The Greatest Golfer, Jack or Tiger?

Round 2

by Tadhg Harrington

29th October 2019

“The first installment of this article appeared earlier this year just before Tiger Woods won his 15th Major Championship at the Masters. In light of recent events in Japan where he equaled the all-time record of 82 wins on the PGA Tour, it would be hard to argue that he is not the best player that has ever lived. When you consider the circumstances it would be nigh on impossible.

 

Head to head record.

Let’s take a look at the head to head records of these two titans of the game and see how they stack up?

Tiger Woods has won 14 Majors so far; Jack has won 18, of which we can be sure he won’t be adding to them anytime soon.

Jack won his first Major in 1962 when he defeated his childhood hero, Arnold Palmer, in a playoff to win the U.S. Open. He finished his major-winning career in a blaze of glory at the ripe old age of 46 when he overcame a four-shot deficit to capture the coveted Masters’ green jacket in 1986. That’s a highly impressive 24-year run of playing and winning Major championships, which are the acknowledged pinnacle of the game.  

He finished second an incredible nineteen times so he was essentially in contention 37 times in a Major.

In the decade of the ’70s, Jack finished outside the top ten of a Major just five times

His final-round scoring for the Majors was thirty under par.

He won all four Majors, three times (as did Woods!)

While Tiger is four short of Jack’s record (as of March 2019), it is the dominance he achieved in a short space of time (comparatively) that is so impressive. From 1997 when he won his first Major, the Masters by a whopping twelve shots, to the U.S. Open of 2008 where he won in a playoff  (on one leg,) his was a journey of complete annihilation of the opposition in those twelve years. Just consider the following…

He won fourteen Major championships in the space of twelve years and held all four Majors at once in 2000-2001.

We now know, of course, that Tiger Woods has won 15 Majors after his thrilling victory at Augusta.

 

On the PGA Tour, Tiger has won an outstanding 80 times and trails Sam Snead by just two career wins. Jack won 73 times. It is through the prism of his tournament career that we get a glimpse of how dominant Woods was allied with the fact that he changed his swing four times in the quest to get better.

Between 1998 and 2003, he made 142 consecutive cuts.

He successfully defended a tour title 24 times.

When he won the American Express Championship in 2006, he became the first player in PGA Tour history to win at least eight times in three different seasons.

Woods holds the PGA Tour record for most consecutive rounds of par or better with 52. 

When he won the Buick Invitational in January 2007, he set the second-best record for consecutive wins at trailing only Byron Nelson, who had a streak of 11 consecutive wins in 1945.

His PGA tournament scoring average in the year 2000 was an incredible 68.17

It is doubtful if any golfer in the modern era will dominate again in such a manner.

Tiger Woods has since equaled Sam Snead’s record of 82 wins with his victory in Japan at the Zozo Championship.

All an athlete has is time, and it could be argued that Tiger wasted his time when changing his swing.

Tigers life circumstances changed as he got older, after this period of dominance, he had well documented personal problems, but it was the injuries that started to mount up that took their toll. A severe knee injury after winning his last Major, the 2008 U.S. Open against Rocco Mediate was the start of a downward spiral that saw him accumulate several bad back injuries. He has played in 24 Majors in the last ten years and has won none. In 2014 he had to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational because of the persistent pain in his back. In April of 2017, he underwent a fourth back surgery known as spinal fusion, and it was doubtful that he would play golf again, certainly not at the highest level.

When you consider what he has achieved since this was written last March, it is nothing short of incredulous.

“The greatest comeback in the history of golf” ~ Brandel Chamblee.

Tiger being Tiger, proved all his doubters wrong when he managed to get in contention in a number of tournaments in 2018, including a final-round lead in the Open Championship, but it was the stuff of miracles that he won the Tour Championship on September 23rd last year. He has, in my opinion, become a much happier person as a recent incident with Kevin Na showed during the Players Championship. It is commonplace to see him on friendly terms with the younger generation playing the game now as if his legacy has played out. He must be aware that as a current Presidents Cup Captain and a future Ryder Cup Captain, this is important if he is to rally the troops for future battles. Can he win another Major? Could he surpass Jack’s record? Only a fool would say no, he is after all Tiger Woods!

