Nicklaus or Woods - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Nicklaus or Woods

Leaving politics again for more important things, Tim Joyce at Real Clear Sports has an excellent column comparing Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Myself, even as a Nicklaus fan nonpareil, I think that Woods at his best probably would have beaten Nicklaus at his best perhaps 11 out of 21 times. Nicklaus was a far better driver (far more consistently straight), but Woods’ killer instinct and his prowess ALL around the greens, and from trouble off the fairway, seem to give him an edge. Nonetheless, one reason we’ll never know for sure is that Woods’ competitors have been virtual pygmies compared to Nicklaus’ chief rivals. NOBODY, even once, has stepped up to birdie the closing holes of a major, or to hit chip-ins or other miraculous shots, to defeat Woods one-on-one the way that Lee Trevino and Tom Watson so often did to Nicklaus. Again and again we see major el-foldos from Woods’ top competitors, the same way Padraig Harrington gagged his way from a one-stroke lead to a triple bogey on the 16th hole at Firestone yesterday. The ONLY people who haven’t backed up in majors against Tiger were the journeymen like Bob May, Chris DiMarco and Rocco Mediate — and even they merely hung tough rather than actually stepping up to make birdies or chip-ins on closing holes.

So consider Woods’ competition: Singh, Mickelson, Harrington, and Els each have three major wins, with Goosen and Cabrera having two each. Compare that to Players’ nine, Watson’s eight (and almost a ninth last month!), Palmer’s seven, Trevino’s six, Floyd’s four, and Irwin’s and Casper’s three each. Throw in Crenshaw and Hubert Green and Johnny Miller and Dick Stockton, with two each, and Tom Weiskopf and Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins and Gene Littler and Don January with one each, and you have an incredible murderers’ row of opponents. (You could also note that Jack won four of his majors after Severiano Ballesteros [five majors total] came on the scene.) And it’s not as if Singh et al. have so few only because they’ve been losing to Tiger; when Tiger wasn’t at his best, they have let people like Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis, Mark Brooks, Michael Campbell and Rich Beem take the trophies. Truly, these “rivals” of Tigers are merely very good, not all-time greats.

But here’s a good way to think of it. Pair off Mickelson with his fellow San Diegan Billy Casper (they have nearly identical records) and Els, Singh, Harrington, Goosen and Cabrera with Irwin, Floyd, Green, Crenshaw and Miller (frankly, I’d rate the latter five much tougher competitors ANY day). Jack is left against Arnie, Gary, Tom, and Lee, while Tiger is left against…. exactly nobody worth considering in the top 20 of all time.

ANother way to look at it is to add up ALL the professional major titles of the most celebrated Americans under 50 right now (except Mickelson, already dealt with in the comparison to Billy Casper’s 51 wins, three of them majors). Janzen and Daly with two each. Azinger, Couples, Pavin, Calcavecchia, Love, Leonard, Furyk, Toms, Duval, and Cink, with one major each. Now throw in Kenny Perry, Scott Verplank, Steve Stricker, Chris DiMarco, Brad Faxon, Rocco Mediate, and former US Amateur champ Billy Mayfair for good measure — all with zero professional majors. (I take all these names from the top 40 or so on the career earnings list.) Hell, let’s open this up to foreigners and throw in Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clark, Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and Paul Casey. Zero professional majors there, too. Grand total for 25 of the most accomplished players against whom Tiger Woods has had to compete: Just 14 majors combined, the same as Tiger himself has won. Nicklaus’ competition was SO much steeper, so much tougher, so much more mentally strong, than Woods’, there really is no comparison.

Remember, Nicklaus also had to contend with even more people far more accomplished than CInk and Verplank — people like John Mahaffey, Jerry Pate, Frank Beard, Doug Sanders, Mike Souchak, Greg Norman (a small overlap with Jack), Tony Jacklin, Peter Thomsen (a small overlap), Dave Hill, Hal Sutton, Larry Nelson (small overlap), David Graham, Julius Boros, Al Geiberger, Bobby Nichols, Gay Brewer, George Archer, Bob Goalby, Fuzzy Zoeller (small overlap), Roberto DiVicenzo, and Bob Charles, and with Sam Snead playing for Nicklaus the Tom Watson role of greatly elder competitor(but far more often than Watson) by seriously competing for the PGA into his 60s. Granted, Tiger is only 33, so surely some of his current and future competitors will in their full careers resemble some of these very good-but-not-all-time-greats of the Nicklaus years — and thus Tiger won’t look quite so much like a man among pygmies when it is all said and done.

But the fact is, Jack Nicklaus had to beat people who did NOT back down from him. Tiger, for all his phenomenal play, has yet to have somebody stick a dagger deep into his guts the way Watson did three separate times to Jack (with birdies at the 71st hole all three times) or the way Trevino did by chipping in from all over creation to stop Jack’s Grand Slam bid. None of TIger’s chief competitors seem to have the same fortitude — and the ones with fortitude, like Mediate and DiMarco, aren’t even close to being second-tier greats, or any tier greats at all.

So we’ll never really know what Tiger would have done against the likes of Watson, Trevino and Player — or how much better Jack would have done if Harrington and Els had been his main, utterly outclassed, opponents.

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