From the time Tiger Woods won his first Masters in 1997—heck, even before that when his dad impressively (and curiously) predicted Woods would win 14 major championships—the vulnerability of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships has been a popular golf debate. Injuries, surgeries and scandals, however, have shifted the conversation to a more attainable goal for Tiger: Sam Snead’s mark of 82 career PGA Tour titles.
While Woods’ win at the 2019 Masters finally ended a decade-plus drought in the game’s biggest events, it’s this lesser-known record that has come into focus since Major No. 15 for Tiger was also PGA Tour title No. 81. Much like a baseball team’s star player chasing 3,000 hits, the PGA Tour has built a “Chasing 82" marketing campaign around what seems like a foregone conclusion, even attaching a “Tiger Woods 82” logo to much of its shared content.
But Tiger should have already broken the mark a while back, and not just because of the aforementioned obstacles that stunted his career trajectory. And, no, this isn’t another one of those, “Sam Snead’s win total is flawed” pieces. Although many have made that case quite persuasively, we’re not here to take even more titles away from a legend who took frustration over his curbed win total to his grave. Former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman put together a panel of golf historians to go through the records (made tricker due to the PGA Tour splitting from the PGA of America and establishing its own identity in 1968) in the late 1980s that wound up cutting Snead’s total from 84 to 81 before settling on 82.
Snead contended he should be credited with 89 PGA Tour titles, and “Losing those tournament wins always gnawed at him,” Snead friend and lawyer Jack Vardaman told PGATour.com. Vardaman wrote a letter to the tour on Snead’s behalf in 1996, but then commissioner Tim Finchem decided to stick with 82 as the official number. (Incredibly, Snead’s 82 PGA Tour titles account for less than half of his 165 professional wins.)
What can't be argued is that both Snead and Woods won PGA Tour titles at prodigious rates while displaying freakish longevity. Woods' 2019 Masters triumph came at 43 (and with a fused back) while Snead's final win came when he was nearly 53. How amazing is reaching the 80-win milestone? Consider a player would have to average four wins per season for two decades. Then consider that for more than a decade (from 1981 to 1993) no golfer won more than four times in a single season on tour. And it should be noted Woods has never shown anything but reverence for Snead's mark of 82.
But for this argument’s sake, it's also important to note that of the 82 wins that stood for Snead, a sizable portion would raise eyebrows in today’s game. There’s one, the 1937 Crosby, that was shortened to 18 holes because of weather. There are three 36-hole triumphs (today, the PGA Tour only recognizes events that went at least 54 holes as official events), including the 1946 World Championship of Golf, which only had four players in the field. There are five other Snead victories that came against fields of 16 or fewer players. And then there are the five team events that count toward Snead’s total.
Again, the point here is not to further diminish the Slammer's accomplishments. Let Snead keep those 14 wins in question and his 82 total. What we’re here to do is to point out that if Tiger got credit for similar victories, his total would be a lot higher.
Let’s start with the Hero World Challenge. Since its inception in 2000, the year-end event run by the Tiger Woods Foundation has undergone more name changes than Puff Daddy, but the tournament host winning has been a constant. At least, through 2011, when Woods won the event for a fifth time (Davis Love III and Graeme McDowell are the only other players with two wins). However, the event has never counted as an official PGA Tour event even though Official World Golf Ranking points have been awarded since 2009.
Those who agree with its unofficial status say it’s a small field—initially, 16 players, but expanded to 18 in 2008. However, it’s also a select one. Last year, for instance, 16 of the world’s top 23 players competed, with Jon Rahm taking the title. The five wins Woods has in this tournament matches up quite nicely with those five Snead wins against fields of 16 or fewer, don’t you think? With these victories alone, Woods is up to 86 career tour titles.
Keeping the comps going, what about Tiger’s seven wins at the Grand Slam of Golf? At first glance, golf fans are quick to discount these as mere exhibitions, but they match two characteristics of several of Snead’s wins: It’s a 36-hole event with four golfers. Again, those are low bars, but they were deemed enough to count for Snead, in particular, that 1946 World Championship of Golf that Snead won over 36 holes and against only three opponents. Another panel feeling as generous as the one assembled more than three decades ago could add another seven to Tiger’s total, bringing it up to 93.
Some might say it’s not fair to give Woods credit for events others didn’t have access to, but on the contrary, doesn’t he deserve credit for qualifying for them? Sure, as the tournament host of the Hero he pretty much has an automatic spot, which helped in 2011 when he had fallen to No. 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but he was either No. 1 or No. 2 during his four other wins. And he had to win a major to get into the Grand Slam all those years he won. It’s not like we’re giving him credit for being invited to participate in the Skins Game. (Although, shockingly, Woods was 0-for-7 in that silly season event.)
Oh yeah, Tiger has team titles too! And not just from Monday Night Golf! Woods won back-to-back World Cup of Golf titles in 1999 and 2000, first with Mark O’Meara, and then with David Duval. He also won the individual title at the 1999 event, but to be fair to Sam, we won't count that. Still, two World Cups brings him to 95 wins.
Of course, this is a PGA Tour record so Woods’ wins on other tours don’t count. And we’ll stop short of saying things like Woods’ win at the 2009 Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge should be considered for his total, but you get the point. Even though he's technically still "chasing 82" until his next victory, Tiger Woods has long been the true career leader in PGA Tour titles.
And while Woods also continues to track down Jack’s 18 majors, the PGA Tour should actually be counting down to another, more memorable number when it comes to Tiger's overall victory total. Doesn’t “Chasing 100” have a nicer ring to it?