Tiger Woods and the number 18 have gone hand in golf glove since red and black became synonymous with trophy-lifting on Sundays. Overtaking Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18 major championships has been Woods’ stated goal since he was a kid with a poster of the Golden Bear on his wall.
Each time a major rolls around, as it has this week, and Woods is healthy enough to tee it up, the question looms: can he finally nab No. 15 and continue chipping away at Nicklaus’ mark.
Lately, however, as Woods has been unable since the 2008 U.S. Open to attain another major prize but has compiled one PGA Tour win after another, talk has turned to when, not if, he will break Sam Snead’s all-time victory total of 82 and eventually hit 100. After lapping the field last week at Firestone for his 79th career W, attaining 100 tour triumphs seemed totally within the realm of possibility for the 37-year-old superstar.
"Yeah, Tiger Woods could potentially win a hundred. He's close," the formerly top-ranked Rory McIlroy told reporters Wednesday on the eve of the defense of his 2012 PGA Championship title. "The level of consistency that he's had throughout his career, even with a couple of swing changes, having a couple of periods where he didn't play much, to win the amount he has, and to win tournaments, I guess, with three completely different golf swings, as well, it's incredible."
Reigning U.S. Open champ Justin Rose did the math and determined the century mark was well within Woods’ reach.
"What's that, 21 more to get to 100?" Rose asked the gathered media. "And how old is he? 37? Yeah, I think he'll probably get to 100."
While chatter about 100 began in some quarters after Woods won his 75th at Torrey Pines in January in convincing, old-time Tiger style, such flights of fancy were unthinkable as he struggled through his post-scandal, two-year winless skid. But the way Woods trampled the field in the Farmers Insurance Open convinced GolfChannel.com’s Damon Hack to recall what Tiger said after receiving an enormous cake from Buick Open organizers in honor of his 50th.
"It took me 10 years to get here," Woods said in August 2006. "Hopefully I can continue playing well over the next 10, 20 years."
Woods, as Hack noted, had taken the British Open in his previous event and went on to earn the PGA Championship on his way to an eight-win season.
More recently, Yahoo’s Eric Adelson pulled out the calculator to determine that Woods, who’s won five times already this season, need not pick off tournaments at such a voracious clip to win 100. Another 10 years of competitive play could get Tiger there by winning an average of 2.1 games per season, Adelson figured.
More to the point, as Woods starts his quest for his 15th major, Adelson pointed out, is that, percentage-wise, Tiger’s more likely to win 100 events (79 percent in the books) than 18 majors (77 percent).
One may argue about the depths of the fields in Nicklaus’ and Woods’ eras, how technology and fitness have changed the game, the lengths of the courses, and an almost infinite number of other variables. But as both Hack and Adelson pointed out, even if Woods comes up short in his majors-chasing race, winning 100 times (to Nicklaus’ 73) would most certainly put Tiger in the mix for greatest of all time.
For this week, however, Woods has his sights set squarely on No. 15.