At the end of the first major in 2019, Tiger Woods flexed his muscles and let out a guttural scream on the 18th green at Augusta. He was Masters champion for a fifth time and had won the Tour Championship seven months prior. He seemed primed for another major championship run after breaking through with No. 15. Some even discussed the idea of him winning the season Grand Slam in 2020 to tie Jack Nicklaus for the most majors in history with 18. Then a neck/back injury derailed the second half of his season and we've been waiting for him to compete in another major ever since.
At the end of the first major in 2020, Tiger Woods was finishing up his final round at around the same time the final group was teeing off, shaking hands with Tom Hoge in relative silence. He played well on Sunday, draining a few more putts en route to a final-round 3-under, 67. He finished T-37, 12 strokes behind the winner, 23-year-old Collin Morikawa.
Placing in between Woods and Morikawa were a slew of fearless, big-hitting youngsters who have taken the tour by storm during this PGA Tour restart. Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland are just the tip of the iceberg. As Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Scottie Scheffler proved on Sunday at TPC Harding Park, there are a dozen or so other players in their early 20s who can blister a course and win a major. Of course, that's not even mentioning established 20-to-30-year-old major champs like Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and, to a lesser extent lately, Jordan Spieth.
Which brings us back to Woods. At this point in his career with his body, everything has to go right for him to win. The weather has to be warm enough for his back to stay loose. His driver has to be on that week or the course has to be forgiving enough if he sprays a few. His putter can't be an issue and he's also got to get a good break or two as he did at Augusta when the two leaders hit it in the water at 12 on the final day. The fact is, putting four-straight great rounds together on a major championship course doesn't come quite as easy at 44 years old as it does at 30. This week proved it.
Woods changed putters at the beginning of this tournament, benching the Scotty Cameron he's won 14 of his 15 majors with and going to a longer, similar version of the Scotty Cameron. Why? It doesn't hurt his back as much when he's grinding on the practice green. With the longer putter he doesn't have to bend over quite as much, and that few inches makes all the difference for a man his age.
Meanwhile, guys like DeChambeau are swinging at absurd speed rates that would leave Woods with a prosthetic hip if he tried to match them.
The game of golf has never been deeper in talent than it is today. Since the tour restarted, Daniel Berger, Webb Simpson, Johnson, DeChambeau, Morikawa, Michael Thomas and Justin Thomas have won tournaments. With the exception of Michael Thomas, all of those other players are multi-time winners on tour who are at least eight years younger than Woods. The competition has never been stiffer for Tiger.
That doesn't mean Woods won't win another major. We all thought he was done heading into the 2019 Masters and then Tiger reminded us how special he can be in Sunday red. He's played some solid golf here and then since then, but in majors he's missed two cuts and hasn't finished in the top 20 in the other two.
Over the next 11 months, if Woods' body holds up he will get six more opportunities to win his 16th major. He'll play four tournaments at courses where he's won major championships before: Augusta National twice, Torrey Pines in the 2021 U.S. Open and the Old Course at St. Andrews in the 2021 Open Championship. That's great news for Woods. The bad news is everything else I mentioned above.
Maybe Woods wins another major in his career. He seemingly still has five years left to add to his collection. But it will take a perfect week for his body, a near-perfect week from his golf game and it will take him beating a bunch of kids who grew up idolizing, but never fearing him to get one. Then he needs two more. It's not impossible, but it's pretty bleak.