Breakdown: Roger Federer vs Tiger Woods

Jeffrey Fann@TalkinACCSportsAnalyst IJuly 7, 2009

Recently I created a short blog post asking if Roger Federer was the greatest athlete of the decade. There was a brief comparison to Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps.
I decided it would be interesting to provide a breakdown between Federer and Woods specifically, as they are intertwined on so many levels, moreso than Phelps. They both play sports where there are four Grand Slams per year, and where their achievements are always defined by individual performance, and never in a team competition. This doesn't mean Phelps may not be considered the athlete of the decade; just that it's more difficult to compare Phelps to Woods and Federer.

Let's break down the tale of the tape:


Federer: 27
Woods: 33

Woods is nearly six years older than Federer, seemingly giving him a several year head start. As we'll see at the turned pro years, it's not as much as you think.

Turned Pro

Federer: 1998
Woods: 1996

Woods only got a two year advantage on Federer. It's not uncommon that most top tennis players start playing professionally in their late teens. Woods spent two years at Stanford before turning pro.

Singles Victories

Federer: 60
Woods: 68 (PGA Tour only)

There isn't much difference here, though Woods is closer to golf's all-time title record than Federer is to tennis's all-time title record. Golfer Sam Snead has 82 career wins. That is the record, and Woods is only 14 behind. Jimmy Connors is tennis's current singles title record holder with 109. Federer is barely halfway there. Woods will break the record, but Federer mostly likely will not.

Prize Money

Federer: $49,475,219
Woods: $86,914,539 (PGA Tour only)

Prize money is probably more a function of the individual sport rather than relative success of either player. It's still interesting to see how much Woods and Federer have won in tournament prize money. Don't worry—they have plenty of endorsement money as well.

Grand Slams

Federer: 15
Woods: 14

Federer has won an astonishing 15 out of the last 25 grand slams he's entered. If Rafael Nadal wasn't around, Federer would probably have won 19 or 20 grand slams since 2003.
Woods hasn't quite won at the same pace he did early in his career. During a span that started with the 1999 PGA Championship through the 2002 U.S. Open, Woods won seven majors in 11 events. Woods has the distinction of holding all four majors at once in 2000-2001. This is something Federer has yet to do.

Grand Slam Winning Percentage

Federer: 15/44 = 34%
Woods: 14/52 = 27%

Pretty close, but the edge here goes to Roger.

Career Grand Slams

Federer: 1
Woods: 3

Woods has won all four golf majors at least three times, and Federer has the one career grand slam. As said without Rafael Nadal, Federer would probably also be a three time over grand slam winner.


Woods is just now entering his golfing prime. Theoretically, Federer should be on the tail end of his. Woods has at least six more years of top-form golf, then through his early- to mid-forties he will still have several opportunities to win majors, if he stays healthy. I suspect Woods will eventually finish with 21 or 22 majors.

Federer's time is more limited. It's very difficult for pro-tennis players to win majors beyond the age of 31 or 32. Though Andre Agassi proved with proper fitness you can remain a top 10 player through your mid-30s. Federer will win at least four more majors before his 30th birthday. Give him two more after that, and he's looking at 21 or 22 major titles, too.

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