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Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Close Is Tiger to Jack's Record... Really?

No doubt you've heard the comparisons of Tiger and Jack this week. Their records at the same age have been watched ever since Tiger started making a serious run at the Golden Bear. Tiger was ahead of Jack's major record when he won his 14th major at the 2008 US Open. But now, unless Tiger wins at the Open this week, he'll fall behind Jack for the first time.

I understand the logic... but it's a bit misleading, folks. The story's more complex than that.

Jack and Tiger

Going into this week, Tiger hasn't won a major since the 2008 US Open. That's 24 majors -- 6 years. For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to assume Tiger won't win this week, nor will he win the PGA in Valhalla while he gets his game back in fighting shape. That's 26 majors, or 6.5 years.

Let's take a look at how Jack fared from this point onward in his record major run.

After Jack won the 1978 Open (major #15), he won a regular event the next week but missed the cut at the PGA. He didn't win a major at all in 1979 -- he was rebuilding his swing that year -- and then he won the 1980 US Open (#16) and 1980 PGA (#17). He then went winless at the majors until his 18th win at the 1986 Masters. In fact, he only won two regular events between his 17th and 18th majors, and he never won a PGA Tour event -- major or otherwise -- after that.

Let's do a little math here. Between #15 and #16 he was winless for 6 majors -- that's 1.5 years. And between #17 and #18 he went winless for 20 majors -- that's 5 more years. By my calculation, that's 6.5 winless years in the majors... just like Tiger.

But if we're comparing their records at the same age, these barren years are still in Jack's future! From this point on -- after "this week's win" at the Open, that is -- Jack has only 6 more wins of any kind. And Jack was healthy for those years while Tiger has spent his last 6 years trying to get healthy.

To me, this sounds as if Jack is actually the one who's behind. In those 6.5 winless years, Jack played every major and missed only one cut while Tiger didn't play in 6 majors and missed 2 cuts. If Tiger is indeed finally healthy and has his game in any sort of shape when 2015 finally arrives, Tiger has 29 majors left to catch Jack by the same age.

But wait... the oldest man to win a major was Julius Boros, who won the 1968 PGA at the ripe old age of 48. If Tiger could match that feat -- and you know he's aware of this record as well -- that gives him 36 more majors to beat Jack.

Granted, a lot depends on Tiger's health. But if he's healthy going forward, I sure wouldn't bet against him. In the year-to-year comparison, Jack could start losing some serious ground within the next year or two.

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