EIGHTEEN majors – four more than’s he won and the number he needs to beat to eclipse Jack Nicklaus – have now come and gone without Tiger Woods adding to his tally but, if the history books are anything to go by, that drought could be about to end.
Winning the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, as Woods did for a record-setting seventh time in his career on Monday, has perennially proved a significant marker in the player’s season.
In those previous years, he’s gone on to win a combined 37 titles and, with five of them having been majors (including the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines), it’s no surprise that he’s already licking his lips about the prospect of visits to Augusta National, Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill in the coming months.
“I didn’t know of those stats, sorry,” Woods said with a big grin when reminded about what a significant stepping stone the San Diego venue had been for him over the years. “Does it feel good? Yes. Does it give me confidence? Absolutely. I’m excited about this year.”
While The Masters is first up, followed by the US Open, Woods is already looking forward to making a return to Muirfield, despite the fact it was there, in 2002, that he endured one of the worst day’s weather to hit the world’s oldest major in recent times.
As wind and rain wreaked havoc on the East Lothian links on the Saturday afternoon, Woods slumped to a ten-over-par 81 in the third round before bouncing back with a closing 65 to finish joint-28th behind winner Ernie Els.
“Muirfield is a wonderful test – I just caught a bad day there in ‘02 on the Saturday,” said the world No 2 as he looked forward to the home of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers staging the event for the 16th time.
Woods made an untidy start to his 2013 campaign, topping one of his tee shots in the opening round of the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago, then missing the cut there after he was penalised two shots over a wrong ‘free’ drop.
However, after being told that penalty was a possibility with eight holes to go, there was no hiding how hard he tried to repair the damage and, helped by three birdies in a row, he came within a whisker of scraping into the final two rounds.
“I did some really good things there [in Abu Dhabi] and felt I could just build on that, which I did,” said Woods after claiming the 75th win of his PGA Tour career, leaving him just seven shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record. “I played very well this week. I drove the ball well and my short game has come around again.”
Woods, who was eight shots clear at one point in the delayed final round before some late sloppiness saw his winning margin cut to four, has now won four times in less than a year. Having gone 30 months prior to that without tasting success, he’s starting to build up a head of steam in his bid to regain the world No 1 spot.
New Nike stablemate Rory McIlroy has held that position since his USPGA Championship victory last August, but his advantage is now down to 3.14 points and could narrow further before he next plays at the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Arizona in the middle of next month.
“That’s how I got there in the first place,” said Woods in reply to being asked if McIlroy was now in his sights. “That’s how he got there. It’s winning tournaments, being consistent. Your bad weeks are going to be top tens and when you win, you win. And you’ve got to be consistently winning.
“I was excited about being able to win three times last year coming from where I came from [back from injury].”
One player in with a chance of locking horns with Woods in the aforementioned WGC Accenture Match-Play is Scott Jamieson after the Glaswegian climbed to 69th in the latest world rankings. He needs to get into the top 64 to guarantee his place, but Miguel Angel Jimenez is already ruled out due to his broken leg so Jamieson isn’t far away from making the elite line-up heading into this week’s Dubai Desert Classic.