Woods still has a very long way to go

Can Tiger Woods break Jack Nicklaus’s record for major golf championships?

That’s the question many golf fans are asking as the best golfers in the world tee up today at the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

Men’s professional golf has four major tournaments: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Those tournaments are considered the toughest in golf, played on some of the most challenging courses by only the leading players in the game. So, winning even one is an accomplishment.

Jack Nicklaus won 18 major tournaments between 1962 and 1986. Tiger Woods ranks second, with 14 majors. Kids who know their math know that Woods needs five more to break Nicklaus’s record.

A couple of years ago, it seemed that Woods was a cinch to break the record. But his last major win was the U.S. Open in 2008. Since then, he has had a knee operation, gotten divorced and played poorly (for Tiger Woods).

Another reason why it might be difficult for Woods to win five more major titles is that he celebrated his 35th birthday on Dec. 30. That’s not very old for a golfer, but only three men have won five major golf championships after turning 35.

Jack Nicklaus was one. He won six of his majors after his 35th birthday.

The other two were Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, who played from the 1930s into the 1980s.

Snead, who was known as Slammin’ Sammy, won five of his seven major championships after age 35. He was a terrific player who kept his beautiful, smooth swing even as he got older. Snead is the oldest man to win a regular PGA tournament: He won the Greater Greensboro Open when he was 52.

Hogan was even more amazing: He won eight of his nine major titles after age 35. In fact, those eight victories came after Hogan was nearly killed in a car accident at age 36. Doctors said he might never walk again, but the tough and determined Hogan came back to be one of the greatest golfers ever.

Still, the list of players who never won a major championship after age 35 includes some of the most famous names in golf: Bobby Jones (13 major wins); Tom Watson (8); Arnold Palmer (7); Gene Sarazen (7); Byron Nelson (5) and Seve Ballesteros (5).

So can Tiger win five more majors to beat Nicklaus’s record? I don’t think so, but if he’s going to have a chance, he had better get started this week. Time is running out.

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost’s sports opinion column as well as sports books for kids.

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