Vijay Singh and Ernie Els served notice at the weekend that Tiger Woods’ major drought could be extended beyond its current six without winning.
The Fijian chuckled his way to a comfortable win in the AT & T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, while South African Els, after a shaky start to the final day of the Heineken Classic in Australia, finally claimed it by a shot. Even Phil Mickelson, a leading challenger in California yesterday, is showing a new, less cavalier attitude that could finally earn him one of the big ones.
So will Tiger win a major in 2004? Or, with marriage on the horizon, is he destined to be distracted for a little time longer?
The door to another grand slam was unceremoniously slammed in his face last year for the first time since 1998 and some critics believe he’s on the slippery slide, now that Singh, Els and Mickelson have hit the ground running this year. But don’t be alarmed to see the world No. 1 player emerge this year empty-handied yet again. Jack Nicklaus won the US Masters and US Open in 1967, at a similar stage in his career, then went two seasons and 12 majors before he claimed his next - the 1970 Open Championship at St. Andrews.
And what about Els? He tamed the awesome Royal Melbourne composite course with a European Tour record-equalling 12 under par 60 last week to show he’s in elegant form. He slipped up on the front nine of the final round dropping eight shots, to be caught by Adam Scott but regained his composure in some style. Els will be back to challenge Woods at the Accenture Matchplay in two weeks after changing his mind about competing in the World Championship event at La Costa.
Woods himself returns to action on Thursday in the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines, where he’s the defending champion, for the first time since he finished fourth in the Mercedes in Hawaii in January. Singh, who beat him in the chase for the PGA Tour money list in 2003, and Mickelson, are expected to be his rivals and looking to set down a marker for the season. Woods will be anxious to let his clubs do the talking and make a statement about his season.
So can he, will he win another major in 2004?
I see the US Masters as his best chance. He was still recovering from knee surgery when Mike Weir took the green jacket last April and the fast running US and British Opens didn’t suit him. The US PGA turned up a fluke winner.
Shinnecock Hills, venue for the US Open this year, may be more suited to a precision golfer like Retief Goosen, while Royal Troon may provide the best chance for an Irishman like Clarke or Harrington. Left-handers Weir and Mickleson might challenge for the US PGA at Whistling Straights, Wisconsin.
But it’s only my humble opinion. Give us your predictions about Tiger and this season’s majors on the forum.