Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tiger Woods poised to claim another legend’s record with a win in 2012 Open

Much has been made in the sports media in recent years of Tiger Woods’ pursuit of the records of Jack Nicklaus, especially Nicklaus’ 18 professional major victories. Tigers’ win last week at Jack’s own tournament, the Memorial, which is played on Jack’s course, Muirfield Village, in Dublin, Ohio, equaled Jack’s record of 73 PGA Tour wins, moving Tiger into a tie for 2nd place in that category, behind Sam Snead’s mark of 82. Little has been made, however, of the possibility of Tiger overtaking one of the achievements of the most revered American golfer of all time, Robert T. “Bobby” Jones, Jr.

The United States Golf Association (USGA), golf’s American ruling body, oversees the rules and regulations governing the game (in concert with the Royal and Ancient, the United Kingdom’s golf ruling body), and also administers seventeen annual championships, ranging from the Junior Amateur (for golfers under the age of 18) to the highest test, the United States Open. The records of who won, and when, who was the oldest or youngest winner, as well as many other shades of accomplishment, are compiled in the USGA’s Media Guide. An annually-published compendium of USGA records, which runs to 496 pages this year, the Media Guide is the last word in who did what, and when, in all USGA championship events over the last 112 years.

Buried deep within the USGA Media Guide is a record which Tiger Woods currently shares with Bobby Jones – “Most Championships Won, All Events” (which coincides with “Most Men’s Championships Won”). Jones, a lifelong amateur player, holds the ultimate record in golf with victories in the U.S. and British Amateur Championships, and the U.S. and British Open Championships in a single calendar year, a feat which he accomplished in 1930. Referred to as the “Grand Slam”, it was the crowning achievement of Jones’ career – after the final event of the “Slam”, the U.S. Amateur Championship, at Merion Cricket Club in Haverford, PA, Jones retired from competitive golf – at age 28. Over 14 years of competition leading up to the “Grand Slam”, Jones notched up wins in no fewer than nine USGA championships: four U. S. Open victories (in which he defeated the leading professional players of the day) – in 1923, 1926, 1929 & 1930, and five U.S. Amateur wins – 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928, and 1930, making him the most prolific USGA champion of all – until Tiger Woods came along.

Tiger’s USGA championship record is a nicely symmetric combination of three Junior Amateur titles, with victories in 1991, 1992, and 1993; three U.S. Amateur titles, with another three consecutive wins, in 1994, 1995, and 1996; and three U.S. Open titles – 2000, 2002, and 2008. As Tiger’s game rounds back into form after a tumultuous 3-1/2 years of injuries, swing changes, and personal issues, he is being discussed as a serious contender for the 2012 U.S. Open title. If Woods successfully navigates the tight fairways and small, contoured greens of the Lake Course at San Francisco’s Olympic Club next week for a win, he will be one more step on the road to topping Jack Nicklaus’ professional major victories record, but he will also take sole possession of the record he now shares with the greatest American golfer of all time – Bobby Jones.

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