For Tiger Woods to break Jack Nicklaus’s record for major professional championships, he’ll have to feast on the PGA Championship, and there’s every reason to to think that he will. Big Jack has 18 majors, six of them at the Masters. No major is easy to win, of course, but Augusta was a relatively easy win for the Golden Bear in his prime because he was so much longer than most of the other players and because the Masters had a small and relatively weak field.
Bobby Jones won 13 majors, including his five U.S. Amateur titles, which really were major events in his era. He feasted on match play at home just as Nicklaus feasted on the reachable par-5s at Augusta National. Ben Hogan’s nine majors included four U.S. Opens. He feasted on driving it in play and knocking an iron on the green. Tiger has two U.S. Opens already, but that’s the hardest event for him to win because his driver is so erratic. Walter Hagen’s 11 majors included five PGA Championships at match-play. One on one, all smooth and oily, he owned his opponents. That was his feast.
And Tiger, in personality so different from Hagen, has the PGA Championship, too. He’ll get to 18 because the PGA is a relatively easy win for him. It has a deep field — advertised as the strongest field of any tournament except the Players Championship — but few golfers in the dog days of August are ready to take on Woods in full throttle.
Angel Cabrera, the U.S. Open champion, and Zach Johnson, the Masters champion, both missed the cut here at Southern Hills. Both looked worn out, Cabrera physically, Johnson mentally. The sauna-like conditions will do that to you, but the PGA is hot most years. Tiger used to perspire like crazy, but at Tulsa on Friday he looked like an ad for some new Nike product, one that takes perspiration and turns it into some sort of cash-and-prizes incentive system.
Jim Furyk is playing hurt, Vijay Singh is off his game, Bob May’s not in the field, John Daly’s 100 pounds overweight, and Woods is 7-0 in majors where he leads after 36 holes — who’s going to beat him? Who has his level of intensity and desire and fitness? Nobody.
Here’s the pitching line for Nicklaus:
• Six Masters, five PGAs, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens.
Here’s the pitching line for Woods through Friday:
• Four Masters, three PGAs, three British Opens, two U.S. Opens.
Here’s an educated guess of Woods’s tally by Sunday night:
• Four Masters, four PGAs, three British Opens, two U.S. Opens.
Here’s a wild guess of Woods’s tally by the time Sam Woods graduates high school:
• Seven PGAs, five Masters, four British Opens, three U.S. Opens. That would make 19.
The beauty of the textbook 63 he shot in Friday’s second round was not that it was 18 holes so expertly played. Maybe that was it for us, but not for Tiger. Tiger’s thinking about 72 holes, and leaving a mark on the game that eclipses what anybody else has ever done.