This is part of a series of great golf arguments. We’ve asked Alan Shipnuck and Michael Bamberger to debate who is the greatest golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods. After reading their arguments, tell us what you think in our forum.
The fact that Jack Nicklaus has more career victories and major championships than Tiger Woods is simply a measure of the Bear’s longevity, not his superiority. Woods is 31. Nicklaus played a full schedule until he was 46.
If Woods goes hard for another 15 years, he won’t just break all of Nicklaus’s records, he will obliterate them, and those of every other golfer who has ever lived. Barely a decade into his career, Woods has left no doubt that he is already the greatest golfer of all time, not to mention the most dominant.
The numbers need no embellishing. Here is only a partial list of what Tiger has done that Jack couldn’t:
• Win four consecutive major championships (2000 U.S. Open – 2001 Masters).
• Win three majors in the same year (2000).
• Win the U.S. Open by 15 strokes. (Nicklaus’s largest margin of victory in golf’s most grueling test was four shots.)
• Win back-to-back British Opens (2005-2006) and PGA Championships (2006-2007).
• Never cough up a 54-hole lead at a major.
• Win eight tournaments in a season. (Woods has done it three times.)
• Win at least five tournaments in five consecutive seasons. (Nicklaus topped out at three.)
• Win seven consecutive starts.
• Win tournaments in Dubai, Japan, Thailand and Germany.
• Make 142 consecutive cuts. (Jack was spent after 105.)
• Finish first on the money list four consecutive years. (From 1999-2002; this year will be three in a row.)
• Win three consecutive U.S. Amateurs (on top of three consecutive U.S. Juniors).
The Nicklaus honks like to go on and on about the supposedly superior competition Jack had to vanquish. But if not for Woods’s emasculating dominance, Ernie Els might have been Gary Player, Sergio Garcia coulda been Lee Trevino and Phil Mickeslon shoulda been Tom Watson. As it is, Woods has had to overcome deeper fields, more fiendish course setups, and high-tech equipment that makes it tougher for the most talented player to separate himself.
Bottom line: Nicklaus had a great career, and there’s no question his record has helped focus Woods and keep him motivated. But as good as Nicklaus was, Tiger is simply better.