There are only 212 days until the 2014 Masters tees off on April 10 at Augusta National Golf Club. That’s the next time Tiger Woods will have a chance to get closer to Jack Nicklaus and win a 15th major.
It’s been over five years now since Woods beat Rocco Mediate on the 19th hole of a playoff for the 2008 U.S. Open, on one leg, at Torrey Pines. Though Woods has won five PGA Tour titles in 2013, he only seriously contended in two majors: the Masters and the Open Championship.
However, the four major-championship venues of 2014 are all places where Woods has either won or been extremely close to winning each time he has played there. Let’s take a quick look at the four.
The Masters — Site: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.
Woods has won the Masters four times — only two behind Jack Nicklaus for most ever — but hasn’t won a green jacket since beating Chris DiMarco in a sudden-death playoff in 2005.
The world No. 1 was in contention throughout the championship last April, but seemingly was never able to recover after his third shot at the par-5 15th hole in the second round caromed off the flagstick and back into the water hazard. The ensuing improper drop, the resulting controversy and the outcome of a two-stroke penalty seemed to throw Woods off, leaving him in a T-4 finish.
If Woods intends to win a fifth green jacket next April, he’ll need to play better on the weekends at Augusta National. In his last seven Masters starts, Woods only has three rounds in the 60s.
U.S. Open — Site: Pinehurst No. 2, Pinehurst, N.C.
Tiger Woods is 0-for-2 in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, finishing T-3 there in 1999, just outside of view in the amazing showdown between Phil Mickelson and Payne Stewart, and runner-up in 2005 to surprise champion Michael Campbell.
However, Woods also will not be playing the same lush track he last played competitively eight years ago. The Donald Ross masterpiece was, well, masterfully restored in 2010 by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. The new No. 2 has the same reverse-bowl shaped greens as the players have seen for the two Opens held there, but the course has no rough. That’s right, the rough has been replaced by the natural sandy soil of the region and tufts of wild, tall grass. The burnt-out look will reduce the length of the course, but place a premium on accuracy.
Open Championship — Site: Royal Liverpool (a.k.a. Hoylake), England
The Open Championship has only been played at Hoylake once in the last 50 years. The man who won that week in 2006? Tiger Woods. It was his second major appearance after the passing of his father Earl, culminating in an emotional win after a clinical dissection of a dried-out links venue.
Woods will probably not see Hoylake that dry again next July, but the course will be firm and fast. Like at Muirfield this past summer, the driver will not come out of the bag often.
PGA Championship — Site: Valhalla G.C., Louisville, Ken.
Tiger Woods has seen the 2014 PGA Championship site just once: when he won the Wanamaker in 2000 at the Kentucky Jack Nicklaus design in an epic playoff over Bob May. Woods shot 18-under 270 that week, needing a trio of extra holes to dispatch of the journeyman pro.
Being a par-72 track is good news for Woods, who has won the overwhelming bulk of his major championship on par-72 courses.
Woods didn’t see Valhalla when it hosted the 2008 Ryder Cup, still recovering from knee ligament surgery, so it will have been 14 years since he last played the track. Then again, with the litany of changes to the PGA of America-owned course, that may not be a bad thing.