Tiger Woods at age 45: Why the all-time great won’t pass Jack Nicklaus for most major titles

Tiger Woods turned 45 on Wednesday, which feels wrong by about 15 years in both directions. Functionally, Woods is operating with the body of somebody who’s probably 60 (or older). But the vision we have of him in our minds will likely forever be the 30-year-old supernova who looked like he could bend the arc of reality to his will and exist as the best to ever do it into perpetuity.

Despite his thrilling 2019 Masters victory, Tiger’s 45th trip around the sun is a reminder that he will almost certainly not reach the ever-elusive 19-major championship mark to best Jack Nicklaus by one and hold the all-time record (no one else in history ever will either, for that matter). There are several reasons for this, which I’ll lay out below.

Despite a lousy 2020, Tiger is not done forever. There is still something left in the tank, which will be intriguing for the next few years. And while a birthday is normally reason for celebration (and there was plenty of celebrating his career on Wednesday), we should also look ahead to what the future holds for him and why depth at the highest level, historical precedence and a still-breaking body will keep him from getting to or surpassing Nicklaus’ record.

Here are three reasons Tiger will never reach 18 or 19 major wins (or probably 16 or 17 either).

Golf has never been better: This is Tiger’s fault, of course. I’m not sure the top 10 in the world are better right now than they were in 2000 or 1960, but I’m almost certain the top 250 are better. This creates all kinds of problems, most notably that winning any event (and especially a major) is becoming more and more difficult with each passing year. Combine that reality with the next two Tiger-specific trajectories, and you can see why the outlook for Woods at majors (and, honestly, at regular events as well) is not all that optimistic.

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Nobody wins majors after 45: If Tiger wins another major championship, he will be the fourth-oldest golfer to do so. Only Old Tom Morris (1867 Open), Julius Boros (1968 PGA) and Jack Nicklaus (1986 Masters) would have won majors at an older age. I know Tiger has bucked every historical precedent thrown at him, but he will have to match the all-time majors won by golfers older than 45 years and 4 months just to tie Nicklaus. That is … not happening.

A broken body leads to fewer chances: Remember when Tiger didn’t play the Florida swing this year? It got buried by the pandemic, but he didn’t start the Players Championship (which seems quite noteworthy!). Maybe even more concerning was the fact that for the first time in maybe his entire career, he was healthy for long stretches in 2020 and pretty average (relatively-speaking) on the PGA Tour. Woods’ return to the golf world at the Memorial and his play from there to the Masters was not compelling nor competitive. The middle line below represents an average PGA Tour player in terms of strokes gained, and you can see Tiger hovered all over this line in the 26 rounds he played after the PGA Tour resumed.

Data Golf

Tiger’s career will still be incredibly fun to follow — and maybe even more interesting and relatable — but we should go into the next few years knowing that the Masters was likely his last massive win, and boy, you could not have scripted that any better.

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