Time running out in Woods' quest to break Nicklaus' majors record

Age, injuries and scandal have cut into chances of surpassing 18 majors

May 13, 2010|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

Nine weeks to make a move.

That's the time remaining until the British Open, with the U.S. Open three weeks earlier. And it might loom as the most critical juncture in Tiger Woods' closing push toward 19 major titles.

His neck hurts every time he swings a golf club. His body seems in persistent breakdown mode. When Woods does get back to the range, the man he entrusted with his swing for six years won't be around.

As recently as six months ago, the planets seemed aligned in 2010 for Woods to take a chunk out of the five majors he needs to break Jack Nicklaus' gold standard.

The U.S. Open was back at Pebble Beach, the British at St. Andrews, and Woods has overpowered both in record-setting fashion. Factor in Augusta National, and that presented three huge chances to add to his 14 majors.

"He basically owns all three of those places," Nicklaus said in January. "If Tiger is going to pass my record, I think this is a big year for him in that regard."

Then came Woods' seven weeks of counseling and public apology in the self-imposed exile that grew out of his multi-mistress scandal. He placed fourth at the Masters.

He's now in a race against time.

Woods said on his Web site Wednesday that an MRI determined he has inflammation in the facet joint of his neck. He says the treatment will include soft-tissue massage, anti-inflammatory medicine and rest, but didn't say when he would return.

Who knows, too, what other 34-year-old body parts might balk if Woods tries for a quick recovery.

His left knee has been rebuilt. Stress fractures nearly kept him from the 2008 U.S. Open. He tore his right Achilles' on the comeback trail. Now the neck.

"Just getting old, dude," Woods joked Monday.

Maybe faster than other PGA Tour pros. It's interesting that Phil Mickelson — with his fondness for Krispy Kreme and In-n-Out burgers — never has had a major golf-related injury.

If Woods comes away empty this year, the odds of overtaking Nicklaus shift. Though he has played well at Congressional, Royal St. George's and Atlanta Athletic Club, the 2011 venues don't hold the same promise.

Though Nicklaus won four majors after age 36, Gary Player and Lee Trevino took just one each, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson none.

The clock is ticking.

jshain@tribune.com

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