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Tiger’s Quest for All the #1’s

With his April win at the Masters and last year’s Tour Championship win, Tiger Woods is back doing what he does best – winning big golf tournaments. While he has long cemented his status as a golf legend and (un)arguably, the best golfer ever, he is extremely close to locking in several more prestigious #1 records, and we wanted to take a close look at how he can realistically accomplish the feat.

Winning Percentage
Before talking about the records Tiger is probably chasing, it’s important to realize just how incredible his career has been, despite personal ups and downs. Far and away, he is the winningest golfer of all time. To demonstrate just how incredible his winning percentage is, take a look at the stats below:


Tiger Woods 23.01%
Jack Nicklaus 12.27%
Rory McIlroy* 9.43%
Dustin Johnson 7.97%
Phil Mickelson 7.27%
Justin Thomas 7.03%
Brooks Koepka 4.39%
Justin Rose* 3.02%

Source: individual player statistics

*PGA Tour only, not including European Tour or international events other than the Open Championship.

Current Records He’s (Probably) Chasing
Current Record Holder Record Holder’s Wins Woods’ Current Standing
PGA Tour Wins Sam Snead 82 81
Majors Jack Nicklaus 18 15
Grand Slam* Bobby Jones (1930) 1 of 4 in 2019


* Woods completed the “Tiger Slam” in his 2000-2001 seasons where he won the last 3 Majors of the season, followed by the first Major of the following season, a feat which no other golfer has accomplished.
** Bobby Jones completed a Grand Slam in 1930, winning all four Majors in the same calendar year, however, this was considered pre-modern era golf. The Majors at the time consisted of the Open Championship, U.S. Open Championship, the U.S. Amateur, and the British Amateur.

First things first, let’s look at Tour exemptions for tournament qualification. To earn a lifetime exemption on the PGA Tour, a player must win 20 Tour events in their career and must hold their Tour status for 15 years. There are only a handful of players who are currently playing and have accomplished this – Phil Mickelson (44 wins), Vijay Singh (34 wins), Davis Love III (21 wins), and Tiger Woods (81 wins). Despite Tiger’s massive number of wins he didn’t officially earn his exempt status until 2011 when he competed on the Tour for the 15th year. The only other player close to earning this distinction is Dustin Johnson (20 wins), but he still needs to play at least another three years to meet the time requirement.

When it comes to Majors, Tiger has already long earned lifetime exemptions to the Masters and PGA Championship, and he is exempt for the Open Championship until he is 60 years old. The U.S. Open has a 10-year exemption, which expired for Woods in 2018 (he last won in 2008), so his priority placement will be more important if he wants to keep chasing Nicklaus’ 18 Majors.

Priority Placement

The priority ranking system the PGA Tour uses to select the field for each tournament weights players based largely on recent wins of key tournaments (generally within the last 3-5 seasons) and career earnings. While Tiger is on top of the career money list at $118M, up until his win at the Tour Championship last September, many of his previous tournament wins were past the 5-year mark. Now with his 2019 Masters win, his priority will be comfortably padded even if he doesn’t win a single tournament for several years.

Exemptions and priority placement combined means Woods has a better opportunity to pick and choose where he wants to play, even if that’s not completely unlimited. If there’s an event that he really wants to play, there are still sponsor exemptions available, as well as the PGA Tour’s ability to grant special exemptions as it deems appropriate. Given the effect Tiger has on other players and viewership, it’s unlikely that any professional tournament would turn him away if he said he wanted to play.

Focusing on the “Big Ones”

What we think is likely to happen is that we’re going to see Woods start focusing on the ‘big’ tournaments – Majors, WGC events (with the exception of the HSBC Champions which he’s only played twice), the Players Championship, FedEx Cup events, and special non-Tour events like the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. We can already see a possible start to this, with his break between the Masters and PGA Championship – a lesson possibly learned from Ben Hogan’s career.

Although Ben Hogan played during a very different era of golf, after his near-fatal car accident in 1949, he went on to have the best season of his career after the accident. Most notably, he won 6 Majors after his accident (9 career Major wins) including the 1953 season where he won three Majors (he only missed the PGA Championship because it overlapped with the Open Championship in Carnoustie that year). Many of Woods’ troubles began after his 2009 accident that left him with several long-term injuries he’s battled with surgeries and personal issues, which has left him struggling to be as consistent a competitor as he was early in his career. It makes sense that he would back off from smaller events and chase the big-ticket tournaments that will add to his already outstanding career records.

What’s Possible

Now let’s revisit those records we think he might be shooting for… Is it even possible for him to earn the #1 record?

  • Most Tour WinsAbsolutely!
    • He’s only one win away from the tie, so we think he’s a lock to take this #1, which he’ll be likely to hold for a very long time.
  • Most Major WinsProbably…
    • Three more Major wins to tie Nicklaus is within reach for Tiger, given his performance over the last year and a half since returning to golf. Even four Majors is not out of the question, unless something with his health changes.
  • Grand SlamPossible, but a long shot.
    • This year he has a chance to do it since he kicked off Majors season with a Masters win. Looking at the other Majors, the PGA Championship (4 wins) is being played next week at Bethpage Black where he won the 2002 U.S. Open Championship, the U.S. Open Championship (3 wins) will be played in June at Pebble Beach where he has won both the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the 2000 U.S. Open Championship. The Major he’ll have the weakest record with is July’s Open Championship (3 wins), this year held at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the first time in 68 years. However, there are two factors in his favor here – first and foremost, no other player will have a significant course advantage at Royal Portrush, and second, he’s professed his love for links golf as recently as last year at Carnoustie where he finished T6 at the Open.

While we won’t see him at every event, we’re certain there is more to come from him. We’re willing to bet that if he wins the PGA Championship this week (which he could), then everyone will be abuzz about the first modern-golf era Grand Slam as a real possibility!