Mark Townsend (MT): Yes, he is the best player in the world. Who knows he might even be the best player ever to play the game but, if push comes to shove, I would say he won’t win a Major in 2014. It seems a ludicrous thing to say of someone who is comfortably back at World No 1 but it also seems ludicrous that he hasn’t won a Major since June 2008 when he won at Torrey Pines on one leg.
James Tompkinson (JT): I completely agree with you that Tiger is the best player in the world, and that is exactly why he will win another Major. Although it has been over five years since his last win, he has had nine top ten finishes at Majors since Torrey Pines so surely it is only a matter of time until he wins another one?
MT: Possibly but there is a world of difference between winning a Major and being somewhere up there. Several of those he wasn’t genuinely in contention at and you only need to look at the first half of Mickelson’s career – 17 top 10s before his first Major – or the second half of Westwood’s – 11 top 10s since 2008 – to realise that, at some point, it plays heavily on your mind.
JT: That’s very true, but the difference is that the top-10 finishes for Mickelson came before his first Major, and Westwood is still yet to win one. There’s a world of difference between a player who doesn’t know how to win a Major and one who does. Tiger has 14 to his name already so knows what it takes to triumph on the biggest of stages. Yes he hasn’t won won for a while, but he is used to performing well on the big stages and will add to his existing number of Majors.
MT: Things change. Of course he knows how to win Majors, he’s won more than anyone bar one other player, but there used to be a huge fear factor back in the glory days. Plenty of times he was rarely genuinely challenged, either by his own brilliant play or by his intimidatory nature. When he lost the 2009 PGA Championship to YE Yang – the first time he had ever led and then not gone on to win – I think something changed in his, and everyone else’s head. For me that was the most important Major in the past 20 years. Now we have a new breed of 20-somethings, none of whom have really suffered at Woods’ hands and who would relish taking on someone who is approaching 38.
JT: Very true, and I completely agree that there isn’t a fear factor surrounding Tiger in the same way that there used to be. I think the new breed of 20-somethings will certainly prevent Tiger from having another period of dominance like he had around 2000/01 and 2006/7, but on an individual tournament basis he is as good as anyone in the game. He might not have ‘untouchable’ status any more, but all that means is that he is as good as the other elite players around at the moment. Tiger will most probably be the favourite heading into Augusta – and with good reason. He’s still a class act.
Over the last couple of seasons Woods has improved immeasurably. He’s re-built his swing with the help of Sean Foley and seems to be in a good place. MT: Tiger will be the favourite at Augusta (he’s the clear market leader now at 6-1) and, most likely, the jolly at the other three. At the moment he is the only player in single figures with the bookies for the last three Majors. The 2014 Majors appear to fall brilliantly for Woods – the Open is back at Hoylake where he won in 2006, the PGA returns to Valhalla where he triumphed in 2000. The US Open is back at Pinehurst and there will be plenty of chat about the lack of the need for the driver and therefore how Woods should prosper. It is easy to talk up Woods for anywhere, he’s the best in the business but the fact remains that he hasn’t won a Major since 2008. Even more bizarre he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005.
JT: I think we have to be slightly careful talking about the gap of time since Woods’ last Major win. The personal battles of 2009/10 were well documented and clearly had an impact on his game, and he actually slipped to 112th on the PGA Tour money list in 2010. At the Bridgestone Invitational that year he finished T78th with a score of 18-over when the winning score was -12. Over the last couple of seasons Woods has improved immeasurably. He’s re-built his swing with the help of Sean Foley and seems to be in a good place. He’s also had injury niggles and managed to make the cut at the US Open this year with an elbow problem. Like you say, the 2014 Majors should suit Tiger perfectly so I really do think this will be his year.
MT: The injuries could be huge, at any press conference he likes to repeat, again and again, how healthy he is. Whether that will help with hitting the driver with renewed confidence at crucial moments or holing those must make putts, as he always seemed to, we’ll have to wait and see. No other player has anything like the attention that TW has to contend with, we might all think that Rory is big business but he is nothing in comparison. And then there’s that number that looms large, no other player has a Major figure that is commented on at every regular tournament. Jack’s 18, a number that Tiger has failed to close on since Torrey Pines in 2008.
JT: My own personal view is that the breed of 20-somethings that we mentioned earlier could prevent Tiger from winning another four Majors. But I’m almost certain that he’ll win at least one more, and very confident that the wait for another Woods win will end in 2014.