(CNN) — His story has been game-changing, spellbinding, controversial, outrageous, even sad — but never dull.
Tiger Woods turns 40 on Wednesday, another landmark in a tantalizing tale.
The former world No. 1, stranded four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, has been the dominant golfer of his generation and the sport’s most iconic figure.
The end may be in sight, as injuries have derailed his career — although you wouldn’t rule out further twists — but here’s a rundown of the top-10 defining moments from Woods’ career.
10. The wins
It may not resonate as much as the chase for Nicklaus’ major mark, but Woods insists PGA Tour wins are just as important a measure of his career. Woods clinched the last of his 79 PGA Tour titles in 2013, when he won five times, to inch towards seven-time major champion Sam Snead’s record of 82. Nicklaus is third with 73.
9. The U.S. Open overture
Woods kicked off his major haul at the Masters in 1997 and added another with the 1999 PGA Championship, but it was his 15-shot demolition job at Pebble Beach in 2000 that confirmed his status in golf’s pantheon. Woods’ winning margin remains the biggest in major history, and he broke a host of other scoring records along the way. The victory would also set in motion a period of unsurpassed domination in the game.
8. The first grand slam
A month after his Pebble Beach procession, Woods won the Open Championship at St. Andrews — by another thumping eight-shot margin — to complete the set of all four major titles.
At 24, he became the youngest player in history to clinch the career grand slam and remains one of only five players (along with Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Nicklaus) to have won all four professional major championships in his career. Woods beat Nicklaus to the mark by two years.
7. The world No. 1
Not a specific moment, but Woods’ strangehold on the world rankings illustrates how he dominated. He has spent a record 683 weeks at No. 1, starting with a week-long foray in June 1997, and including the most consecutive weeks (281) as top dog, from June 2005 to October 2010. Despite his recent slide down into the 400s in the rankings, Woods was still on top as recently as May 2014 following another 60 weeks as No. 1.
To put his superiority into context, since the world rankings began in 1986 the next closest is Greg Norman with 331 weeks at the top.
6. The beginning of the end?
Woods has fought injury throughout his career, but each time he has returned full of defiance, always proclaiming he will bounce back.
But after a third operation on his back in November 2015, a downbeat Woods exposed his doubts for the first time.
“Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know,” he told reporters on the eve of his Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas in December.
“There is nothing I can look forward to, nothing I can build towards.
“For my 20 years out here I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run. I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy.”
5. The last major
Shortly before the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a double stress fracture in his left leg, despite recent knee surgery. Doctors said he should not play at Torrey Pines. Woods was adamant he would win.
What unfolded over five days in southern California was almost supernatural. Woods limped and grimaced, but conjured a series of improbable shots and lengthy putts to lead after 54 holes. He dropped another bomb on the final green to squeeze into a 18-hole Monday play-off and beat 45-year-old Rocco Mediate for his 14th major title and sixth with coach Hank Haney.
It was also the third time he had completed a set of the four major titles — at 32, he was three years younger than Nicklaus when he achieved the same feat.
4. The ‘Tiger Slam’
Woods was on fire during the summer of 2000 and added the U.S. PGA title to his U.S. Open and British Open triumphs. At Augusta in the first major of 2001, he beat David Duval by two shots to land a second green jacket and clinch what became known as the “Tiger Slam” of holding all four majors at once.
This was Woods in his pomp, his Butch Harmon-modeled swing purring like a precision instrument.
Woods won eight majors with Harmon between 1997-2002 and six under Haney between 2005-2008. Haney quit in May 2010 but Woods was unable to add to his major haul with replacement Sean Foley, who was relieved of his duties in August 2014.
No one has yet won the four modern majors in the same season.
3. The injuries
Woods’ fitness — or lack of it — has been a major defining factor in his career. His dynamic swing and rigorous weight-training regime have placed a heavy toll on his body and he is often described as an “old” 40.
He has had four operations on his left knee and suffered numerous Achilles, neck and elbow problems as well as the ongoing back ailment, which prompted a first operation for a pinched nerve in March 2014.
Woods has missed six majors because of injury since 2008. The knock-on effect is the time needed to rehabilitate and then practice, while his numerous swing changes — bringing their own issues — have been in part to preserve his body.
Nicklaus, however, won three majors in his 40s and maintains Woods “should not be written off.”
2. The introduction
By 1997, the golf world had heard of this young black kid with a precocious talent who could smash the ball miles and putted like a Jedi, but the wider sporting public was about to get acquainted.
The 21-year-old, playing in his first Masters as a professional, won by a record 12 shots over the famed Augusta National to become the youngest winner and the first non-white player to triumph in the year’s first major.
The Tiger era was upon us and the game changed. Players rushed to get fitter and stronger, and courses — including Augusta itself — would start to be lengthened to combat the increasing distance of a new generation.
1. The meltdown
The date is etched on the mind: November 27, 2009. That night reports filtered out that Woods had been in a car crash outside his Florida home. As the fuller picture emerged — of fire-hydrants, golf clubs and eventually serial infidelity — Woods’ narrative took off in a whole new unforeseen direction. Rehab and divorce followed, he decided to devote more time to his two kids, form slumped, injuries interfered and swing changes muddied the waters.
Nothing would be the same again. Whenever Woods’ career is dissected, the words “what if” will be at the forefront of the conversation.
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