Forget 15, the magic number in the eye of Tiger Woods is 19, and we are not talking about the Masters appearances the world No 1 clocks up this week. While a 15th major title might be confirmation that Woods is indeed back to his best, he reached that accommodation with himself some time ago.
What he wants is 19, and the all-time major record. "I would like to be able to get to that point," Woods said here. "It took Jack Nicklaus a while to get to 18, all the way until he was 46 years old. So there's plenty of opportunities for me. We have very expansive careers and I feel like I'm basically right in the middle of mine. I have a lot of good years ahead of me and I'm excited about this week."
Woods has already won three times this year in four strokeplay events on the PGA Tour so he is back at optimum level. The world No 1 is absolute in his belief that he is ready once again to deliver the kind of performance that made him the dominant golfer of the epoch.
Nicklaus, who holds the record number of major victories, 18, had 14 at the age of 37, the same age as Woods is now. This will be the 61st major contested by Woods, eerily the same number Nicklaus had played at the same stage. The difference is Woods has not landed a big one since the US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008. Had he continued to convert at the rate that brought him the first tranche he would have been out of sight by now. As it is he has nine years to claim the five he needs to eclipse Nicklaus in the time frame laid out by the Golden Bear, who added No 18 at this event when he was 46.
Woods presents in fatherhood a face in softer focus. He is not the implacable hunter-gatherer of his youth, but a more measured soul, at least off the course. He credits his kids with providing the counterpoint he needed to right his ship. "Life is better since I've had kids. It's a beautiful juggling act. Parents in here will certainly attest to that; that's the joy in life and to be able to be a part of their life and watch them grow and help them grow.
"Getting out there and taking them on the golf course with me every now and again, they will have a great time. To me, that's what it's all about. That's how I was introduced to the game, and that's how I built such a great relationship with my father, to be able to spend that quality time out there on the course like that. I've been lucky enough to have a nice little set-up in the backyard, so can hit a few wedge shots and the kids will come out and enjoy it, too."
Woods was in the daddy role again late on Monday evening when he agreed to babysit 14-year-old Guan Tianlang. It takes a lot to make Woods blink on a golf course so credit must go the phenomenon from China for the pause taken. "He's not in high school yet. When I was 14, I was trying to get on, trying to play more tournaments and running track and cross-country; you know, trying to get homework done. I couldn't imagine playing in a Tour event, but the Masters! For a 14-year-old to be able to come out here and handle himself the way he's done is just unbelievable."