It’s often said that “Father Time is undefeated,” but lately, the old man has been the one taking a beating.
Tom Brady is still throwing touchdown passes at the age of 42. Whether he does so for the New England Patriots or another team next season, Brady has no intention of stopping. Not yet.
After 21 seasons, Vince Carter is still running up and down NBA courts with the Atlanta Hawks — and occasionally dunking — at 42.
In the rough, often violent world of NHL hockey, Zdeno Chara remains a towering presence on the blue line for the Boston Bruins and can still throw hands if need be. He is also 42.
LeBron James is “only” 35, but has seemingly racked up thousands of miles on his legs while playing MVP-level basketball over the years and is chasing another ring this season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Serena Williams is 38, a mother now, and yet she’s down in Australia this week hunting for another Grand Slam tennis title.
And in San Diego this week, a 44-year-old Tiger — fused back, surgically repaired knee and all — is chasing history.
Tiger Woods says he’s just getting ready to go play some golf when the Farmers Insurance Open gets underway at gorgeous Torrey Pines, a place that holds a special place in his heart.
We all know that Woods is chasing something much larger.
A victory this week in San Diego would break a tie with Sam Snead for career PGA Tour victories and make Woods the all-time wins leader.
This, at the end of a week when the great Jack Nicklaus celebrated his 80th birthday.
Can he do it? Would you bet against him? After all, he has won eight professional tournaments at Torrey Pines over the years, including the 2008 U.S. Open.
“Trying to get to 83 … I really don’t think about it because I have to think about all the things I need to do to win a golf tournament,” Woods said during a press conference this week. “There’s so many different shots I have to play, and strategy, and thinking my way around the golf course, that I’m consumed by that.”
Being in contention when the weekend hits, let alone winning the Farmers, will not be easy.
The course is challenging, with roughs more gnarly than the Pacific Ocean waves rolling in just over the cliffs from the course location, fairways that feel longer than Interstate 5, and bunkers that could stop a tank.
The field is stacked with names like defending champion Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed, and Jordan Spieth.
And Woods has not played much golf since going 3-0 in the Presidents Cup match play event in December.
He finished fourth in the Hero World Challenge stroke play tournament in early December and pretty much spent the ensuing time with his kids while allowing his battered body to rest.
The fact that Woods is capable of playing at all feels like an accomplishment.
He’s undergone four back surgeries, a couple of knee procedures, and has fused vertebrae in his back.
As anyone who has experienced back problems will tell you, the idea of bending over to pick up a golf ball, let alone swinging a club in competition, can bring on feelings of agony.
For years, the big question about Woods was not about a chase for No. 83, but rather: “Can he catch Jack?”
Nicklaus’ 18 victories in major tournaments (he owns 73 total PGA titles) remains one of the most sacred accomplishments in sports, and it has long been thought that only Woods could match or surpass it.
After winning the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods was limited to 28 starts in the next 42 major tournaments before taking last year’s Masters — a stunning achievement that once again brought the eyes of the sports world to golf.
That gave Woods 15 major titles, a remarkable number considering he missed two majors in 2011 and 2014. He also could not play in eight straight majors in 2016 and 2017.
Hard to catch Jack when you can’t get on the track.
When asked to speculate about how many majors he could have won had he stayed healthy, Woods sounded reflective.
“There were a number of years where I didn’t compete and didn’t play so there were some missed opportunities,” Woods said. “But I’m playing again now, so these are blessed opportunities. I didn’t think I would have these.”
Woods hits the first tee at 9:40 a.m. on Thursday for his first round. He will be in a grouping with 22-year-old Collin Morikawa. Morikawa was born after Woods became a professional way back in 1997.
“It means I’ve been out here a while,” Woods said with a smile. “In order to be considered a good player in football, maybe you can get a decade playing in the league. Here, we’re measured by decades played.”
One Las Vegas betting service has McIlroy listed as the favorite this week (13-2). Rahm was next (15-2), and then Woods (10-2), but that is just mere speculation.
There is no way of telling how Woods will perform in his first PGA Tour event of the season. He will face a tough field.
Six-time major champion Nick Faldo will join Jim Nantz on the CBS broadcast this weekend. He points out that this particular course is not ideally suited to Woods’ game. Faldo predicted that his best shot at No. 83 may come in the Masters, where Woods has won five times.
“He’s only good when he plays golf courses that have got a minimal rough and pine trees left and right,” Faldo said during a conference call. “I don’t know that he can create the emotion again of what it meant to win his 15th (major). If the weather is good — it needs to be warm for his back — he’s got a shot at Augusta … You never know what might happen at Augusta again.”
In comments made earlier in the week, Woods sounded like many successfully aging athletes. He understands that while they may not have the physical assets that allowed them to dominate as kids, they can still find a way.
“It will be different,” Woods said. “I don’t have the ability to hit the ball as far as I used to. That was probably the biggest difference. I was one of two guys to hit the ball over 300 yards consistently when I first came out here. Now, we’ve got 50-plus guys doing the same thing. It’s a different ball game, but at the end of the day, it’s how many birdies and how many mistakes can you eliminate throughout a tournament that will lead to a win. Hopefully, that will be the case for me this week.”
So, can he win it?
“I think winning breeds winning,” Woods said. “When I won other golf tournaments, I felt more confident going into major championships.”
Hey, if you’re going to beat Father Time, why not be armed with a golf club?