Tom Boswell, a Washington Post sports columnist whom I long have admired, posed in a recent piece a question I think deserves further discussion: Has Tiger hit a Jack Nicklaus-like slump?
Boswell points out that in 1975 just after winning his 14th Major, Nicklaus went through a four year Major-less streak. And after that:
When Jack played well, he didn’t intimidate peers as he had for 15 years. Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Johnny Miller arrived, free of bad memories of losing to him. Gary Player, Ray Floyd and Hale Irwin refused to go away. All won majors in late ‘70s, as Jack did a slow dignified burn. How good were they? Watson fit in the mix. This July, at 59, he still wasn’t too bad.
Jack’s long slump, just when it was least expected, is the reason there was such a “Jack’s Back” fuss in 1980, when he won the U.S. Open. He wasn’t achingly missed until John Mahaffey, Hubert Green and Andy (Y.E.) North were winning majors instead of him.
I’ve assumed, because Woods has surpassed Nicklaus at every stage of their careers—always by a small but undeniable margin—that he would also take longer to learn how to lose. Tiger knows every twist of Nicklaus’s career. Jack won two U.S. Amateurs, so Woods won three. There are no cracks in his comparative record. So he knows what happened to Jack at 36, so I figured he’d probably keep his aura until he was 40.
Perhaps the toughness his father drilled into him would extend his sense of invincibility. Perhaps his combination of golf intelligence and imagination, or having Jack’s records as a target, would help. However, their careers have one big difference: Jack never had an injury as bad as Woods’s reconstructive knee surgery.
So, now we get to wonder—at least until next season.
I find it interesting that, considering the multiple knee surgeries, the thing that seems to have Tiger stumped right now is the putting. But I really can’t see him going 0-12 in Majors.