Tar Heel Fan

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tiger. Woods.

Having watched Michael Jordan play basketball I had convinced myself I had seen the greatest athlete of my generation play. Correction, he was the second greatest athlete because Tiger Woods is by far the best. Tiger won his 12th major yesterday by five strokes as the rest of the field floundered somewhere behind him, Woods opened up a five stroke lead. It was the 12th time Woods had a part or all of the lead going into Sunday and for the 12th time he won. This essentially means that when Tiger is in position to win he does not choke it away. In other words if he is at the top of the leaderboard history says the tournament is over and everyone else is playing for second. Now I happen to think that any debate on his greatness versus Jack Nicklaus cannot begin in earnest until he passes Nicklaus as holding more major championships. I do think it is entirely fair to debate the issue on the basis of the body of work so far in comparison to how Nicklaus had performed. Tiger is 30 years and 9 months old and he already has 12 major championships to his credit. He accomplished this feat in 40 major starts which means Woods is averaging better than one win in every fourth major played. Nicklaus by his 40th major only had nine titles. As for age Nicklaus did not win his 12th major until the 1973 PGA Championship about seven months after his 33rd birthday. So not only has Woods won three more majors in he same number of major tournaments BUT he has three more majors three years earlier. This is to say that Tiger would have to go 0 for his next 12 majors to have the same number of majors at the same age as Nicklaus was at this point in his career. Woods also won his 51st PGA event and is only 31 behind Sam Snead for the most in the category. The question we have to ask now is how many will he win? Assuming he stays healthy and his game continues to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field the question is not if he passes Nicklaus but when and by how much? Nicklaus career provides a glimpse of what kind of time table we may be looking at. Nicklaus won his 16th and 17th majors in 1980 when he was 40 years old and then surprised the field at Augusta in 1986 to win his 18th and last. In ten years Woods will be 40 which includes another 40 major starts assuming he is healthy. Woods just went 12 for 40 during the first 10 years of his career. I am going to handicap him to account for the beginning some level of decline as he approaches 40 and say he only wins 10 of the next 40. That would put him at 22. I would also think that he is more durable than Nicklaus was and will be more competitive through his mid to late 40s so count on about four more major titles after age 40. That would give him a surely insurmountable total of 26 major titles. If you also factor in the possibility that he may be on the verge of ripping off a streak of dominance which has him winning multiple majors a year then he could very be at 20 by age 35 and still could win 8 to 10 more after than to get him close to 30 major titles. I just do not see any limit to what he can do on the golf course. Woods said in the press conference yesterday that he was playing as well as he did when he won four straight majors at the turn of the century and now he had seven years more experience. That means the first time around he won more on his physical talent and did not have the experience level. Now, not only does Woods have the physical talent but he has the experience of winning 12 majors and 39 other tournaments. This is evident in the strategies he used to win the British and the PGA where Woods looked for controlled drives even if it meant sacrificing distance because his approach shots are so good it does not matter if he is 50 yards behind his playing partner Woods is still probably hitting the same club or higher. And if his putting is on then as long as he gets in on the green he will drop more in for birdie than not. This may sound like gushing on my part but I am awed by his performance on the golf course, his intensity and focus as well as the manner in which he handles the media. He is the total package and playing on a level no one has seen since Nicklaus and I suspect before it is all done even Nicklaus will be considered second best to Woods. And there will be no debate.

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