Wait Just A Second!

By Ron Sirak Photos by Getty Images
March 11, 2013

Woods won for a seventh time at Doral, despite two late bogeys to make things interesting.

The thing about bandwagons is that they are moving targets. Jumping on and off comes with its share of risk. Right now, the Tiger Woods bandwagon, light of load in recent years, is once again buckling under the weight of its cargo.

When a guy has won five of his last 19 tournaments and happens to have 76 PGA Tour victories and 14 major championships, there is every reason to say he is the best player in the game. But saying Woods is the best right now -- which he may well be despite his No. 2 ranking -- and saying he has returned to his former greatness are two very different things.

And before you jump down to the comments section and start calling me a hater, please consider this: Tiger Light is good enough to be better than anyone else playing. That's how much talent this guy has. At a diminished level he is still better than just about anyone else. All I'm saying is that Tiger is not the same player he once was, but neither is Kobe Bryant and he's still pretty good.

Why do I think we should look at the run of success Woods is on with a wee bit of caution? Two things: The way he has closed out his victories and his recent performances in the major championships. His record in both areas raises some interesting questions.

So far this year, Woods has won the Farmers Insurance Open by four strokes, taking it for the seventh time, and the WGC-Cadillac Championship by two. But at Torrey Pines, he played the last five holes four over par

. And at Doral, he bogeyed two of the last three holes and was about a yard away from spinning the ball off the final green and into the water.

Those were not the slam-the-door-in-your face kind of finishes we were used to seeing from Woods when he was establishing his reputation as the best closer this side of Mariano Rivera. Yes, he won and yes, he hit some sensational shots, but that brings us to point No. 2.

The bar for achievement set by Woods himself has always been the record 18 major championship victories held by Jack Nicklaus and not the mark of 82 PGA Tours wins set by Sam Snead. Right now, I'd say it's a sure thing that Tiger breaks the Snead record. But I still think the Nicklaus mark is going to be a tough get.

Last year, Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the seventh time and the cry was that he was back. Then, in the next tournament he played, Tiger finished T-40 in the Masters with rounds of 72-74 on the weekend.

In May of 2012, Tiger captured the Memorial for the fifth time, then in the next tournament he played, he finished T-21 in the U.S. Open with rounds of 75-73 on the weekend.

Then in July, Woods took home the title at the AT&T National. The next week he missed the cut at the Greenbrier Classic and while Woods finished T-3 at the British Open two weeks later, he closed a pedestrian 70-73.

When Woods shot 74-72 on the weekend at the PGA Championship to finish T-11, it meant he had failed to break 70 in any of his eight weekend rounds at the majors in 2012 and had a stroke average for those closing two rounds of 72.87. Those are not Tiger numbers.

That's why I am still watching the Tiger bandwagon pass and not jumping on. And make no mistake about it -- watching is fun. The guy hits some remarkable shots. Those closing hiccups at Torrey and Doral and the weekend record in the majors makes me now leap on another bandwagon often inspired by Tiger: hyperbole.

At the risk of sounding like Mike Greenberg, the genial co-host of ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" who thinks everything he saw the night before is the greatest-ever performance in the history of sports, I will say this: The upcoming Masters is the most important major Woods has ever played.

It has been a shocking eight years since Woods collected the last of his four green jackets at Augusta National. And if he fails to win this year's Masters, it means Woods will go into the U.S. Open at Merion five full years removed from his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

If Woods wins this Masters, that bandwagon will need an extension and the chances he will collect four more majors and break Nicklaus' record improve greatly. But should Woods fail to win, especially if he does so in a manner similar to last year -- positioning himself perfectly in the first two rounds and then failing to close -- the odds of him passing Jack not only decrease but the attitude of the fans, media and other players about Tiger passing Nicklaus will turn.

Woods has now won the Farmers, Cadillac, Palmer and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational seven times each and the Memorial five times. Those 33 wins in just five events alone would place him No. 15 on the PGA Tour career victory list, with more wins than Fred Couples and Curtis Strange combined.

That's impressive, but those also aren't major championships. In the long run, when the history book has closed on the Tiger Woods Era, he may well be viewed as the greatest winner in the history of golf. But Jack Nicklaus may still have the mark as the greatest ever in the major championships.

A victory by Woods at the Masters in April puts the Nicklaus record back in play. Otherwise, the mountain just got a lot higher. Yes, Mike Greenberg, this year's Masters is the most important major Tiger Woods has ever played. In fact, it might be the most important event in the history of humankind, he said with tongue firmly in cheek.

I'll watch the Woods bandwagon and not jump on, fully enjoying what I am seeing and fully knowing he could prove me wrong. And I wouldn't mind that at all. It would mean Tiger has entertained and impressed me with even more great golf. April 11-14, boys and girls. The Masters. Can't wait.