Tiger Woods posted a seemingly out-of-nowhere win at the Zozo Championship after a knee procedure and nine-week layoff. So, of course, that leads to the most important question of all: Now what? We go through a little of everything, from next year to career totals to the conversation about being player and captain at the Presidents Cup in December.
1. Given what Tiger just did at the Zozo Championship, does it change your expectations for him in 2020? What do you expect from him?
Bob Harig: Absolutely. He already has 500 FedEx Cup points! Given the way the 2019 season ended at the BMW Championship, there was every reason to believe that Woods exacted every bit of his energy to win the Masters, and the rest was never going to be the same. His back was acting up, his game suffered, and he seemed OK with it. It turns out that knee problem we didn’t know about was a big deal. He’s a different player.
Michael Collins: For sure it changes my expectations because he is feeling healthier than he has in a while. Expect Tiger to make the 2020 Tour Championship. Although a major might not be in the cards, I do expect at least two more wins — with the caveat as always being his staying as healthy as he is now.
Ian O’Connor: Not really. Before the Zozo, I thought he would have a great chance to win the Masters again in 2020. After the Zozo, I feel the same way. His body isn’t beaten up yet in April. Tiger’s problems start with the tour’s decision to move the PGA Championship to May. That condensed majors schedule puts tremendous stress on him. I wouldn’t be shocked if next year is a repeat of this year: another green jacket at Augusta and not much of anything after that.
Mark Schlabach: Of course. I’ll be honest: With the way the 2018-19 season ended, I wondered if Tiger was finished. His game was a mess, and I didn’t think he’d be able to recover from the physical ailments that plagued him after his Masters victory. He’s 43 years old. It’s not as easy to rebound. Once again, Tiger proved us wrong.
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: Just when I was ready to be cautious, to say maybe he sneaks in a win here or there next year, he goes and looks comfortable and dominant and healthy in Japan for win No. 82. Now a three-win season (four if we count Zozo toward “next” season) and a major are back on the table for me. With one caveat: He does not play in the Presidents Cup. But we’ll get to that later. For now, yes, it’s not out of the question to think that if he picks his spots right, he can win a few times and strike fear in the other pros when his name pops up on a leaderboard.
2. Which of the 82 wins stands out the most?
Harig: For me, it remains the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. That was such a dominant week by Tiger, and players who witnessed it came away feeling inferior. Woods shot 12 under par, and that was the only score in red numbers. He won by 15.
Collins: There’s only one time in the history of golf that I say someone actually beat the game, and that’s what Tiger did at Pebble Beach in 2000.
O’Connor: I know a lot of people default to Pebble in 2000, the most dominant majors performance in golf history. But in the end, Tiger will be defined by what he did at the Masters, the game’s most meaningful event by a country mile. It comes down to the 1997 Masters vs. the 2019 Masters. As a nod to recency bias, I’ll declare 2019 the winner by split decision.
Schlabach: There were so many dominant victories in his career, but I think his 2019 Masters victory was the most unexpected and surprising. For the first time in his career, Woods came from behind to win a major. He was 3 shots down with 11 holes to play. He hadn’t won a green jacket in 14 years. Before that victory, even Woods wondered if he was finished winning golf tournaments.
Pietruszkiewicz: Pebble in 2000 is good — both times, when he routed the field to win the U.S. Open and when he holed out from the fairway in February of that year to erase poor Matt Gogle’s seven-shot advantage with nine to play. The win at this past Masters is good, but so is 2005, when he made the memorable chip-in at 16 to beat Chris DiMarco, and 1997, when he won his first one, then hugged Pops. Or when he held off Bob May at the PGA (also in 2000) … OK, I need to stop and pick one. I’ll take his version of the “Flu Game,” when he won the 2008 U.S. Open with broken bones in his left leg. He couldn’t walk. He needed to make a putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff, then had to do what everyone with broken bones in their leg wants to do: play 18 more holes in a Monday playoff against Rocco Mediate.
Tiger Woods holds off Hideki Matsuyama in the final round of the Zozo Championship to win his 82nd career PGA Tour title, matching Sam Snead for most all time.
3. What’s more impressive: 82 career wins or 18 majors?
Harig: For whatever reason, the 82-victory mark has never gotten much attention, likely because it simply seemed too remote. Nobody has gotten within nine of it in 33 years. Prior to Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan’s total of 64 wins was complete in the 1950s. But the major mark is more impressive for this reason: Only Woods (15) and Walter Hagen (11) have managed to win more than half of Jack’s total of 18. Only eight players are more than halfway to Tiger and Snead, which in no way diminishes the accomplishment.
Collins: It’s 18 majors because if you ask any golfer what they want to win, they all start with a major. And if you ask a golfer with multiple wins if they’d trade them for a major, they all would.
