Tiger Woods may be uncertain about what to expect from himself when he tees it up at this week’s Hero World Challenge in his first foray into competition since February, but the winner of 14 major championships says Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 such titles is still within his reach.
“Of course,” Woods responded on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio Tuesday when host Brian Katrek asked if he believed he “could still catch Jack.”
Host and guest chuckled after that particular Q&A so it’s difficult to know if Woods — whose last major win came at the 2008 U.S. Open — meant what he said or was just parroting his party line, but the golf world would be shocked — shocked! — if Woods demurred and conceded defeat in his nearly lifelong chase of Nicklaus’ record. Indeed, the 41-year-old who will make his latest comeback on Thursday after a 10-month layoff, has never strayed from claiming he can capture four or five more grand slam events.
Just a couple weeks ahead of his last attempt to resurrect his playing career, which ended with a missed cut at Torrey Pines and a withdrawal from the Dubai Desert Classic prior to the second round, Woods sang the same tune.
“I do,” Woods said back in January about whether he believed he was still in the race for the all-time majors record. “Jack had an absolutely amazing career but it took him an entire career to get to 18 majors. Hopefully I have a lot of good years ahead of me.”
Fast forward to earlier this month, when Woods — after committing to the 2017 Hero — told podcast host Geno Auriemma his childhood goal was still intact.
"I'm at 14, and the record's 18, and of course I want to get there,” Woods said. “I set out to try and get to 19, whatever it is, when I was 12, 13 years old. I thought that was the mark of all marks.”
Woods, who may or may not have hit some tee shots past those of Dustin Johnson during their casual Friday round with Brad Faxon and President Donald Trump, can certainly still bring it, at least in non-competitive settings, as driving the green on the par-4 seventh hole at Albany and draining a 15-foot putt for eagle during Wednesday’s World Challenge pro-am proved.
But after some two years of being unable to get out of bed or even sit up, let along swing a club in pressure-packed tournaments, Woods sought to lower fans’ expectations for his much-anticipated return to the PGA Tour.
“I'm winging this here because I don't know what my body can and can't do yet. I just got the go-ahead a little over a month ago, but I still don't know,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Honestly, I'm just looking forward to getting through these four rounds and having … a better understanding of where I'm at. I don't know where I'm at. What I mean by that is I don't know how hard I can hit it, what shots can I play.”
It seems a huge leap from Woods not knowing how his body will react to a full 72 holes in the 18-player, no-cut event to predicting he’ll regain enough of his former winning form to hoist five more elite trophies.
It may be difficult for those of us outside the ropes to imagine, but even debilitating back pain, four subsequent surgeries, and a concession in September that he may never tee it up in competition again has not doused the fire in the Big Cat’s belly when it comes to believing he can still win the big ones.