JERSEY CITY, N.J. — This might be the best way to measure Tiger Woods’ season. Sam Snead is getting more attention than Jack Nicklaus.
Woods said again Wednesday at The Barclays this already has been a great season, and it’s difficult to argue. His five wins — including two World Golf Championships and The Players Championship — are three more than anyone else on the PGA Tour.
He is leading all the right indicators, such as the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average, the money list ($2.6 million more than anyone else) and the No. 1 seed going into the FedEx Cup playoffs that start Thursday.
The standard for Woods, however, always has been the majors, and he was shut out for the fifth straight year.
“His lack of winning a major is the only thing talked about, which I think is sad,” Bill Haas said. “I think it’s ignorant. But that’s what we are basing his year on. He may even say, ‘Oh, I’m disappointed because I didn’t win a major. But he’s not winning the smaller events. He’s winning the WGCs and Bay Hill. And yes, it makes what he’s doing that much more impressive, absolutely.”
Woods is stuck on 14 majors, leaving him four short of the Nicklaus standard. The five wins this year, after three wins in 2012, has put him at 79 career wins, moving him closer to Snead’s record 82 wins on the PGA Tour.
“I tell you what, I never thought I would ever get there this quick,” Woods said. “It’s been an amazing run to get here. One of the things I’m most proud of is winning five or more tournaments 10 years in there. That’s one of the stats that I look at as one of the ones I’m really proud of. This is one of those years.”
The next chance to add to his wins starts Thursday at The Barclays, the first of four FedEx Cup playoff events against some of the strongest fields of the year.
Yes, the majors are over. There is still plenty up for grabs — for Woods, British Open champion Phil Mickelson and even someone like Rory McIlroy.
Even though Woods has twice as many wins as anyone else, Mickelson could make a case for PGA Tour player of the year if he were to win a playoff or event (or two), particularly the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize. Despite two decades of greatness and a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame, Mickelson has never won player of the year, a money title or the Vardon Trophy.
Haas didn’t hesitate when asked who had the best year — Woods.
Neither did Masters champion Adam Scott.
“It’s hard to pass up looking at five wins,” Scott said. “I think the next best guy might have two, is that right? That’s a great year to win that many times. It’s all personal opinion. If you think winning a major is what you base success on, then if you haven’t (won), you haven’t had a great year. But winning … I’ve always based it around winning events, and I don’t think one major makes up for five tournaments.”
Woods only played nine holes of his pro-am Wednesday at Liberty National, the course along the Hudson River across from the Statue of Liberty. He experienced stiffness in his neck and back from what he attributed to a soft bed in his hotel, and Woods decided only to chip and putt on the back nine as a precaution.
It was the latest nagging injury this year though Woods was not concerned and said he was fine during his week off at home in Florida.
He is facing one of the toughest fields in the year featuring the top 125 players on the PGA Tour, all of whom are in form, some of whom are desperate to go as far as they can in these lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs. Only the top 100 advance next week to the Deutsche Bank Championship.
McIlroy has an easier time defining his season to date. It hasn’t been very good. He jokes with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald that he effectively has taken six months off, and now it’s time to get to work.
The good news for the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland is that golf is starting to feel more like play than work again.
He was swinging free during his pro-am, finally comfortable with his driver and launching them high and relatively straight. McIlroy feels like he turned the corner at Firestone a few weeks ago, and he rallied at Oak Hill to at least flirt with contention for the first time in a major.
A year ago, McIlroy won consecutive playoff events, tied for 10th at the Tour Championship and Brandt Snedeker walked off with the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize.
“Maybe it will be the other way around,” McIlroy said. “That’s the beauty of it. You look at basketball, baseball, football. Teams squeeze in and make a great playoff run and win. I’m in that position where I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”