An upside as high as tee shots

Posted: April 04, 2007

TIGER WOODS did things in his first 10 years that nobody has ever done before. Or may ever do again.

So the question becomes: What happens over the next 10 years? And beyond?

In his first decade on the PGA Tour, Jack Nicklaus won nine majors. Over the next decade he bagged eight more. And got his last, 5 years later, at the age of 46.

The only other man who won as many majors after his 30th birthday was Ben Hogan, who didn't get his first until he was 34. Nice company.

Tiger had 10 by the time he turned 30 in December 2005. He has won two since then. So he's ahead of Jack's pace. Now, can he finish? And precisely how high is up?

And it is all about 4 weeks - the majors - a year.

Some folks said Tiger wouldn't survive a swing change. That was two swing changes ago. They said he wouldn't be the same once he got married. That was four majors back. They said he wouldn't be the same after his dad finally lost his prolonged fight with cancer. So, how many times has he lost in the last 11 months? Now, they say he might never be the same once he becomes a father himself this summer.

Eventually, something has to get in his way, doesn't it? Nicklaus and his wife Barbara had five children. Didn't seem to hurt his game any. Didn't even keep him out of a major. You know what they say about timing.

Anyway, it appears the only thing that can derail Tiger is Tiger. Stuff happens. But what has he done to this point that would lead anyone to believe it will? There are those who point out that Tiger has been doing this forever and could flame out at any moment. Maybe. But this is someone who is consumed by a singular goal. He intends to surpass Nicklaus as the greatest player in history. Nothing less is an option. And that should be more than enough to keep him sufficiently stoked. For as long as it takes. And then some, just to make sure.

"The more you watch him, the more you get the feeling that he wants to leave no doubt," Curtis Strange said. "I don't know if he's necessarily going to keep getting any better. But I do think he can continue doing some pretty incredible stuff. Especially if he thinks people don't think he can."

He already has won four Masters and Augusta National isn't going anywhere. The British Open goes back to St. Andrews in 2010 and most likely 2015. He won there in 2000 and 2005. The U.S. Open is headed to Bethpage Black in 2009 and Pebble Beach in 2010. Tiger won his Opens at Bethpage in 2002 and at Pebble in 2000. Next year's Open is at Torrey Pines, where he's only won a handful of Buick Invitationals, including the last three.

Sorry, he's on his own at the PGA Championship. Guess he'll just have to muddle through.

Doesn't mean there are any guarantees. Just means it's worth noting. There's always a chance Tiger could throw his back out and turn into just another Omar Uresti. Or not.

He's the best golfer of his era for a reason. He wants to be the best there ever was. And the best there ever will be. So he not only has to go where no man's ever gone. He needs to take it to places where no one ever will venture again.

"Trust me, there won't be any debate when he's done," Strange said. "Before last season, I thought it would be kind of touch and go. But after he won two of [the majors] so easily last year, he might end up with 22 or 23."

You taking the over or under? Either way, he's making 18 or 19 look more and more inevitable. And what else matters? For those keeping tabs, Tiger has won one major in a season three times. There have been 4 years in which he has won more than one, including the last two. And he has taken a doughnut three times. The next time he gets blanked you know some folks will be saying he's hit his wall. Again. Because that's what we do. Just ask Nicklaus, who won his 16th and 17th in a span of 2 months when he was 40.

As a pro, Tiger's batting 12-for-40. Think he has reached his prime yet? Does 7-for-the-next-40 seem reasonable enough?

When assessing the possibilities, Arnold Palmer summed it up this way: "To say that he won't do anything, to me, is stupid."

Won't stop certain precincts from trying, even if it's getting harder and harder to dispute the logic. *

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