2015 Masters: Will Tiger Woods ever catch Jack Nicklaus?

Tiger Woods claims he is ready to restart his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major golf championships. But has Tiger missed his best shot to catch the Golden Bear? 

Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal Constitution/AP
Tiger Woods, left, and Ben Crenshaw embrace on the 18th green as they finish a practice round for the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. on Wednesday. Woods at age 39 is running low on major tournaments to catch up to Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors titles.

Five years after turning pro, Tiger Woods had already won six of professional golf's major tournaments. By 2008, he had chalked up 14 major victories. It appeared Woods would easily blow past Jack Nicklaus's record 18 major championships.

But as Woods tees off Thursday at 1:48 p.m. Eastern time for his 19th Masters tournament, he hasn't won a major since the US Open in 2008 – and he hasn't won at Augusta National since 2005. 

[Update: Woods finished the front nine at Augusta on Thursday at 1-over par. A respectable start, even as several players were clustered at 5-under par and Ernie Els was at 6-under par (after 15 holes) in the first round.]

Right around age 32 is when the Nicklaus and Woods' respective careers took vastly different tracks. Nicklaus dominated in his third decade, doubling his major win total to 14 by age 36. In contrast, Woods had secured his 14th major at age 32 and he has been stuck on that number.

By age 39 in Nicklaus's career, he had 15 majors. So from that standpoint, Tiger Woods is only one major off the Nicklaus pace. 

One of the glaring holes in Woods' resume is simply the number of major rounds he has been forced to miss due to a laundry list of injuries or his 2009 treatment for sex addiction. In his career, Woods has missed 30 rounds of major play due to a missed cut or not participating because of injury, but 28 of them have occurred in the last eight years. Therefore, Woods just has not played the volume golf in what should be his professional prime to make any amount of headway on Nicklaus' record, according to Business Insider. 

Business Insider

Nicklaus, by contrast, had only missed eight major rounds by age 38. And although he slowed down into his forties, Nicklaus was still usually participating in most majors, which gave him nearly a decade to win four more to round out his major total to 18.

With 14 majors in tow, now would be as good a time as ever for Woods to get back into form. But he has not fared well of late in majors, with his best finishes recently coming at the 2012 and 2013 British Opens where he finished third and sixth respectively, and a fourth place finish in the 2013 Masters.

On the plus side, Augusta National is a bit of a home away from home for Woods who has four wins, two runner-up finishes, and seven top-5's in 19 appearances, according to his Augusta scorecard. 

Some in the golf world say that Woods has already been supplanted as the sport's leading star. New Nike poster boy Rory McIlroy has four major championships under his belt, and at age 25 the Northern Irishman is right on par with Nicklaus in major titles won by that age, observes Business Insider.

If McIlroy wins the Masters, it would be his first win at Augusta, and you can expect the chatter around McIlroy's pursuit of the Nicklaus major championship record to usurp the discussion about Tiger Woods. 

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