Five Burning Questions for Tiger Woods' 2014 Season
Very few athletes across the spectrum of sports have had more scrutiny than Tiger Woods.
And in this era of social media, HD television and big, big money, the life and career of Woods has been laid open for all to see.
He begins his 2014 season this week on one of his favorite golf courses in the world, Torrey Pines' South Course.
The man has also not won a major championship in five years, the last one coming at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open. With his 38th birthday in the books, there are a multitude of questions as Woods seeks his 15th major victory and to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18.
Can he stay healthy for an entire year? Will there be any letdown after a five-win 2013? Will his focus and preparation be as good as it always has been?
Here are five burning questions in what will be another closely-watched Tiger Woods season.
Can He Get a Quick Start?
There is a great deal of familiarity between Woods and Torrey Pines.
Woods has played this course that lies along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean 13 times in a PGA Tour event. He's won seven of those. This will be the seventh time Woods has opened his season at Torrey Pines and he's won five of those starts.
Coming off a five-win season a year ago, Woods would like nothing better than to get his 2014 off to a fast start with a win and start the preparation process for Augusta in April.
If he doesn't win on a course he's dominated, will that plant any seeds of doubt? He is, after all, 75-under par there in those five season-opening events.
You wouldn't think he'd be greatly affected by not winning, but anything but a win is considered less than satisfactory for Woods.
It will be very interesting to see how he gets out of the gate.
Will 2014 Bring the Next Major?
For the last five years, the question has been the same: Will this be the year Tiger Woods wins his next major championship?
Had that approach shot to the 15th green at Augusta National not hit the flagstick and caromed into the water on Friday afternoon during the 2013 Masters, that question would have been irrelevant.
But it did happen and the streak lives.
All signs point to Woods winning a major in 2014. He's coming off a five-win season in 2013, he's won a British Open at Royal Birkdale in 2006, a PGA Championship at Valhalla in 2000 and four green jackets at Augusta National (1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005). He finished in a tie for second and third in 1999 and 2005, respectively, at Pinehurst No. 2.
Will the streak end this year? It sure looks like it could, but this isn't the first time that could be said.
Woods needs to get his game together for those four events and find a way to play well on the weekend to get No. 15.
How Much Better Can He Play?
It would seem that significant improvement on a five-win, $8.6 million season might be a bit difficult.
Unless, of course, you're speaking about winning majors.
One area he certainly can, and needs to improve in, is weekend scoring average. His average last year in opening rounds of tournaments was less than 70. In the third round, however, he averaged 70.47 and on Sundays, it was 71.13. He was barely in the top 50 on Saturdays and barely in the top 100 on Sundays.
The weekend used to be his house. That's when he put away victories on a regular basis, including majors. He needs to find his way back to that comfort zone.
Improvements in his short game, both putting and accuracy on short approach shots, has put him into position to do those great things he used to do when the pressure was greatest.
He may not win five times in 2014, but he definitely can improve his overall play.
Is the Clock Really Ticking?
Those who downplay Tiger Woods' chances of winning 18 majors to tie Jack Nicklaus point to Woods' biological clock as a major reason why he won't.
He's 38, they say, and given his injuries and stress throughout his career, winning four more majors is too much to ask.
There is, however, evidence out there to suggest otherwise.
Vijay Singh won 22 times after age 40, including the PGA Championship in 2004.
Jack Nicklaus won five times after age 40, including three majors, the last coming at the Masters in 1986 when he was 46.
Singh has not accomplished enough to be put in the same class as Woods. Nicklaus is the man most closely associated with Woods' greatness.
Nicklaus was 38 years old and seven months when we won his 15th major at the 1978 Open Championship. Nicklaus then went on to win three more majors over the next seven years to finish his career with 18 major championship titles.
Woods, who turned 38 in late December, would need to go winless in his next three majors in order to fall behind Nicklaus in terms of age and major championship titles.
In terms of their winning percentage at majors, Woods and Nicklaus are in a dead heat upon turning 38 years old. Nicklaus had won 21.88 percent of the majors he attended (14 out of 64), while Woods has also won 21.88 percent of the majors he has attended (also 14 out of 64).
At age 38, Woods has won 14 majors. Nicklaus had the same number when he was 38. Nicklaus, however, put up his 15th later that year, the British Open.
In reality, there's plenty of time left on Woods' clock. He just needs to win a major to take the heat and focus off him trying to do just that.
Can He Stay Injury-Free?
There can be no denying that Tiger Woods has been beaten up during his golfing career.
But golfers are no different than any other athletes in that doing repetitive things over the course of time will cause damage. And while Woods has set the standard in fitness on the PGA Tour for a long time, he still has a damaged body.
His left knee has been a focal point for many of his physical problems, resulting in surgeries, rehabilitation and swing changes that have been designed in part to take pressure off that knee.
A ruptured Achilles tendon, back and elbow problems, stress fractures in his tibia and a bulging disc in his neck all have affected his play and his ability to even tee it up.
For him to make a run at Jack Nicklaus' crown, Woods will need to stay healthy.
And the bottom line is that no one knows if that's possible, even Woods. Few people know how healthy he is from week to week, and he's certainly not going to reveal anything.
Woods' health may be the most important aspect that determines what kind of season he has in 2014.