A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tiger: Best Ever?

That was a question on local sports radio on Monday. Consensus was, yes, but it wasn't unanimous by any means. Which I found somewhat startling-- no offense to Jack Nicklaus, who was an awesome competitor, an awesome golfer, and a classy champion-- because I think the evidence that Tiger is the best ever is REALLY compelling.


At age 30, he already has 12 majors (second most in history) and, barring injury, seems certain to eclipse Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 before he turns 40. Jack got his 12th at age 33, and didn't get his 18th until he was 46. Tiger is currently 6th all-time in tour victories, with 51, and needs only 32 more to become the all-time leader in tour victories. Woods has already been the PGA player of the year SEVEN times. Nicklaus won that honorary title 5 times. Woods holds or shares the record for the low score in relation to par in each of the four major championships.

Then think on this: Woods is just now coming into his prime. From about 28-35 is usually the pinnacle of a golfer's career-- old enough/experienced enough to play smart and know the courses, but physically still at their peak. Woods is probably only going to get BETTER for the next few years. Scary.

One of the two arguments made by the "Tiger is great, but not the best" group is that Tiger does not play enough tournaments, and therefore the victories he does get are somehow less worthy. Which makes absolutely ZERO sense to me. The logic might make sense if Tiger were padding his victory totals playing in the low-end PGA events-- those that very few of the top pros play in because they are playing in a major or getting ready for a major. But the exact opposite is true. Although Tiger does not play in as many tournaments as his contemporaries he only plays in the really tough tournaments. Against the best competition, on the toughest courses. How that makes his greatness less escapes me.

The other argument makes a bit more sense. Basically, the nay-sayers believe that the talent pool around Tiger is... suspect, shall we say. Tiger doesn't have an Arnold Palmer or Tom Watson to challenge him for supremacy, the way Nicklaus did, so his victories are easier to achieve since the competition is weaker. And I'll admit that Phil Mikelson, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia have never quite lived up to the role of Tiger's nemesis.

So, it is possible that Woods' dominance is at least partially a result of everybody else not being that good. But it could also be because Woods is just that much better than everyone else. Maybe Mikelson and Els aren't worse than Palmer and Watson, but rather Woods is that much better than Nicklaus, relatively speaking. How do you know? My gut instinct is that it's a mix of both-- the top talents behind Woods are not as good as the top talents behind Nicklaus, but the huge gap between Woods and everybody else is also partially, maybe mostly, that Woods is just that good.

Time may well tell. Perhaps Tiger will blow past Jack and win 25 majors, in which case I think the case is pretty well settled, or maybe some new hot shot will appear on the scene and Tiger won't win any more majors (though that seems unlikely) and I will be wrong and Nicklaus will remain the best ever.

But if I had to bet my house, I'd put it on young Mr. Eldrick Woods. No offense, Jack.


Best ever? I'd go with Happy Gilmore.
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