That doesn't mean he's done as a competitive force in the big ones. He is 0-for-19 since outlasting Rocco Mediate over 19 playoff holes at Torrey Pines, and Sunday marked the eighth time in Woods' past 13 majors that he failed to finish inside the top 20 (or missed the cut); he'd managed that only 10 times in his first 52 majors as a pro.
Some see the trend as hard evidence that Tiger has been tamed for keeps. But as one of the greatest athletes of his time, or any time, Woods makes it easier to believe he will find a way to seriously challenge or break Nicklaus' record before he's done.
Three men in their 40s -- Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson -- won the three Open Championships before this one, and Watson was a single par from the fairway away from winning his sixth in 2009 at age 59.
Golf allows its stars to age gracefully. Golf doesn't let Willie Mays stumble in the outfield grass.
So Tiger has some time to play with, even coming off back surgery (and all those leg injuries before it) at 38 and counting.
"I'm still building," he said. "I'm still working on my game. And I'm still getting stronger and faster."
Woods reminded reporters that he surprised his doctors by returning so soon, by competing at Royal Liverpool after a mere two competitive rounds at Congressional. He also showed his unbending belief in himself by declaring that he belonged on Watson's Ryder Cup team and by deflecting a comparison of McIlroy to a young Tiger by maintaining that a young Rory reminds him more of Mickelson.
"When he gets it going, he gets it going," Woods said. "When it gets going bad, it gets going real bad."
This was Tiger's way of saying, "Hey, let's not get carried away here."
Before he left Royal Liverpool, Woods removed his cap and waved it to the same crowd that pulled for him when he won in his father's memory in 2006. In the parking lot, LaCava loaded Tiger's bag into the trunk of the Mercedes and blurted out an expletive -- through a smile -- when asked whether, given the circumstances, he was content with his boss' effort.
"No, never content," LaCava said. "I wanted to win. You have the wrong guy if you think we were going to settle for that."
Woods won't settle for modest progress in what amounts to rehab assignments. Remember, he's one of the two best players ever for a reason.
As long as his body cooperates even a little bit, the smart bet says Tiger Woods just needs to get a liberating No. 15 behind him to kick the Nicklaus chase back into high gear.