Blog Entry

How Does Tiger Stack up?

Posted on: January 29, 2008 11:51 pm
Edited on: January 30, 2008 12:13 am

It seems appropriate upon the occasion of Tiger Woods equaling Arnold Palmer on the all time PGA Tour win list to revisit his credentials.

The question has often been asked, "Is Tiger's win total inflated by current circumstances and competition (or lack thereof) in pro golf?"

I'm going to set out here to definitively answer that question.

I'll always start out these editorials by setting out the foundation of how I view critical elements of the subject at hand, and here is how I view Tiger's skills, and what my bias might be.

I've been a major Jack Nicklaus fan since I started following pro golf tournaments at the age of 12 in 1969. I've known elation and despair with made and missed putts, particularly in the majors. I strongly believe that Jack is the best golfer ever given the entirety of the circumstances surrounding each great golfer, and when Tiger passes his win total for majors I'll mourn ... just a bit.

On the other hand, I take nothing away from Tiger's skill. I believe that as a technician of the golf swing, as a competitor with the heart and nerve to successfully complete, as an athlete with the hunger to win, and as a major sports figure with longevity of achievement, he stands in the most elite group of golf talent. Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson are the men I consider the other members of that group.

Now the question: "Are Tiger's win totals inflated due to lack of competitoin?"

The answer is almost certainly, "Yes."

Here's why:

This is a list of major talent with whom Jack Nicklaus had to compete for wins during the 24 year span in which he won majors:
Sam Snead, Billy Casper, Cary Middlecoff, Tom Watson, Gene Littler, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Lanny Wadkins, Hale Irwin, Greg Norman, Ben Crenshaw, Hubert Green, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange, Tom Weiskopf

These are all incredibly talented men with at least 16 tour wins to their credit ... most of these wins during peak years of Jack Nicklaus' career.

Here is the list as concerns Tiger Woods:
Phil Mickleson, Vijay Singh, Davis Love III, Ernie Els, David Duval, Jim Furyk

Of those, only Phil and Vijay have been consistent competition for Tiger.

Jack's list includes 15 rivals with 19 or more wins, Tiger's contains 3. And let me mention, there is not an overflowing list of up and coming talent set to challenge him in the next few years either.

This isn't just an accident. There is a very clear explanation for why Jack had so many more rivals than Tiger ... Jack played during the "Hungry Era" of PGA Tour golf.

For most of Jack's career, you had to finish high in a tournament to make any significant cash. Jack's wins in the 70's were worth about 30 grand apiece, majors were about 50. Tiger gets 800 thousand to 1.2 million per win, and the purses are large right down the line.

In Jack's day, you had to have a LOT of high finishes to make a nice living on the Tour.

Today's players don't have to win, or even hit the top 10, to become quite wealthy. As a result, even a lot of very talented pros have never developed a real hunger for victory. Guys you never even see on weekly TV coverage break a million in purses. This doesn't include the largess from equipment and other endorsements that every pro enjoys, just for hitting a certain ball or wearing a certain shoe.

I think Tiger would have been a stand out talent even in the "Hungry Era", as he does indeed have the hunger to win, and the talent to back it up. But he'd have a lower majors total at the same age, and fewer overall tournament wins. Instead of having to win against AP, Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, etc., Tiger only has to worry about Phil and Vijay and some guy who might get hot that week (Jack had those come along too).

Let me tell you, when Jack won in a close one over Trevino, or vice versa, the guy in 2nd wasn't all that happy about it, and had been playing his heart out. Not many guys today are that unhappy to be coming in 2nd to Tiger, and are quite content to cash their $700,000 check for 2nd.

In fairness, there's nothing Tiger can do about this but continue to prove that he has the desire to use his skill to win when others are content not to. He can't control the circumstance that so many are so comfortable, and its not his business to try to talk them into stepping up! LOL



Since: Sep 4, 2007
Posted on: January 30, 2008 1:32 pm

How Does Tiger Stack up?

I too was born in the 50;s, but guys have you ever seen anyone dominate like this kid. When he is on, the field is just dust. Funny you should mention Tiger's competition because some people have a point about the PGA tour. When Jack played the field was smaller and really 5-10 guys were going to win the event. Nowadays, any one of 50 players has a real shot at winning. Just my two cents........... And I do like the fact that this country is becomming less prejudice, slowly, but surely. I am white as wonder bread, but I like Tiger Woods. Some of my favorite athletes are bi-racial, not just Tiger Woods. Being a Steeler fan they have had 3 outstanding ball palyers who are/were half-black. Hines Ward, Rod Woodson, Franco Harris. And The Rooney Rule in the NFL states you have to interview at least one minoritity candidate for your open head coaching vacancy. For that I am proud to say MY TEAM was instrumental in breaking down the walls that prevent people from being discriminated against based on the color of their skin.

I was also a big fan of Jack Nicklaus, I watched the '86 Masters glued to the TV............. and also 9 years later when Ben Crenshaw won and broke down and thanked Harvey Penick, that was a tear jerker.

Since: Jan 3, 2007
Posted on: January 30, 2008 11:07 am

How Does Tiger Stack up?

I agree with you completely, Hailmary.

I think that Tiger's competition certainly has the potential in terms of their polished skills to complete with him, and they certainly have clubs that supposedly correct for a variety of swing sins.  I just don't believe they have the drive, for the reasons above.

Jack had the mental toughness plus attention to technique. I didn't realize what a technique freak Jack was until his later years, when I started hearing him speak about it more in extended interviews, and in his bio. I might have had a better idea of it if I'd read any of his instructional books though! LOL Add to this the fact that he had an unwavering plan of attack for each hole on each round, and rarely deviated from that plan. That is a lesson that today's best pay close attention to.


Since: Jan 12, 2008
Posted on: January 30, 2008 5:15 am

How Does Tiger Stack up?

Heh Vranger, I too grew up watching Jack and feeling the same way about him. Jack was incredible and seemd to win because he was mentally tougher than his competition and not necessarily because he was so much better than them. He was longer that is for sure but you did not see him have as many 10 foot puts for birdies as a lot of the top golfers these days.

My opinion is that Tiger is better and that Tiger fits into the small clas of super athletes that I think we have been blessed to watch play, that is Pele, Gretzky, Jordon and Schumaker. 

Yes Jack certainly had regular competition week in and week out and that Tiger's most frequent competition does not stand out the way that Jack's most frequently competition did.  I think what is happening is that Golf has become so competitive that the top 100 or so golfers are as competitive as the top 10 used to be. So Tiger ends up having different competition each Sunday. I think if you study the swings of today's golfers and compare them to Jack's era's you will see much more standardization. This standardization comes from the fact that so many people can develop their golf skills when they are identified as an exceptional young talent. It takes a lot of money and a lot of leisure time to become a pro golfer and in general their skills are much more refined.

In Jack's time there was simply less money, focus and time to develop. I guess my argument can be applied to all sports. I think that today's athletes are just better trained, more skilled and specialized. For Tiger to be so much better, it is simply a reflection of how great he is.




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