoring avg.