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Ravages of time are a major drag on Tiger's record pursuit

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Rochester Business Journal
June 27, 2014

Tiger Woods decided to use this week’s Quicken Loans National tournament the way a major-league pitcher would use a minor-league rehab assignment—as a tune-up to shake off the rust before resuming pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ majors record at next month’s British Open. It’s a calculated risk, to be sure, given that Woods underwent back surgery on March 31. He has said he will not play any more tournaments between now and the Open. Still, you have to wonder if he might be rushing it.

Nicklaus, whose 18 major victories top Tiger by four, continues to believe that Woods will break his all-time record. I’m not so sure. At age 38 and coming off back surgery and two knee surgeries, as well as problems with his Achilles, elbow and neck, Woods appears to be breaking down physically. Yes, he managed to win five PGA Tour events last year, but now he’s dealing with a balky back—not a good thing for a golfer, especially a golfer who swings as hard as he does.

For a long stretch there was a mystique about Tiger, when he was as dominating in his sport as anybody has been in any sport. He seemed mentally tougher than everyone else in the field, particularly when he took a lead into Sunday’s final round. But that aura of invincibility, that supreme confidence, seems about as distant as Woods’ last major victory, six years ago. Since that time, he’s been shaken not only by his injuries but by the tabloid transgressions that led to a divorce and a grotesquely tarnished public reputation. Twenty-four majors have passed without him winning one, and for the first time in a long time, he has fallen behind Nicklaus’ majors pace. The Golden Bear won his 15th major tournament at the 1978 British Open at the age of 38 years, five months and 24 days. Nicklaus capped his unprecedented run with his last big victory at age 46.

Jack, too, was forced to grind through back injuries and the other challenges a past-his-prime athlete inevitably faces. Perhaps Tiger can glean some knowledge and inspiration from the latter chapters of Nicklaus’ career. Television networks and golf sponsors will be hoping he does, because a Tiger in contention would dramatically boost the sport’s sagging ratings. Even those who hate him can’t ignore him. He remains must-see TV when he’s on the leaderboard.

It once seemed a foregone conclusion that he would not only surpass Nicklaus but perhaps even leave him in the dust. Now he is no more than a long shot to catch the Golden Bear. If I were a betting man, I’d bet no. Think about it: He needs to win five more majors to supplant Nicklaus. Only 19 golfers have won five majors in their entire careers, and Woods needs to accumulate that many major victories at a time when his body is giving out on him.

Wie takes a major step
While Tiger deals with the twilight of his golf career, Michelle Wie is just entering the prime of hers, and she’s doing so with a major boost. At last weekend’s U.S. Women’s Open, the 24-year-old finally scored the milestone victory so many had forecast for her years earlier. Wie burst onto the scene at the 2003 Open when she made the cut as a precocious 13-year-old. She played in the final pairings at the 2005 and 2006 Opens before encountering a series of setbacks that had some people wondering if she would ever realize her enormous potential.

Rather than devote herself solely to the LPGA Tour, Wie tried to make the cut at several men’s tournaments, and that gimmickry, along with raking in millions from endorsements, rankled some of the top women’s players, who believed the phenom hadn’t accomplished enough to deserve the money and attention. Wie seemingly is in a much better place now, and she has overcome a nagging wrist injury and gained the respect of her peers. Again, she’s only 24, so this could be the type of victory that ignites a Tiger-like run on the LPGA Tour. It would be very cool if she put an exclamation point on the final Wegmans LPGA Championship in August.

A recount for ‘The Haig’
Still on the topic of golf, there are some historians who believe Rochester native Walter Hagen deserves to rank second rather than third on the list of most major victories. Hagen is credited with 11 majors—including the PGA Championship a record-tying five times. But “The Haig” also won the Western Open five times back in the 1920s and ’30s when the tournament had major status. So if you tacked on those five wins, Hagen would have 16, two fewer than Nicklaus and two more than Tiger.

Yankee tradition: good and bad
I love sports traditions, and few are better than the Yankees Old Timers Day, which the Bronx Bombers hosted for a 68th time last Sunday. The highlights included the introductions of Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford and the Monument Park plaque presentation to Goose Gossage.

I attended my first Old Timers Day with my dad on Aug. 9, 1969. It was a thrill to see Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Ford and numerous other baseball legends in the flesh. I recall the famous announcer, Mel Allen, doing the play-by-play of the three-inning exhibition from a table set up near the Yankees dugout. I also was there two years later when the Yankees retired manager Casey Stengel’s No. 37 uniform.

Nobody does tradition like the Yankees. And nobody overdoes it like them. Later this summer, they will retire former manager Joe Torre’s No. 6. When they retire Derek Jeter’s No. 2 next season, that will bring to 18 the number of jerseys removed from circulation.

I have nothing against Torre; I love the guy and believe he’s the greatest Yankees manager of all time. But why not just give him a plaque in Monument Park? The same goes for about 10 other Yankees whose numbers were retired. It’s gotten way out of hand and has watered down the meaning of the honor.

Of course, the Boston Celtics are even worse. They’ve retired 22 jerseys, with more to follow. Each franchise soon will have to issue triple digits.

Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak is in his 41st year as a journalist. 

6/27/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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