Tiger Woods, ever optimistic as he inches closer to 40, believes 2014 offers ample opportunity for him to make a dent or two in Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship titles.
For the world’s No. 1 player, who hosts the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge this week for the last time at Sherwood Country Club in California before the event staged at the same venue for 15 years moves to Florida, surpassing Sam Snead’s mark of 82 career PGA Tour wins should be far less challenging than blowing by Jack.
"The easier goal is going to be getting to Sam's record; you could get to there basically by playing the first three events of the year and win three in a row," Woods, second all-time with 79 tour W's, told Sky Sports on Wednesday ahead of this week’s clash among 18 of the world’s best .
On a tear for most of his five-win season, Woods almost accomplished that feat in 2013 (and did, if you count the late and not-lamented Tavistock Cup, which no one does), with back-to-back victories at Doral and Bay Hill. But for that flagstick and T4 at Augusta, Tiger, who brushed off his Masters disappointment with a victory at TPC Sawgrass, might have gone 4-for-4 from early March through mid-June and finally netted that elusive 15th major.
"At The Masters, I certainly had a chance because I was right there, and especially on Friday when I looked like I was going to take the lead over Freddy and we already posted," Woods, referring to the bad break, most scrutinized ball drop ever, and near-DQ he incurred in the second round, said during his pre-tourney press conference. "Then 15 happened ... But I was still was right there with a chance on Sunday."
Same for the British Open, but for a few woulda, coulda, shouldas.
"I was there [at Muirfield] and the momentum flipped on, probably Saturday afternoon on that second shot I stood up in the wind on 17," Woods said about his third-round jostling for position with playing partner Lee Westwood, who took control of their duel with a birdie on 17. The Englishman finished with a 1-under 70 to a 72 for Tiger, who fell back with a bogey on the hole.
"If I just turn it over and turn it down that hill and make birdie and Westie doesn't, all of a sudden, I've got the lead," a backward-looking Woods said. "So things can flip like that. That's certainly what happened in most major championships."
While Woods would like to replay any number of his errant shots in the big games, he proclaimed himself satisfied with his Player of the Year season.
"I certainly wish I could have played a little better in major championships. I was there at The Masters and there at the British certainly with a chance, but just didn't get it done," he said. "But winning The Players Championship, and then obviously four other events, I think it's a pretty good year."
A career year for anyone not named Eldrick Tont, whose five tour wins last season topped every other competitor’s total, but Woods would happily trade all of them for a W at just one of the four grand slam events. Stuck on 14 majors since winning the 2008 U.S. Open on one good leg, Tiger has gone 0-for-18 in the subsequent majors.
Woods conceded that winning four more majors, let alone one, won’t get any easier, what with younger, stronger and heavier-hitting ball-strikers entering the game as the injury-prone No. 1 ages. With technologically advanced equipment supporting more aggressive play, Woods noted that in the past few years more first-time major winners, like Adam Scott at the Masters, Justin Rose at Merion, and Jason Dufner at the PGA Championship, have stepped to the tee.
"It's more difficult to win events now, and it's only going to [continue] that way," he said.
Then there are the bumps and bruises, which have plagued Woods since college, when he underwent his first knee reconstruction, through last season, when he banged up his elbow. They’re just par for the course, Woods remarked.
"Injuries? Yeah, I think that's just a reality of playing sports," he said. "Any athlete who plays any sports is going to get injured. And the longer you play it, the more likelihood you're going to get injured."
Woods, with a birthday on Dec. 30, has had to bow to the inevitability of Father Time and alter his training accordingly.
"I've certainly tried to curb my workout regime over the years," he said. "I don't run the mileage like I used to. I don't lift the way I used to. Things evolve. I'm not 22. I'm about ready to turn 38, so things are different and you have to make those adjustments. You know, that is just a reality."
Even with all the caveats, however, Woods maintained that his aim remained steady.
"It's still the same," he said about his never-changing objectives. "And that's to just win whatever tournament I play in. The goals are still the same: keep improving."
Woods, renowned for torching courses he’s familiar with (see: Bay Hill, Torrey Pines, Augusta, Muirfield Village, Sherwood CC) expressed confidence that he could prevail in any of the upcoming majors.
"As far as the major championships, I've won at every one except for Pinehurst [site of the U.S. Open in June], and I'm trending in the right way. I've finished third [at the Open in 1999], second . You get the picture, right?" he cracked.
"So I'm looking forward to the major championship venues this year," averred Tiger, who chalked up a win at this year’s PGA Championship track, Valhalla, in 2000, and at the Open Championship’s Hoylake course in 2006. "They have set up well for me over the years and I look forward to it."