Did the U.S. Open evidence Tiger's lost growl?

After rolling off eight of his 14 career major wins in a turf-shattering, six-year stretch of golf between 1997-2002, the great Tiger Woods collected six more majors in the ensuing six years.  

But while Woods once appeared wholly poised to usurp Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors, Tiger has now gone two years since collecting No. 14 in his historic 91-hole win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Since his playoff victory over Mediate, the now 34-year-old Tiger has clubbed more pub for his life outside the ropes than his accomplishments on the links.

There's no need to regurgitate that mountain of extramarital/injury/treatment drama herein because in Sunday's final round of the Open at Pebble Beach none of that mattered.  What is worthy of mention is that, to fell ultimate and impressive winner Graeme McDowell, all Woods needed to do was follow up his scintillating Saturday 66 with a Sunday 71.  For those keeping score -- that was Par at Pebble.  A 72 would have forced a Monday, 18-hole playoff with the Northern Irishman, who went on to become to first Euro player to win the Open since Tony Jacklin did so here at Hazeltine back in1970.

Instead, Woods carded a disappointing 75 in the final round, ending up in a tie for 4th alongside fellow tournament betting favorite, Phil Mickelson.  For any player not named "Tiger" or "Phil," a T4 at the world's most challenging tourney should be considered something of a victory.  For Mickelson, who claims the most runner-up Open finishes in history with five, the dual weekend 73's came as only measured disappointment. 

But for Woods -- even though he was playing in just his fifth event of the year -- the letdown was something different.  Hell, 10 years prior at Pebble he recorded one of greatest feats in golf history when destroyed the field by 15 strokes. 

But Tiger's failure to growl in all those eight-footers on Sunday now begs the question: Will he

ever catch Jack?

Major championship golf dates back to the British (or "Open") Championship in 1860.  After that came the U.S. Open in 1895; the PGA Championship was introduced in 1916 and the final of the four majors, The Masters, was first played in 1934.  In the history of major golf, there have been 18 men that have captured at least five of those majors, with a mere three having claimed doubt-digit wins: Nicklaus at 18, Woods at 14, and Walter Hagen with 11.  Further down the list finds Gary Player and Ben Hogan with nine apiece, Tom Watson with eight, and Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones and Harry Vardon each owning seven.

Employing age as the range finder of major success herein -- just four of the afore-noted 18 men won more than three majors post the age of 35.  Of the four: Ben Hogan won eight  past that age, Nicklaus won six, Snead won five, and Player won four.  Of the remaining 14 to lay claim to at least five majors, nine of them won one or none past 35.  Taking into account the median age and window winning span for a major on this distinguished list finds 32-years-old as the prime year of one's golfing life.

Given that Woods' has never come from behind on Sunday to win a major -- perhaps Sunday's pedestrian effort, for some, offers Tiger something of a pass.  Don't count me among the "some."  While the street vibe on Woods seems an impassioned mix of love-and-hate among golf fans, there' no debate that the scales of his luminary focus, determination, scowl and drive were entirely tilted in Tiger's favor on Saturday.  And then on Sunday -- Gone. 

The wealth of talent now on the Champions Tour (Couples, Lehman, Langer, Pavin), combined

with now 60-year-old Tom Watson's near win at last year's British echoes the tenet that golf can be played at a high level for decades post one's prime.  And given Woods' overt conditioning regime, there's little if any question that he'll keep himself in prime shape for countless tournaments to come.

But watching a caged Tiger on Sunday spoke to the entire sporting world that there's too much talent on the Tour for Woods to win a major by 15 shots anymore.  In addition, the Open close further revealed a man who appeared more Michael Jordan as a Wizard instead of "His Airness" as a Bull.

Tiger Woods turns 35 in December and perhaps faces a future filled with more question than clout.  If golf history has anything to say about it -- Tiger will need to condition more than an impeccable frame to catch Jack.

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