George Peper: The Thrill of the Chase

Speaking both personally and on behalf of every clear-thinking soul who earns a living connected to golf, I hope Tiger wins the 2014 Masters. Say what you may about Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy et al, it is still Tiger who drives ratings and galvanizes attention to the game, and it’s his pursuit of Nicklaus’s record 18 major championships that is at the heart of our fascination. We are all loving the thrill of the chase.

But Tiger is now 38 and nearly six years removed from his last major victory. Each time he falls short the notion that he won’t get the job done strengthens, that ultimately he may have to settle for one more title than Bobby Jones rather than Jack Nicklaus. With four prime opportunities ahead (he has won at Augusta, Hoylake, and Valhalla and twice contended closely at Pinehurst) 2014 is arguably the do-or-die year for him. Four misses and, in my mind, he’ll be past his excel-by date.

So very selfishly, I want him to win in April. I want him to keep the thrill of the chase alive. A victory at Augusta will pump up the whole golf world for the next three—or 30 majors—to come.

Then I want Tiger to have another drought.

The only thing worse than Woods winning no majors in 2014 is Woods winning multiple majors. Why? For the same reason—we want this chase thing to last as long as possible. One win will be enough to restore the collective confidence that he can get this done. Heck, Jack won four majors after turning 38, so can Tiger. Sure the competition is tougher now, but Tiger’s also in better physical condition than Jack ever was.

After the Masters I’d like to see Tiger go majorless until next July when he wins the Open Championship at St Andrews for a third time (something Jack has done twice but no one has done thrice). With 16 titles in hand, another drought please, ideally a long one when he continues to contend repeatedly and closely but fails to close the deal as we all watch the clock and speculate. Delicious!

Believe me, I know from chases. Fifteen years ago my younger son, a far more graceful golfer than I, began trying to outscore me for 18 holes. Our duels went on for two or three years, Dad doing everything he could to stave off the inevitable. Then incredibly, on the very last day of the millennium—a day when we’d both played very well—he closed me out with a 75. I was absolutely delighted for him, of course. But in the afterglow of his triumph we both sensed that something had been lost. The thrill of the chase was over.

So the last thing I want is for Tiger to get to 18 or 19 majors before he turns 40. All the fun will be gone. My ideal script would bring him major No. 17 somewhere in his early to mid ‘40s. After that I want to watch him contend repeatedly—make numerous dogged and brave attempts to annex number 18—and fall short.

I’m in fact a bit of both minds about whether I want Tiger to get there at all.  As a competitor he deserves it—he is unquestionably the most impressively talented player ever to pick up a stick. But I grew up idolizing Jack Nicklaus—and I like Nicklaus the man. I don’t like Tiger the man.

Still bottom line, I enjoy witnessing history as much as the next guy. So here’s how it should play out. Just when we’ve all but given up on him Tiger stuns the world by winning majors 18 and 19 in rapid succession. And most important, this happens only after something else has occurred: Jack Nicklaus has passed away—after a very, very, very long life.