Jack had a great saying, “You have to keep your juice” and readily admits that he only got about  70% out of his career. He tried to avoid the grind, and there is no doubt that this allied with the help of his adoring wife, Barbara Nicklaus, resulted in a much longer career than Tiger. But it is the following letter that he wrote to his younger self that shows the greatness and humility of Jack Nicklaus. He is a legend.

Four other golfers that put Tiger’s achievements (so far) in context.

Byron Nelson’s 1945 season.
Nelson won 52 times in his illustrious PGA Tour career, including four majors. Remarkably, 18 of those victories came in the 1945 season, including 11 in a row. He entered 30 tournaments that year, won 18, and finished runner up seven times. Nelson’s scoring average in 1945 was 68.34.

Bobby Jones and the “Impregnable Quadrilateral.”
In 1930, legendary amateur golfer Bobby Jones won all four tournaments, The Amateur Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews; The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England; the U.S. Open at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota; and the U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club in Pennsylvania. Even more impressive was the fact that he backed himself to win all four to relieve the British bookmakers of 60,000 dollars!

Ben Hogan’s 1953 “Triple Crown” season.
F
our years after a horrific car accident that nearly claimed his life, Hogan put together one of the finest seasons in the game’s history. He entered just six events total and won five of them, including three major championships. He was denied the chance to complete the Grand Slam as the Open Championship overlapped with the PGA.

Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories.
Oldest to win a PGA Tour event, the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open, at 52 years, ten months and eight days.

By winning the 1960 De Soto Open Invitational, Snead became the first player to win PGA Tour titles in four different decades (since matched by Raymond Floyd).

Oldest player to make the cut at a major: age 67 years, 2 months, 7 days at the 1979 PGA Championship.

First PGA Tour player to shoot his age with a 67 in the second round of the 1979 Quad Cities Open.

Oldest player to make a cut on the PGA Tour: age 67 years, 2 months, 21 days at the 1979 Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic.

Only player to post a top-10 finish in at least one major championship in five different decades.

 

Now that Tiger has won a 15th Major and equaled Sam Snead’s record let’s take a look at some of the remarkable highlights of his career so far!

His first win came in 1997 at the Las Vagas Invitational.

First Major Championship was at the 1997 Masters tournament. 

His 20th win came at the 2000 U.S Open at Pebble Beach. He won by 15 shots.

He achieved the career grand slam in the same year at the Open Championship at St. Andrews. 

He completed the “Tiger” slam the following year at the 2001 Masters, holding all four Majors at once. 

He completed the double career slam at the 2005 Open Championship at St. Andrews. 

His 80th Tour win came at the Tour Championship in 2018.

When you consider the five-year winless drought, the chipping yips, the numerous surgeries, with the real possibility of never playing again, finally, the off-course drama surrounding Tiger makes his achievements something you would only read in a Marvel comic. 

To be able to go through all that to get to where I’m at now, I’m very appreciative,” Woods said following his latest victory. “I know how it feels to have this game, you know, what I felt like taken away from me, where I couldn’t participate in the way that I wanted to. I’m just so happy and so fortunate to be able to have this opportunity again.”

One of the most dominant players of today’s era, Rory McIlroy, put it best when he said, “In this era to win even 50 times on the PGA Tour is an unbelievable achievement in itself. Even Phil’s number [44 Tour victories], but to get to 82. I feel like I’ve had a decent career, [but] if I win six times a year for the next 10 years, I still wouldn’t get there.” 

You can only judge a player against his peers; it is difficult, if not impossible, to weigh up the competition from another era. In this regard, Tiger Woods has obliterated his competition. He leads Phil Mickelson by 38 victories, in the most wins by a player on the PGA Tour born after 1950. He has made 120 million dollars compared the Mickelson’s 90 million. If we took the following top players on tour at the moment, Dustin Johnson (20), Rory McIlroy (17), Justin Thomas (11), Jordan Speith (11) and Brooks Koepka (7)  and added their wins together, Tiger would still be leading them all by 16 wins. It is that incredible what he has achieved. Finally, Sam Snead won his 82nd event at the ripe old age of 52; Tiger has matched him at the age of 43. Barring injury, who knows what is possible?

Thank you for taking the time to read! It is appreciated. Follow our Ryder Cup Captain at our dedicated Ryder Cup page and over at his website. Sign up for my FREE monthly digital magazine at the link below. Finally, you also have a chance to win a dozen Titleist Pro V1’s each & every month. Tadhg.

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