Chasing 82: With Masters win, Woods closing in on Sam Snead and PGA TOUR history

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 23: Tiger Woods celebrates his win after the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 23, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Two wins away from the all-time wins record, the countdown is on for Tiger Woods

by Chris Cox/PGA TOUR

HOT SPRINGS, VIRGINIA – For nearly seven decades, Sam Snead has held the honor of being the PGA Tour’s all-time winningest player, winning 82 times between 1936 and 1965. The mark has stood without significant threat ever since.

Until now. 

When Tiger Woods first defied the odds at last September’s Tour Championship then again in improbable fashion at the Masters Tournament, a debate long thought dead was officially reignited.

Can Tiger Woods finally pass Snead on the all-time wins list?

“Dad realized what a special talent Tiger was, and he saw glimpses of it the first time they played a practice round together at Augusta,” said Sam Snead’s son, Jack Snead. “Tiger became No. 1 in the world and is talked about as one of the best to ever play the game. There was no ranking back in the day, but there were times in Dad’s career when he was the best player going. So, it’s fitting, maybe, that if anybody is going to beat Dad’s record it would be Tiger.”

Years of brutal back pain and its four ensuring surgeries washed away for good at East Lake Golf Club last fall, and Woods’ thrilling Sunday finish at Augusta National officially vindicated his return. Snead’s record is now on the clock.

“A handful of years ago I don’t know a lot of people believed that Tiger would win another major,” Tony Finau said. “From what I saw, obviously he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Whether Woods can actually do so remains to be seen. After all, most prognosticators thought Woods would have passed Snead soon after his five-win campaign in 2013. And yet, the order in the record book remains unchanged. Snead’s legacy lives on—for now.

“To kind of get to the 80 mark is a big number,” Woods said recently. “Sam is still ahead of me. I’ve still got, I feel like, a chance to play some more golf and maybe I’ll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it.  But I just think that what I’ve gone through and what I’ve dealt with, I’ve gotten lucky, to be honest with you. I’ve gotten very lucky.”

History lies in Woods’ favor. After capturing his fifth green jacket—and first major in 11 years—he needs just one more win to match Snead and two to finally pass him. That would be standard fare for Woods, who in his career has won at least twice in a season 13 times.

Where Woods attempts to tackle the record is known only to him. He has reiterated multiple times this year that he will not play as many times as he did in his comeback season of a year ago, but history points to a handful of tournaments where his name will likely highlight the field list.

Though not confirmed, Woods is expected to play at the Wells Fargo Championship the first weekend in May, where he won in 2007. It falls two weeks before the PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course in New York, aligning perfectly with his desire to not play the week before a major. After that, anticipate seeing him at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, where he’s won Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial five times. That event is two weeks prior to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

“I know that I can win because obviously I just proved it. It’s just a matter of getting everything kind of peaking at the right time,” said Woods, who’s played in more than 19 events just once since 2006. “The will and the want and the desire hasn’t changed; it’s just a matter of is the body willing to do it.”

But age is just a number. Snead proved as much, winning 12 times after the age of 42, including his final title, in Greensboro, just before his 53rd birthday.

Woods remains on pace, even with a smaller schedule and an aging physique. Not that it mattered in Augusta, where at 43 years old he became the oldest Masters champion since Nicklaus did it in 1986, at age 46.

“This is definitely one of the greatest comebacks I think anybody’s ever seen,” Brooks Koepka said. “Eighty-one, 15; I think 18 is a whole lot closer than people think.”

The only expectation Woods hasn’t changed is winning. He still wants to break Snead’s record, as well as Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship titles, now just three more than Woods. “In order to get to Jack’s record, I have to pass Snead’s record,” he said. “It’s just simple math, and I want to make that happen.”

The weight of history will linger at each and every tournament Woods plays in this year. Galleries will murmur, the journalists will stir. Is this the week where Tiger does the unthinkable? 

“I first met Sam Snead as a child, and over the years, we formed a great relationship,” Woods said. “Every year I looked forward to seeing him at the Masters. He would get up at the Champions dinner and tell jokes and stories, and we’d talk about golf. To be in the same room with Sam, Mr. (Byron) Nelson and Mr. (Gene) Sarazen was truly an honor. To listen to them talk about golf and recall different tournaments was like living through history.

“Sam remained in great shape even as he got older, and it always amazed me what he could do physically. He was a great athlete. I miss Sam, and I am grateful to have been his friend.”

Sam Snead vs. Tiger Woods
82 PGA TOUR victories 81
U.S. $712,972 Lifetime earnings U.S. $118,309,570
585 Number of events 352
14% Win percentage 23%
527 Cuts made 322
57 Runner-up finishes 31
330 Top-10 finishes 196
440 Top-25 finishes 266
11 (1950) Most wins in a season 9 (2000)
8 Seasons with 5+ victories 10