Something in the air, maybe the azaleas, is bringing out some well-considered takes on Jack Nicklaus vs. Tiger Woods, the game's ultimate "what if?" GOLF.com's David Dusek got Greg Norman to say that Tiger is the better putter. In The Washington Post, columnist Thomas Boswell laments that the game's two greatest players can never face each other in their primes. He concludes that Woods would have gotten the best of Nicklaus just slightly more often if they had, but he's not entirely sure. "In a
way that I have never felt with other athletes from different eras," he writes, "I
want them to meet in their primes. But I'm told they can't."
Boswell's reason for Woods getting the edge: the short game, Nicklaus' longtime neglect of it and Woods's artist-like creativity with his short game and his recovery shots."For years, I never felt that I needed a short game," Nicklaus told me. He finally developed one -- at 40. From 27 to 30, he actually lost interest in the game with four (of his five) children, various businesses and even hunting and fishing making him "a legend in his spare time." The death of his father at 56 in 1970 snapped him back, even shamed him a bit.That neglect of his short game and sand play, as well as any gift for imaginative recovery shots, probably would have doomed Nicklaus to a losing career record against Woods. Jack's advantage, a large one, would have been off the tee, where he was far more accurate than Tiger; and, in his 220-pound twenties, an even longer hitter than Tiger -- adjusting for the equipment of their eras.The irony is that long-flying balls and high-tech clubs are taking creativity and shot-making out of the game. Woods made this point last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando."I grew up maneuvering the golf ball," Woods said. "The golf ball doesn't move as much
now. It's like Hank [Haney] and I were talking about this not too long ago
actually. The game of golf has changed with the new golf balls where
the ball doesn't move from right to left or left to right as much as it
used to. So shot making more now is in trajectory control, moving the
ball up-and-down, changing your trajectory to control your distances,
rather than shaping the ball into the wind like you used to."So maybe Nicklaus would get the edge in this era and Tiger in Jack's era? As Boswell says, that's why we all would love to see this. And we're told we can't.