DORAL, Fla. — Tiger Woods already has left his own mark in world golf.
History will decide what it means.
The number that defines greatness in golf is 18. It has been that way since 1986, when Jack Nicklaus won his 18th professional major at the Masters Tournament. And it will stay that way unless – or until – Woods wins the five more majors he needs to pass him.
“While he has been gone for 2½ years, these guys who have all learned how to play, or all learned how to win, are probably no longer afraid of Tiger,” Nicklaus said. “In my opinion, I still think Tiger will regain what he does. He will come back and play very, very well. Whether he breaks my record is another issue. I still think he will. But he still has to go do it.”
If not, Woods might have to settle for another standard.
The next step below the majors are the World Golf Championships, and Woods has amassed an amazing record. When he last won a WGC at Firestone in 2009, that gave him 16 world titles out of the 32 he played, an astounding rate of 50 percent. Woods won 16 events against the best players in golf. The fields are small, and they tend to include players from overseas who are just getting started (Louis Oosthuizen) or might never be heard from again (Shiv Kapur). But for most of their 13-year existence, they have included at least the top 50 in the world.
The World Golf Championships are still not what they should be.
Along with bringing together the best players from all corners of the globe, it would help to take the tournaments around the world. And if they are mostly going to be in America, it would be better to move them to iconic venues instead of merging them with former PGA Tour events, which is what happened at Doral.
They deserve a higher status based on the players they attract and the winners they produce.
Hunter Mahan joined elite company two weeks ago when he won the Match Play Championship. The others are familiar names – Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Geoff Ogilvy and Darren Clarke.
Martin Kaymer won the HSBC Champions last November and became the 10th player with a WGC title and a major. He joined Woods, Mickelson, Els, Ogilvy, Clarke, Mike Weir, Stewart Cink, David Toms and Vijay Singh.
The WGC event this week at Doral used to travel to Europe every other year until 2006. Woods has won it six times on six courses in four countries. That gives it a little more punch than winning the Bridgestone Invitational seven times.
“I think Tiger gave them credibility by winning 14 of the first 20, or whatever it was. He won almost every one of them,” Ogilvy said. “If you do look at the list of guys who have won them, generally, at that time they were one of the best in the world.”
That’s because the best in the world are there.