Column: Woods’ quest for Nicklaus record is over

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ATLANTA (AP) - Tiger Woods had a clean palette to work with in the Tour Championship.

Teeing off ahead of everyone else Friday, an empty course in front of him, he produced a work that symbolized what he’s become on the golf course.

Part masterpiece. Part color-by-numbers.

When Woods walked blankly off the 18th green at East Lake _ worn out and looking older than his rapidly approaching 38th birthday _ it’s never been clearer.

Jack Nicklaus‘ record is safe.

There’s no way Woods is going to win four more majors, which would tie the Golden Bear’s mark of 18 titles, much less the five he needs to have it all to himself.

One or two? Sure.

Four or five? Not a chance.

“Just ran out of gas,” Woods said glumly. “I’m tired.”

No doubt, he’s still one of the world’s best players. Heck, he’s ranked No. 1 in the world and has won five times this year, more than twice as many victories as anyone else. But, quick, name any of them. Woods, you see, can still win on those courses where he’s always been successful. Otherwise, we’re watching a slow, unstoppable slide that was probably accelerated by his shenanigans off the course a few years ago.

Time didn’t stand still for Nicklaus. Or Arnold Palmer. Or Ben Hogan.

It won’t for Woods, either.

The guy who seemingly made every big putt in his prime can no longer rely on that facet of his game with impunity, the surest sign of a golfer in the throes of middle age. There’s also a body that keeps breaking down, something that all aging athletes must face, but seems to be affecting Woods earlier than most _ perhaps because he started so young. He’s already had four surgeries.

Once, the mere sight of Woods‘ name on the leaderboard would cause his rivals to shakes in their spikes. Now, he’s just another guy they think they can beat _ tougher than most, perhaps, but no longer a snappily dressed version of “The Terminator.”

Woods started the Tour Championship with a birdie-less round of 73, leaving him next-to-last in the elite 30-player field. He had the gallery roaring Friday when he strung together four birdies in a stretch of six holes, pushing him to 5-under for the round and 2-under for the tournament.

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