ST. ANDREWS: Tiger Woods has gone 0-for-3 in what had been expected to be a pivotal run of majors in pursuit of the record 18 major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, a quest likely to be much tougher now.
After a flop at the British Open, Woods has not won in the past nine majors, one shy of matching the two longest major-win droughts of his career, and he went winless this year on courses where he has won half his 14 major titles.
"The good news is I`ve won half of them not on these venues, too," Woods said Sunday after a final-round 72 left him three-under overall and well back.
Without any victory at all since a sex scandal last November sent his iconic reputation crashing, Woods faces serious questions about whether or not he will ever pass his boyhood idol`s epic standard.
The start of 2010 had been heralded for years by Woods followers as a magic time with Woods in majors at Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews - courses where he had collected past major crowns in overpowering fashion.
Woods won his first of four Masters titles in 1997 by 12 strokes, took the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by a major-record 15 strokes to begin his "Tiger Slam" run and won by eight shots in 2000 and five in 2005 at the Old Course.
But Woods is off to his worst season start after a five-month layoff before Augusta and settling for a share of fourth at the Masters and US Open. This week he was never truly among title contenders at the birthplace of golf.
Asked if he felt he had missed an opportunity at the Old Course, Woods was matter of fact.
"That`s just the way it goes," Woods said. "I`m not going to win all of them. I`ve lost a lot more than I`ve won."
Woods has won the Masters four times (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005), the US Open three times (2000, 2002, 2008), the British Open three times (2000, 2005, 2006) and the PGA Championship four times (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007).
The 34-year-old American has squandered what appeared to be a golden run that could have put him on the brink of matching the "Golden Bear".
"Do I still think Tiger will break my record? Yeah, I think he probably will," Nicklaus said last month. "He`s a very dedicated, hard-working golfer. But I always said you have to do it. It`s not just a gimme."
The struggles have made Nicklaus` words before last month`s US Open seem prophetic.
"Tiger is obviously the best player that`s come along in a long time, but I felt like, with the problems that he had last year and this year particularly, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews were important golf courses for him," he said.
"He basically had won on those fairly easily through the years. If he had problems with those golf courses, sure they won`t come around for a while. He is 35 now (for 2011 majors). Maybe it might be tougher."
World number two Phil Mickelson, who missed a chance to dethrone Woods as world number one this week, said the odds still favour Woods passing Nicklaus.
"It`s certainly in his favour. He only has a few to go," Mickelson said. "You just never know when his game turns."
Monday will see Woods remain world number one for a 267th consecutive week, giving him 609 weeks at the top for his career.
But his run at 18 majors figures to be much more difficult than when Nicklaus was passing the major marks of Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones in the 1970s.
"His pressure is a lot greater simply because of the media attention today and what happens to the sport. Times have changed," Nicklaus said. "Will he have a tougher time coming down the stretch? Maybe."
Nicklaus was a major runner-up 18 times. Woods has been a major runner-up six times, twice in each of the US-based majors, most recently at last year`s PGA Championship.
Battling a knee injury that required surgery, Woods moved within four majors of Nicklaus by winning the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines.
Woods missed the next two majors but returned in 2009 only to go winless at the majors for the first year since 2004.
His best chance at a major last year was foiled when South Korean Yang Yong-Eun outdueling him over the last holes to win the PGA Championship.
Should Woods find his form, the chances for future majors will come. He will have years to test his skills at the Masters each April and St. Andrews is on a regular British Open rotation.
BDST: 2235 hrs, July 18, 2010