BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Halfway through the season, Tiger Woods has made it clear that he is hitting his stride in pursuit of a major record.
Just not the majors record.
Not yet, anyway.
Woods has been stuck on 14 majors for the past four years, and he hasn’t even cracked the top 20 in the past three he played.
Before he can think about Jack Nicklaus and his benchmark of 18 professional majors, the percentages suggest that Woods has a better shot at first getting to a record that is no less impressive, even if it doesn’t get nearly enough attention — Sam Snead and his 82 wins on the PGA Tour.
Woods won by five shots at Bay Hill and rallied from four shots behind to win the Memorial, pushing his career total to 73 wins, tied with Nicklaus for second place. He has nine more chances this year to move closer to Snead, compared with two more majors to end his drought and make some headway on Nicklaus.
All anyone talks about — all Woods really has thought about since the 1997 Masters — is Nicklaus and the majors.
As for Snead’s record?
“I was aware of it, but at the time, everyone focused on Jack’s record,” Woods said Tuesday. “But as I delved more into the game and was probably in high school, I started understanding Sam’s contributions to the game of golf and his consistency. The fact that he won at age 52, when he won Greensboro, and to do it for that long is amazing. Truly amazing.”
Nicklaus won 14 times in the first 58 majors he played as a pro, same as Woods. Snead compiled 82 wins over 30 years. Woods has 73 wins in 16 years.
An argument can be made that Woods’ 73 wins are more impressive than his 14 majors in relation to the record book.
“I don’t think Snead gets his due on that record,” two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange said. “It speaks to longevity and talent. I think Sam could be the best player of all time.
There’s a hell of an argument for that. Certainly, Jack is the greatest champion of all time. But Sam’s record doesn’t get his due. In the Nicklaus era and forward, we’ve give the majors so much PR. When we talk about majors, we discount the other wins. We talk about how much harder the majors are to win.
“Sometimes, that’s not necessarily true.”
Golf now revolves around the majors. Those are the championships everyone remembers. That’s where history is made. That’s how greatness is measured.
But total wins should not be looked upon any less importantly.
Remember, it took Nicklaus only 11 years to break Walter Hagen’s record of 11 professional majors. In four decades, he could only get within nine tour wins of Snead’s record.
Still, most everyone would agree that majors are what matter.
Even if the courses for the odd major might be easier, the pressure of playing for history takes a toll between the ears.
“Majors are continuous in the modern era, which I guess would be 1934,” said former British Open champion Stewart Cink, referring to the first year of the Masters. “We have a lot of tournaments that have come and gone, just a lot of different setups on the PGA Tour since the 1960s.”
Justin Leonard, another British Open champion, said there are PGA Tour events that present a more difficult test than some majors, but that doesn’t make them harder to win than the majors.
“You get four majors a year,” Leonard said. “It’s hard to time yourself to play your best those four times. And it’s hard to
pick those four weeks to play your best when everyone else picks those four weeks.”
The numbers favor Woods getting to Snead before he gets to Nicklaus.
He has won 27 percent of his PGA Tour events. Throw out the majors, and he has won 29 percent of the time. And then consider that on average, his chances at winning tournaments compared with winning majors are about 18 to 4.
“Looking strictly at the math, you would think Tiger has a better chance to get to 82 wins than to 18 majors because he plays more tournaments,” Cink said.
For Woods, this year is starting to resemble 2009, when he won all four of his pre-major tournaments, but failed to win a major. He is playing this week in the AT&T National, which he won the last time it was held at Congressional.
Next week is The Greenbrier Classic, the final start before the British Open. He will play at Firestone, where he has won seven times, before playing the final major of the year at the PGA Championship.
Woods, when asked why there is more attention on Nicklaus than Snead, compared it with tennis. Fans could more easily identify with Pete Sampras or Roger Federer and their Grand Slam titles than the fact Jimmy Connors won more tournaments than anyone in the modern era.
“I believe it’s over 100,” Woods said. He was close — 109 titles for Connors.
“I think that the majors certainly have more importance, and we put so much more on it, especially now,” he said. “There’s so much more media coverage and more attention on major championships. Certainly, that’s something that wasn’t exactly in Jack’s day and obviously prior to him. Our big events are big, and they’re bigger than any other events that we play.”
Perhaps there’s another reason why the Nicklaus record gets more attention: He’s still around to talk about it.
Nicklaus and Woods were paired together in the 2000 PGA Championship, which Woods won for his fifth major. Nicklaus rarely has an interview without someone asking about whether Woods can break his record in the majors.
Snead won for the 82nd and final time in 1965. At the time, only two other players had more than 50 wins — Ben Hogan (64) and Byron Nelson (52).
When Snead died in 2002, Woods only had 30 wins. He wasn’t even close.
He is now.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)