ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Eighteen, eighteen, eighteen.
That number is so tied up in Tiger Woods talk that it might as well be embroidered on the back of his Sunday red shirts. The legacy of the No. 1 golfer in the world is inextricably tied to whether he can match Jack Nicklaus with 18 major championships. Woods has 14 now.
But there is another number looming out there:
With his win last weekend, Woods now has 79 career PGA Tour wins, three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record of 82. With 21 more, Woods would become the first player in history to win 100. Woods has plenty of time to do it. And three players asked on Wednesday – Tom Watson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose – all think he can get there.
"What's that, 21 more to get to 100?" Rose said. "And how old is he? 37? Yeah, I think he'll probably get to 100."
Woods has won five tournaments this year already. If he averages five per year going forward, he'll get to 100 well before he's Phil Mickelson's age (43). Five tournaments a year is not a reasonable pace, but it's not like Woods is going to retire in his early 40s. If he plays for another decade – remember Nicklaus won a major at 46 – he can get to 100 averaging 2.1 wins a year. Snead won his 79th tournament at age 47. Woods is actually closer to 100 wins (he's 79-percent of the way there) than he is to 18 majors (77 percent).
Now the question is: What would be more impressive? Eighteen majors or 100 tournament wins?
It might be the latter.
"How many players on Tour have won five tournaments in a season?" Watson asked Wednesday. "Count 'em up."
Since 1990, only Nick Price and Vijay Singh have done it. Woods has done it 10 times. No one else has ever done it more than eight times. That's not just getting into contention; it's winning. In his career, Woods has held at least a share of the lead going into the final round of 57 tournaments – a feat in itself – and he's won 53 of them.
"It did strike me once," Rose said, "where the PGA Tour sent out a tweet and it was a simple tweet with WWWWW, so on, and I looked at this sea of Ws and I looked at the first five Ws and thought, 'That's my career.' Made it look somewhat, you know, less impressive."
More impressive: There have been only 10 golfers in history with 40 Tour wins, and Woods has nearly twice that amount. Nicklaus won 73 in 25 seasons, while Woods has won 79 in 18 – and that includes his recent three-year drought.
No offense to Snead or Nicklaus, but the game has changed. A lot of the courses have been lengthened, club technology has been improved, the science of the swing has been perfected, and training has intensified. Many of the top golfers today work out like elite athletes. That's part of why the last 20 majors have had 18 different winners.
"The depths of the game, everyone is so much closer," said McIlroy. "You line up the top 100 guys on the range, and you can't tell the difference."
And Woods keeps winning, even now, even after several surgeries and swing alterations.
"The level of consistency that he's had throughout his career," McIlroy said, "even with a couple of swing changes, having a couple of periods where he didn't play much, to win the amount he has and to win tournaments with three completely different golf swings, it's incredible."
And it's not like Woods hasn't won majors. As we all know, he has more of those than all but one other golfer in history. If he gets to 100 without getting to 18, he'll still have a healthy portion of his wins coming at the top events. Only three golfers in history have won 10 or more majors, and Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead are not among them. If Woods gets to 100 total, he'll have 18 more wins than the next winningest golfer, and fewer than 50 golfers in PGA Tour history have won 18 tournaments total.
One hundred is still far in the future, though. For now, the obsession is with 18. And rightfully so, since Woods himself is obsessed with 18.
Just keep in mind that even if Woods doesn't get to that magic number by the end of his career, he can still be the player of the century.
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