SAN DIEGO — Too bad Tiger Woods can’t go back in time and expand that chart of Jack Nicklaus he taped to his bedroom wall as a teenager.
One point of clarification — it was never about 18 majors.
Woods once said the chart contained only four or five items constructed in a timeline, such as when Nicklaus started playing, how long before he first broke 40 for nine holes, when he won his first U.S. Amateur and when he turned pro.
“It was just a benchmark for me growing up,” Woods said in Australia a few years ago. “Here’s the greatest player of all time and this is what he did when he was 13, 17, 18. As a junior, you’re always trying to compare yourself to, ‘When did he do it?’ And hopefully, I can do something a little bit better and maybe that might springboard myself into having a good career.”
Here are two more items he could have added to the list:
— Woods didn’t shoot in the 80s for the first time until his 130th stroke-play tournament as a pro. Nicklaus first shot 80 in his seventh tournament. In fact, Saturday at Torrey Pines was only the fifth round in Woods’ career of 79 or worse. Nicklaus had four in his rookie season alone.
— Woods went 37 majors as a pro before he finally missed a cut, in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Nicklaus missed his first cut in his sixth major, the 1963 U.S. Open at Brookline, when he was the defending champion.
Woods was at Oakmont for a corporate day a few months before the 2007 U.S. Open when the conversation turned to his missed cut at Winged Foot. The surprise was not that he missed the cut, but that it took nearly 10 years to happen.
“You figure you’re going to have one bad week,” he said.
That’s why it’s best — for now — to heed what he said Tuesday in Dubai. He was asked about any changes he made after a 79 at Torrey Pines caused him to miss the 54-hole cut last week in the Farmers Insurance Open.
The only thing he changed was his flight itinerary to Dubai.
“I know I’m not that far off,” Woods said. “I just happened to have one bad day, and that happens.”
It was surprising that it happened to him, especially at Torrey Pines, where he had won eight times. It was only his fourth round over par on the South Course for that tournament. Two of those rounds were in 2011, when he was just starting to rebuild his swing. And he was in reasonable position in the tournament until his meltdown began with a shot into the pond on the par-5 18th for a double bogey.
Woods was between 3-iron and 5-wood, tried to take a little off the 5-wood, paid the price and “it snowballed from there.” He had seven straight holes of bogey or worse.
“Unfortunately,” he said Tuesday, “the longer you play the sport, the more things like that happen.”
So maybe he’s catching up on lost time.
Or maybe Father Time is catching up with him.
Johnny Miller, in a book he wrote in 2004 titled, “I Call The Shots,” was making arguments on both sides of Woods breaking Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. One reason against Woods breaking the record was that “competitively, he’s an old 28.”
Is he now an old 38?
Woods already has gone through four knee surgeries, including a reconstruct in 2008 after he won the U.S. Open (which happens to be the 14th and last major he won).
He was right to say Tuesday that “I wouldn’t read anything into what happened Saturday at Torrey Pines.”
It was just one tournament. One round.
Remember, last year Woods missed the cut in Abu Dhabi (with help from a two-shot penalty) and then annihilated the field at Torrey Pines the next week. He couldn’t finish the final round at Doral in 2012 because of soreness in his Achilles’ heel, and then won his next start at Bay Hill.
But let’s go back to that last knee surgery.
Woods had never finished out of the top 10 in his first tournament of the year through 2008, including six wins on three courses (La Costa, Kapalua, Torrey Pines). In the six season-openers since then, he has no wins, two top 10s and three times didn’t make it to Sunday.
How much work did Woods put into his game in the 45 days between his last round at Sherwood and his opening round at Torrey Pines? Woods is the only one who can say how he prepared, and after 18 years on tour, how much he felt like he needed (or wanted) to prepare.
Miller, however, wasn’t referring to Woods’ health when he wrote 10 years ago that he was an “old 28.” His hunch was that Woods’ prime had arrived early, and that “it won’t be long before the hole shrinks back to its regulation 4¼-inch size.”
It sure seems like a long time since Woods stood over an important putt and there was no doubt it was going in.
Woods is playing the Dubai Desert Classic this week. In six previous trips, he has won twice and has finished out of the top 5 once — that was in 2011, again when he was in the early stages of his work with Sean Foley.
If the instruction from Woods is not to read anything into what happened at Torrey, it shouldn’t matter — good or bad — what happens in Dubai.
Everyone has bad days.
It just seems like Woods has more of them than he once did.