But to predict that Woods can win five majors between now and the end of his career—something that only 17 other golfers have done in their entire careers—assumes that nothing in the last year has significantly degraded the freakish combination required for extreme accomplishment. I find that assumption untenable.
July 23, 2010
Charles Murray jumps into the golf stat discussion by pointing out how individual skills tend to be distributed along bell curves, but extreme accomplishments follow L shaped power curves with only a tiny number at the far right edge. Just counting the four professional majors, Nicklaus is first with 18 wins, Woods second with 14, and two 1920s golfers, Bobby Jones (13, including Amateur titles, which aren't counted anymore) and Walter Hagen (11) are next, followed by Ben Hogan with 9. In contrast, 124 players have won one.
The door can shut on great golfers in the Majors before anybody expects it to. Tom Watson won eight majors between age 25 and 34, but none after his 35th birthday. Arnold Palmer won seven between 28 and 34, but none after his 35th birthday. Woods will turn 35 at the end of the year.
Five more is a lot these days. Phil Mickelson, aged 40, has won four in his entire career, even though he got off to an early start as a star, winning a regular tour event as an amateur in 1991.
On the other hand, Ben Hogan won one before his 35th birthday and eight afterwards. Nicklaus himself won twelve before his 35th birthday and six afterwards, so, assuming Nicklaus is the best comparable for Woods, that would project Woods out to about 21 major championships in his career. But after the 2008 U.S. Open when he won his 14th, he was projecting out to around 26. So time is passing.