O’Connor: Great question. As staggering as the number 82 is, especially given the field depth Tiger had to face and conquer, I’d go with 18. The majors are everything in golf. There’s a reason Tiger was constantly asked about Jack Nicklaus’ record over the years and only occasionally asked about Snead’s.
Schlabach: I think the 18 majors are more significant because those are the tournaments that matter most. Dan Marino and Jim Kelly won a lot of games in the NFL, but they never won a Super Bowl. Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing scored a lot of points and grabbed a ton of rebounds, but they never won a ring. Ernie Banks and Tony Gwynn had thousands of hits but never won a World Series. Winning major championships, when there is more pressure and more at stake, is what separates the greatest players from everyone else.
Pietruszkiewicz: I really want to say 82, but in this country, we always count the big ones. How many rings you got? In this case, how many majors you got? The body of Tiger’s work, over the course of his career against the level of competition he faced, is more impressive than Nicklaus’. But 18 is the biggest of the big numbers — and always will be.
4. Clearly he’s justified in picking himself for the Presidents Cup. But should he play in the Presidents Cup?
Harig: Even without the Zozo Championship victory, there was an argument to be made that Tiger should play. It’s not the Ryder Cup, the competition has been mostly lopsided, and he brings a buzz to the event if he plays. Being a Presidents Cup playing captain is also far more manageable than it would be at the Ryder Cup. There is a single session on Thursday and Friday. He could sit out Saturday when it’s a double session. Plus, it would be cool to see him paired with someone such as Justin Thomas, which might make for a pretty formidable team.
Collins: If not Tiger, then who?! I have yet to meet a golf fan who tells me they want to see Captain Tiger driving a golf cart and making corporate decisions. How often we forget that The Presidents Cup is an exhibition, not a competition. Who better to grow the game than Tiger?
O’Connor: Sure, why not? There isn’t a golf fan on the planet who doesn’t want to see him play, and let’s face it: We don’t take the Presidents Cup as seriously as we take the Ryder Cup. It will be fascinating to see how Tiger, the rookie captain, decides to manage Tiger, the aging veteran.
Schlabach: Until the Zozo Championship, I thought Woods would be making a mistake by picking himself as a player. Yes, he’s one of the greatest players of all time, and his participation would help with TV ratings and interest. But until this past weekend, Tiger hadn’t done anything to earn a spot since his victory at Augusta National six months ago. He can justify his decision now. With Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson recovering from knee injuries, the Americans might need Tiger more than ever.
Pietruszkiewicz: Absolutely not. No, no, no, no, no. Don’t do it, Tiger. Listen, he deserves to be on the team. He would be justified in picking himself. He has earned it. Given all of that, he should not play. Why do it? After a show like he put on at Zozo, we think he’s invincible again, that he can do anything. He’s 43 years old and will be 44 at the end of December. He has had more surgeries than we can count. Team events, even if he limits how many times he puts himself in the lineup, are grinds. Remember, he goes through an hours-long regimen to get himself ready to play. As captain, he’s going to have other responsibilities and other things to worry about. He can’t take the chance of compromising himself. He has so much he wants to do in the next year and the few years of competitive golf he has left. He wants to catch Nicklaus’ 18 majors. He wants to break Snead’s record. He wants to make the 2020 Olympic team. He wants to avoid what happened this past year, when he didn’t play well enough to qualify for all the FedEx Cup playoff events. Mostly, he wants to stay healthy. Playing in the Presidents Cup is not worth the risk.
5. What’s his final number now? In career wins? In career majors?
Harig: As the Zozo Championship showed, Woods remains formidable when healthy. If he’s off like he was last summer, he will struggle. And he’s always seemingly a banana peel away from injury, so it’s tough to envision him winning prolifically. I will go with six more victories — which would tie him with Kathy Whitworth’s all-time professional record — and another major to bring that total to 16.
Collins: This is such a hard question because of the health issue. Let’s say (dream) Tiger doesn’t have any more health issues and can play six years on tour. With that scenario, I say TW gets to 90 wins and 19 majors. That said, I think realistically he gets 88 wins and 17 majors.
O’Connor: I’ll go with 89 and 17. I’ll give him two more green jackets, breaking Jack’s record of six and enhancing his case as the GOAT (despite not getting to Jack’s 18 overall). Tiger is never again going to be the consistent terminator he was in his prime. But he’s going to pick off one here and there over the next five-to-eight years.
Schlabach: Like I said earlier, I didn’t see him winning another tournament with the way the 2018-19 season ended. I was wrong. I agree with Bob that there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding his health and his ability to grind through a full season. Will his neck, back or knee problems become an issue again? I think he can win five or six more times, and he’ll get one more green jacket.
Pietruszkiewicz: Am I insane to say 90? Probably, but — wait for it — if he stays healthy, eight more wins in, say, six or so more years of competitive golf doesn’t sound entirely unreasonable. As for the majors, I still say he gets to 18 and creates history’s greatest tie.