It is generally acknowledged in the golf media that Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer ever. This is Part Five in a series of articles attempting to dispute that notion.
In previous posts, I have compared Jack's record to those of Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, and Ben Hogan.
This week, I profile the last contendor for the title, Tiger Woods.
Tiger needs no introduction. His exploits and accomplishments have been chronicled by the media like no other. Here are his primary career highlights, not necessarily in any particular order:
6 straight amateur match play championships
14 major victories in 43 attempts (32.5 percent winning percentage)
65 tour victories - third all-time
Career Grand Slam - accomplished three times
114 consecutive cuts made - record
7 straight PGA tour wins - second longest streak ever
6 straight PGA tour wins - another streak that tied Hogan
Holds scoring record (relative to par) in all four majors
Held all four major titles simultaneously - the Tiger Slam
Never surrendered 54-hole lead in a major
9-time PGA Player of the Year - a record
7-time Vardon trophy winner - a record
9 years ranked No. 1 - a record
I could go on, but you get the idea. And he's only 32 years old, an age when most professional golfers are just entering or in the middle of their prime winning years.
As my regular readers know, I consider the most important statistic career major winning percentage. Nicklaus won 16 percent of the majors he entered into during his prime years. Tiger, at 30 percent, has almost doubled Jack's winning percentage, and has a higher percentage than any other golfer except Bobby Jones.
Some other non-statistical factors come into play as well when considering Woods' greatness:
- his domination of a previously all-white sport as an African American
- his ability to perform at this level under the most intense media scrutiny any golfer has ever endured. He has had the highest expectations placed on him at every level since the age of 12 and has not only met all of those expectations, but exceeded them without a single instance of failure.
- his role in expanding the popularity of the sport and expanding the money pool for his fellow professionals
- his status as golf's first global superstar
It's hard to find any fault whatsoever with Woods. About the only valid criticism has been his unfortunate tendency to curse loudly after poor shots. Considering that he is very aware of his enormous influence, especially on young golfers, it's hard to explain that behavior.
It's particularly confounding, since he handles himself in a highly professional manner in all other aspects of the game and sets a fine example in every facet of his personal life and conduct.
The only other criticism I can think of is that he had never come from behind on Sunday to win a major. That's not a serious flaw and only highlights the desperation of his few remaining detractors.
Clearly Tiger has put himself into position to end all arguments. If he is able to maintain his career major winning percentage for the next eight years, he will have 23 majors by age 40.
And if history is any guide, he will be a lock to pick up a few more victories in his 40s. Of course, he is also on a pace to break Sam Snead's record of 82 total PGA Tour victories easily.
The only question is where to place him right now in 2008, considering that his career is unfinished.
Next week, I rank the greatest golfers of all time.