TOKYO • For nearly seven decades, Sam Snead has held the honour of being the PGA Tour player with the most titles, 82 won from 1936 to 1965.
The mark has stood without significant threat ever since, not even from Tiger Woods, who stood on 79 with his Bridgestone Invitational victory in 2013.
Then came the first of his four back surgeries and the threat was history. Until now.
When Woods first defied the odds at the 2018 Tour Championship, then again at the Masters in April, a debate long thought over was officially reignited.
Can Woods, on 81 titles and having overcome years of brutal back pain, finally pass Snead?
The record will almost assuredly not be broken this year. But it can certainly be matched.
Woods will likely play just one more PGA Tour-sanctioned event this year, and it will come in Japan at the inaugural Zozo Championship, which starts today.
Co-sanctioned by the Japan Golf Tour, the event with a Japan-record purse of US$9.75 million (S$13.3 million) is part of the Tour's swing through Asia, joining the CJ Cup in Korea and the WGC-HSBC Champions in China next week.
"To kind of get to the 80 mark is a big number," Woods said. "Sam is still ahead of me. I've still got a chance to play some more golf and maybe I'll keep chipping away at that number and maybe surpass it.
"I know that I can win... 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 ageing physique. Not that it mattered in Augusta where, at 43, he became the oldest Masters champion since Jack Nicklaus won in 1986 at 46.
He also wants to break Nicklaus' record of 18 Major titles, now just three more than him.
"In order to get to Jack's record, I have to pass Snead's record. It's just simple math, and I want to make that happen," Woods said.
Separately, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said yesterday the organisation plans to put down roots in Japan and "never leave".
In a golf-mad country starved of the chance to see world-class golf regularly, the excitement is palpable, although a forecast for torrential rain could throw a spanner in the works.
"When we make a commitment to bring a new event to a market, that's a commitment that is permanent and our intention is never to leave Japan, to always have a PGA Tour event in Japan from this day forward," Monahan said.
PGA TOUR, REUTERS