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What Tiger Seems Best at Is Moving On

He didn’t like his chances Sunday night as he left Baltusrol Golf Club, so Tiger Woods hopped on his private jet and took off for his home in Florida, even though he still had an outside chance at making it into a playoff Monday at the PGA Championship.

Tiger’s math was entirely correct, of course, and he finds himself in Akron, Ohio, this week for the $7.5 million NEC Invitational, the current stop in his travel schedule that has taken him from Michigan to Florida to New Jersey to Florida to Ohio in the last four weeks.

Chances are, there has been just enough down time for Woods to think about his season of majors while he was snacking on his jet aircraft or reclining in one of its leather seats or when he was back home Monday morning watching Phil Mickelson come through and win by a shot.

Woods said he didn’t see all 56 minutes of Mickelson’s second major victory on television.

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“I caught a piece of it,” he said. “I caught it towards the end. I was in the gym working out.”

As for his majors, Woods came very close to working that out too.

He won two, the Masters by a shot in a sudden-death playoff and the British Open by five shots, but he had legitimate chances to win them all. For that reason, the next time Woods is working out in the gym, he might try kicking himself.

There’s no way he’s going to do that, Woods said, because he doesn’t look at what happened at the majors that way. His thinking process is different. He either wins or he doesn’t win and he moves on. Thinking about it any other way would drive a golfer, at least this one, “way too crazy,” implying that a little dose of crazy is acceptable.

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Winning half of the year’s supply of majors isn’t that bad, by all standards, but let’s take just one: Jack Nicklaus’ standards.

Nicklaus never won three majors in one year, but he did win two of them in one year five times. His best chances to win all of them were in 1966, 1972 and 1975.

In 1966, Nicklaus was 26 when he won the Masters in an 18-hole, three-way playoff with Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer. He was third at the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club, but just two shots out of a playoff that Billy Casper won over Arnold Palmer.

Nicklaus then won at the British Open at Muirfield, beating Doug Sanders by one shot. His only bad major was the PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club when he had four rounds in the 70s and tied for 22nd when Al Geiberger won.

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Nicklaus was halfway to the Grand Slam in 1972 after he won by three shots at Augusta and the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Back at Muirfield again, Nicklaus had no answer for Lee Trevino, despite a 66 on the last day, and was second by one shot. It was Gary Player’s turn to win the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills with Nicklaus in a tie for 13th.

Nicklaus had another great chance in 1975 at 35. He won his fifth Masters, by a shot over Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf but tied for seventh at the U.S. Open at Medinah, where Lou Graham beat John Mahaffey in a playoff, which Nicklaus missed by two shots, rebuffed by his third-round 75.

Tom Watson beat Jack Newton in a playoff to win the British Open at Carnoustie as Nicklaus tied for third, only one shot shy of joining the playoff. At Firestone in August, Nicklaus became the first person to win the Masters-PGA Championship double in the same year twice, this time beating Bruce Crampton by two shots.

Four months later, Tiger Woods was born in Cypress.

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And Woods has been chasing Nicklaus’ 18 major titles from the day he first learned about them. Woods has 10, but he came so close to sweeping them all this year.

His misses were tantalizingly close.

Second at the U.S. Open. Down by two shots to Michael Campbell, Woods drove into the right rough at the 16th hole. He missed the fairway by about two yards and what might have been a chance at a birdie. Instead, he missed the green short, chipped to eight feet below the hole and missed the putt. Bogey. He three-putted the 17th. Bogey.

Tied for third at the PGA Championship. Two shots from what would have forced a playoff with Mickelson, Woods couldn’t get close enough after stumbling out of the gate with a 75, totaling three penalty shots and five three-putts.

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Mickelson, by the way, had only one three-putt.

That’s the short story on Woods’ year of majors. If nothing else, he put a different spin this year on his own image, one that had taken a pounding for his lack of producing a major victory since the 2002 U.S. Open, not to mention his highly publicized swing changes.

Two major titles, two near misses. If he needs any consoling over those results, he could call in Nicklaus, who never did better himself. Besides, there’s always next year.


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