Washington - Tiger Woods reaches his 40th
birthday on Wednesday, still recovering from a third back operation with no
timetable for another golf comeback and reflective comments about ending his
Former world number one Woods has 14 major
titles, four shy of the all-time record set by Jack Nicklaus, and 79 PGA
victories, three off the career best held by Sam Snead.
But to become lost in the numbers is to
miss the point of what Woods has meant to golf, a unique talent who in his
moment might just have been the world's greatest sport star, the first black
man to win a major golf crown sparking "Tiger-mania" and generating a
curiosity from fans beyond golf long after his greatest days were behind him.
There's an old saying that life begins at
40. Time to set aside childish dreams, like matching a boyhood idol, and lift
up your children as you revel in what you have achieved.
But Woods said last week he feels at times
like a teen and at others far beyond his years due to injuries.
"Mentally, people who know me know I'm
like a five-year-old. Physically, sometimes I feel old and sometimes I feel
like a teenager," Woods said.
"I don't like the polar opposites of
the two. I'd like to be somewhere in the middle where I feel 40."
Woods has not won a major title since the
2008 US Open, in which he limped through a playoff on a broken leg to beat
He has been through four knee surgeries,
three back operations and a messy sex scandal. Once-mighty shots might only be
memories. Forget record runs. Just playing, let alone winning any event, seems
a distant goal now.
"There's really nothing I can look
forward to, nothing I can build towards," Woods said at his foundation's
Hero World Challenge event earlier this month. "Where is the light at the
end of the tunnel? I don't know.
"Pretty much everything beyond this
will be gravy. If that's all it entails, then I've had a pretty good run."
Woods will serve as an assistant captain of
the US 2016 Ryder Cup team guided by Davis Love. But he has come to grips with
the idea he might never play again.
"It's not what I want to have happen
and it's not what I'm planning on having happen, but if it does, it does. I've
reconciled myself to it," Woods told Time magazine.
"Even if I don't come back and I don't
play again, I still want to have a quality of life with my kids. I started to
lose that with the other surgeries."
He told Time that chasing Nicklaus, now 75,
was about doing things at a younger age than when Nicklaus had achieved it.
"It was all age-related," Woods
said. "To me, that was important. This guy is the best out there and the
best of all time. If I can beat each age that he did it, then I have a chance
at being the best."
Nicklaus has one record, Snead another, and
Arnold Palmer brought television to the sport.
But Woods rewrote the game, helping force
longer courses, boosting the price TV would pay to show golf and the fitness
golfers would need to win, becoming the all-time top sports marketing pitchman
before his sex scandal shattered his sponsorship supremacy.
Nicklaus, for one, refuses to write off an
18th Woods major win, saying, "He has always been a very focused young man
with a great work ethic and is tremendously talented. To count him out of that
would be foolish. He certainly has a very good chance of doing that."
While the British Open has offered up some
over-40 winners in recent years, the only over-40 winner of a US major since
1999 was Vijay Singh at 41 at the 2004 PGA Championship.
And beyond age 40, only Old Tom Morris won
four majors - the British Opens in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867, the last of them
at age 46, the same as Nicklaus when he won his last at the 1986 Masters.
Think Woods might have one more still in
him at age 46 at the 2022 Masters? If that sort of thing matters to him by
then, well, as Nicklaus said, "to count him out of that would be
"Where do I see myself in the next
five to 10 years?" Woods said. "I'm still playing golf at the highest
level and winning tournaments and major championships."