Tiger turns 35 today. While he surely will have a better record this next year than last, I wonder if he’s beginning to worry about achieving his goal of 18 majors. True, thirty five is not old, but I’ve always thought that—relative to Jack and some others—he’s much older in golf years. As I’ve written here before, Tiger has five to ten more years of serious competitive playing time at this age than did Jack or Arnie or some of the others . He’s also had multiple knee surgeries and quite a bit more tumultuous life. Given that, I think it’s a real possibility that he’s on the downside of his career.
Still, there’s no shortage of late-life major winners. Here’s the tale of the tape:
Jack Nicklaus, of course, was famously 46 when he won the 1986 Masters. That’s eclipsed in the modern age only by Julius Boros’ 1968 PGA Championship win at 48 years old. Jerry Barber won the 1961 PGA Championship at age 45, the same age Hale Irwin was when he won the 1990 US Open. Roberto de Vicenzo won the 1967 British Open at 44, while Ray Floyd won the 1986 US Open at 43.
And over the past 15 years, there has been no shortage of older Major winners. A non-comprehensive list (rounding off the months):
At the Masters: Phil has won at age 34, 36 and 40. Cabrera turned 40 in 2009. Vijay was 37 in his 2000 Masters win. Faldo was 39 in 1996. O’Meara was 41 in 1998. Crenshaw was 43 in 1995.
At the US Open: Cabrera was 38 in 2007. Retief Goosen was 35 in 2004. Payne Stewart was 42 in 1999. Corey Pavin was 36 in 1995.
At the British Open: Tom Lehman was 37 in 1996. O’Meara was 41 in 1998. Harrington was 37 in 2008; 36 in 2007. Todd Hamilton was 39 in 2004. Stewart Cink was 35 last year.
At the PGA Championship: Harrington at 37 in 2008; Mark Brooks at 35 in 1996; Vijay was 41 in 2004. Phil was 35 in 2005.
And in what I would term the pre modern age, among others, Old Tom Morris won the 1867 British Open at 46; Harry Vardon, the 1914 British Open at 44, and Ted Ray the 1920 British Open at 43.
The flip side of these can be found in the examples of Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson, both of whom were done winning Majors at age 35.
So here’s my prediction: Tiger wins two more majors in his career. In my mind, a lot is conspiring against him at this point: his age, his physical condition, his mental condition, the evaporation of his aura of invincibility and the rise of some real competition. But even given all that, he’s so talented that he surely will be able to put together four stellar rounds in a week when everyone else is struggling.