Tiger Woods and Tom Brady compete in sports that are polar opposites in ambiance and execution, but among the commonalities between the aging superstars is the hard-wired belief that, despite the inevitable passage of time, each has plenty of opportunities to add to his cache of major championships.
"We’ve had our chances. Twice. More than twice, actually. I still have plenty of chances to do it," Brady, 36, told SI.com’s Peter King in July as the three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the New England Patriots prepared for his 14th NFL season, 12th as the starting play caller. "What I’ve learned is it’s really, really hard to win the Super Bowl. I didn’t get that perspective early, winning three out of the first four years I played."
Brady, like Woods, long ago lost the aura of invincibility that surrounded the sixth-round draft pick from Michigan during his (and coach Bill Belichick’s) 10-0 playoff run that began with the Snow Bowl in 2001 (thank you, tuck rule). All that came to a crashing halt in 2005, with a crushing 27-13 loss to the pre-Peyton Manning Broncos, and Brady has not returned to the Super Bowl winner's circle since 2004.
At around the same time that Brady was waxing philosophical to King about his hopes of ending an eight-year streak without raising the Lombardi Trophy, Woods, an ocean away and looking forward to his penultimate chance in 2013 of ending a lengthy major-less drought of his own, echoed QB12’s sentiments.
"I've had a pretty good year this year so far; won four times. Even though I haven't won a major championship in five years, I've been there in a bunch of them where I've had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I'll get some," Woods, who turned 38 in December and also had remarkable success early in his career, told reporters ahead of the British Open. "There's a lot of pressure in major championships, and you're also playing under the most difficult conditions."
Woods, stuck on 14 majors since that overtime victory in the 2008 U.S. Open, has opined about time being on his side when it comes to chasing Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 grand slam titles. As he has observed frequently, Nicklaus was 46 when he won his final major and playing golf with the big 4-0 looming was not exactly the same as, well, undertaking Brady’s profession of choice.
"Every other sport you’re done at my age, or younger. You know, in golf you can still win golf tournaments in your 50s, and guys have done it," Woods told reporters last month. "Probably the more difficult thing is that you can still finish top 10, top fives, but you’re probably just not quite as efficient as you need to be to win golf tournaments. But you can still be there."
Indeed, Tiger will kick off his 2014 campaign at Torrey Pines later this month as the world’s top-ranked golfer, the biggest earner in all of sport and with a record 11th PGA Tour player of the year award in his possession after a five-win 2013. Yet, as the 79-time tour winner closes in on Sam Snead’s record of 82 all-time career first-place finishes, there’s still the nagging matter of being four shy of Nicklaus.
Both Woods and Brady have the gaudy stats that make each a sure first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Brady added his 18th playoff victory Saturday night, the 43-22 rout of the Andrew Luck-less Colts giving the storied playmaker two more post-season wins than his closest competitor, Joe Montana.
Brady masterminded his team’s eighth drive to the AFC Championship with him under center. Even without passing for a single touchdown, Brady, completing 13 of 25 passes for 198 yards, became the first quarterback to throw for more than 6,000 yards in the playoffs.
All well and good for both men, though coming through even in Divisional Round or FedExCup playoffs is not what makes either competitor tick.
For Woods, his quest for major immortality begins anew in April at Augusta. Brady, who would be only the fourth quarterback to win a Super Bowl after age 35, will lead his run-happy Pats into a deafening nouveau Mile High Stadium and try to stop Manning, fresh from a 24-17 win over the Chargers that really wasn’t that close, from punching his ticket to Super Bowl XLVIII.
It’s all about the Big Games, and, despite what either Woods or Brady may proclaim, the clock is ticking.