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Harris: More majors for Tiger? We'll see

| Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 12:07 a.m.
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Tiger Woods lines up his third shot on the first hole during Round Three of the 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club on June 15, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa.
Tiger Woods tees off on the 18th hole during the fourth round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Merion Golf Club, Sunday, June 16, 2013, in Ardmore, Pa. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Just like that, Tiger Woods has performed a startling about-face after his flameout at this year's U.S. Open and his failure to win a major golf tournament in the past five years.

Exactly five years to the day, Woods, who defeated Greensburg native Rocco Mediate to win the 2008 U.S. Open in a memorable playoff at Torrey Pines — two months after knee surgery — finished 13-over-par at Merion Golf Club.

It was his worst score in an Open since he was 14-over as an amateur in 1996.

On the other hand, Woods is so talented, he's the early favorite to win next month's British Open, according to odds posted at the LVH SuperBook.

Not so fast.

One moment, Tiger is winning The Players Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The next, he places in a tie for 32nd at the U.S. Open and looks less likely to surpass Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships.

When it comes to Tiger's golf game, which ranges from spectacular to shaky, no one really knows.

Least of all, Woods himself.

“I did a lot of things right,” Woods said following his final round Sunday. “Unfortunately, I did a few things wrong, as well.”

Eventually, Tiger will be fine. That's what we keep telling ourselves. After all, Jack Nicklaus won his final major at age 46.

There's plenty of time for Woods to turn things around. But he needs to display more mental toughness and a willingness to grind through rough patches of golf without falling out of contention on moving day.

As difficult as it is to believe that Tiger shot 74 in his final round at this year's U.S. Open — he's 0 for 16 at major tournaments since winning the 2008 Open — it's easier to believe that he will snap out of it and resume winning majors.

Eventually, we all assume, he will return to being Tiger simply because he's the best golfer in the world — even though his peers don't react the way Chris DiMarco did at Bethpage Black more than a decade ago.

“I can't play with him on this course, and I'm man enough to admit it,” said DiMarco, who also finished runner-up to Woods at the U.S. Open in 2006.

Now, opponents such as Sergio Garcia crack unfunny jokes about Tiger's eating habits.

Garcia couldn't beat Woods if you gave Sergio five strokes and tied one of Tiger's arms behind his back. The fear factor that fellow golfers had for Eldrick's game is gone.

Still, Woods has won 14 majors. That buys him a tremendous amount of credibility.

Among active golfers, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are next with four major championships apiece. Mickelson should have racked up No. 5 at this year's Open, but that's another story.

Mickelson and Els are 43. Another generation may pass before someone else challenges Woods' majors total, and that's a very big if.

Tiger won his first major in 1997. Gobbling up championships like Pac-Man, Woods won his eighth major when he was 27 and pocketed his 10th major by the time he was 30.

However, major championships have come at a slower pace for Woods, who turns 38 in December — four majors in the past seven years.

Nicklaus won his eighth major when he was 30.

Over the next five years, Nicklaus added six more major championships. At 46, he won his final major following a six-year dry spell.

Of course, there have been more than enough distractions to sidetrack Woods from his appointed rounds: knee surgery, swing changes, coaching changes, caddie changes, a painful divorce followed by public humiliation, and the ravages of time.

That's right, time.

Woods might be the best-conditioned golfer in the world, but this isn't 1997 or even 2008, when he played in pain and gutted out a clutch performance to win the U.S. Open. None of us are getting younger.

Woods suffered an elbow injury in May at The Players Championship, which clearly affected his performance at the U.S. Open. It remains to be seen if those same elbow problems flare up at the British Open, and what impact that may have as Woods pursues his 15th major championship.

Unless Woods loses faith, there's no reason to believe he won't continue his pursuit of Nicklaus' record.

As Nicklaus proved late in his career, Woods' age shouldn't matter.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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