x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

When 14 seems like forever for Tiger Woods

Today marks either the death or the sustenance of one of the most oft-used, telling and amusing phrases in the history of sport, that of Woods being 'stuck on 14 majors'.

Tiger Woods will have lot of expectations from the fans hoping for another major victory.
Tiger Woods will have lot of expectations from the fans hoping for another major victory.

Today marks either the death or the sustenance of one of the most oft-used, telling and amusing phrases in the history of sport, that of Tiger Woods being "stuck on 14 majors".

What a pity, to be stuck on 14 - fourteen! - majors. I'd hate to walk around life stuck on 14 majors.

How does he even get out of bed in the morning?

Friend: "What's the problem, man? Why the glum face?"

Friend: "I cannot seem to win more than 14 major golf tournaments in my life."

It has popped up all around, the four words about being stuck on 14 majors, that happy ditch into which so many would veer. It turned up last week in the Daily Mirror and The Sun in the UK, and at various times in the USA Today, New York Times, New York Post, Palm Beach Post, San Diego Union-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Chronicle and more in the US. I saw it in the Monitor of Kampala, Uganda, and not from a wire service.

Wire services have taken it to the four corners: to the Chronicle of Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia, the Northern Star & Rural Weekly of New South Wales, Australia, the Star Phoenix of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, the Times Colonist of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Glasgow, plus American towns of Ogdensburg (New York), Bismarck (North Dakota), Muskegon (Michigan), Lewiston (Idaho), San Angelo (Texas).

That does not count TV utterances, which come and go as they please.

The Daily Mirror notes that Woods "has been stuck on 14 majors for more than four years now".

The Tribune newspapers of the US went with, "now stuck on 14 majors for four full years."

The USA Today: "Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since limping away with the championship hardware in the 2008 US Open, his anterior cruciate ligament ruptured and his left leg broken." The Las Vegas Review-Journal: "Stuck on 14 major titles since he began chasing the ladies and lost his mojo ..."

The slug.

Two more majors in 2012, and Woods might end up stuck on 14 majors for five years.

What a loser. Imagine if he gets stuck on 14 majors for, like, a decade.

Now, you might think walking around the world with 14 majors would render everything else an accessory from there on. It could make a life, a legacy, an exhibit in not just a sport museum but a national museum. Yet "stuck on 14 majors", the makings of an American country lyric, does qualify as a funny passage that tells a few things.

It demonstrates again our impatience in a sped-up era in which sporting events barely end before we start jumping ahead, talking about the next and the context.

That becomes even more habitual in a sport in which Woods' major titles always dwell in the context of the numeral 18, which Jack Nicklaus won.

In that sense, "stuck on 14 majors" also reminds us of the boldness of Woods' Nicklaus-catching goal all along. We've come to recite it by now - tacked it on his bedroom wall as a child, etc - such that we might forget something about 18 majors. Eighteen majors is so far up in the sky that it does take some steep confidence to go around aiming for it openly.

In that way, Woods himself helped create the phrase "stuck on 14 majors", bizarre though it is. It also reminds us we live in a unique time, watching Woods.

Nicklaus won his 18th major at the 1986 Masters,and stood on 17 for six years before that. For the 17 years between Nicklaus' 17th and Woods' first, there was a sense of the profound abnormality of Nicklaus' total.

Nobody else managed to hit even 10, as the field of global talent expanded, further protecting Nicklaus' number.

Then, since Woods set about his wins in four Masters, three US Opens, three British Opens and four PGA Championships amid talent ever expanding, it grew familiar to see him win even as it should have been shocking that anybody could win so often in a sport where it's brutally hard to win one major (as evidenced by the zero belonging to bright lights such as Lee Westwood and Luke Donald). The number reached 14 all bloated with the anticipation that it would climb.

In that setting, 14 can seem a mere rung and in need of an obvious reminder: 14 itself is colossal. Phil Mickelson has run a marvellous career and won four. The amazing Seve Ballesteros won five, the tougher-than-tough Sir Nick Faldo six. Tom Watson, Ben Hogan and Gary Player qualify as legends: eight, nine and nine.

Fourteen still towers. And as "stuck on 14 majors" has grown routine in the soundtrack of sport, that doesn't mean it shouldn't dredge, on every mention, at least a grin.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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