Is Tiger Already The Greatest To Have Ever Played? Not So Fast, Jack

Adam LawrenceContributor IJune 11, 2009

DUBLIN, OH - JUNE 07: Jack Nicklaus presents Tiger Woods with the trophy after his one-stroke victory at the Memorial Tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club on June 7, 2009 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

It was fitting that Tiger should finally quiet all of the critics who have said his knee will be a problem for him in the future in Jack's tournament—The Memorial.

The question that crossed my mind after seeing Jack and Tiger posed for pictures after his incredible comeback, was whether or not Woods is in fact the greatest golfer to have ever played the game, and if so, why has it seemed as though he has already claimed this title.

Almost everyone I have ever talked to about the subject has immediately claimed that Tiger was superior to Nicklaus, almost as if there was not thought required to answer the subject.

But my reply has always been the same: You have heard of Jack Nicklaus, right?

Before we all jump on the Tiger bandwagon the media has been playing up for years (most of it very deserving), let's look at how much more Tiger can add to his resume, to actually cement his legacy as the greatest of all time.

First, lets look at the stats between Jack and Tiger, arguably the two greatest golfers in the history of their sport.

Tiger has dominated golf for two, three-year periods ('99-'02 and '05-'08). Throughout the span in between, Woods worked extremely productively on his swing, and when asked why he would ever consider changing something so perfect, his reply: "To get better."

So obviously Tiger doesn't feel as though he is a perfect golfer, the greatest to have ever walked the face of the earth, because he altercated his own swing to achieve further greatness.

Greatness on the level of Jack Nicklaus, and maybe even more so.

Jack's career has been a little different. Instead of having the greatest spans of winning in the history of sports, Jack was more consistent than Tiger throughout his whole career (or thus far when comparing to that of Tiger).

In a span of 18 years, Nicklaus finished in the top-six at the British 17 times.

In 20 years he finished in the top-five at Agusta 14 times.

Jack finished in the top three in Majors with 42, yeath that's 42 times in his career, compared to 22 top three finishes by Tiger.

Now at first people will look at this stat and say well Jack has obviously outdone Tiger in Majors thus far in Wood's career.

However, there is more to this specific statistic than meets the eye.

Tiger is playing in a more competitive league. Not more competitive by the highest echelon of players, but more competitive from top to bottom. Would Davis Love III have sat out a U.S. Open because he didn't qualify rightfully back in the 1970's? Of course not, but Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, and Lee Trevino would have been just as able to match the top players on the current PGA Tour talent-wise.

So to me, Jack was able to place top-three when Tiger has been able to place top-20.

The reason? If Jack has an off tournament he is still better than almost everyone, but if Tiger is off, he has to deal with anyone with almost equal talent to himself, stepping up their games and moving past him.

If either Tiger or Jack has a bad tournament, neither can win, but the difference of where they place after first is a subject of time and current play more than talent.

That said, Jack's ability to come in the top-three so often is not something to hinder away from.

And this brings the most important question to my mind: Why is the comparison of Tiger to Jack seen as obsolete and incomprehensible?

Why is Tiger already the greatest ever?

The answer: Peter Kostis, Jim Nantz, Nick Faldo, and Johnny Miller. These guys sound familiar? They are all of the golf analysts that promote Tiger's game almost as much as a Nike commercial.

Nowadays, the media will over-hype anyone; LeBron is better than Jordan, Tom Brady better than Unitas, even Crosby over Gretzky.

Tiger Woods is in the same predicament.

Only he has one thing that these guys don't have. He redefined his sport in a way that no other athlete has done in the last few generations—if ever.

While he may not be the greatest golfer who has ever lived (at least not yet), he has still had an impact that is far greater than anyone else to have ever touched a golf club.

In my opinion, the debate between Tiger and Jack is the most interesting in all of sports.

They are two individuals who are playing a sport that has changed so much over their careers, and both have arguments that rely mainly on their fellow competitors.

In an arguement for Jack, he competed against some of the greatest golfers of all time, even more so than Tiger.

In an argument for Tiger, he has crushed his competition so badly, that the greatest golfers of our generation are seen as less-talented than those Jack faced.

To me, it's a coinflip, but I stay on Tiger's side because of his age (after all the peak of Jack's career and almost every golfer, is in their mid thirties, an age Tiger has yet to reach.

I think its also important to look at how much more difficult courses are today than they were back a few generations ago. Everything is lengthed, from the teeboxes to the fairway bunkers, and its up to designers to make everything harder.

Yet, I cannot complete this arugement, because of the technology available today, as while Nickalus was playing with wooden sticks, Tiger is playing with die-cast metal and materials that can get them past distances that courses have added on.

I didn't write this article to prove why Jack was just as good as Tiger. I wrote to prove why there is still a much needed debate on this subject and why there should never be a title for the "greatest player of all time" until everything is said and done.

Another main reason for this argument deals with the tremendous amount of respect I have for both of these athletes, their histories, and their talents.

Both were not rich little snots thriving on their parents "golf fund" that many individuals play off today.

Both are amazing sportsman, and more imporantly, amazing individuals.

There are steroids in baseball, personal conduct controversies in the NFL, sportsmanship problems in basketball; yet Tiger and Nicklaus have both competed on the highest level because of one important factor: hard work.

In my opinion, hard work in sports is the best quality of any individual.

Anyone can achieve greatness with hard work, and there is no better example than both Tiger and Jack.

There are no shortcuts in golf, and both of these individuals have proved why this is so. They have competed at the highest level for years, and Tiger still has more to prove and add to his already immense legacy.

These are two of the greatest athletes, both on and off the course, the world has ever seen.

And before its all said and done, they deserve equal recognition in the sport of golf.


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