I AM one of the 18>14 men. Jack IS the greatest of all time, at least until unseated by Tiger. The latter is quickly losing ground in his quest, but there is still time.
Not sure I like the GOAT moniker for the Greatest Golfers of All Time.
Having said that, let me express my admiration for Nicklaus, Tiger, and so many others and my perspective as a 66 y.o. player of 50 years. Please bear with me. Please.
It's interesting to note that most of the following came from very humble, even poor backgrounds, notwithstanding the fact that golf has long been considered the game of the elite. No; well before the Tiger, the game was largely dominated by men of very humble beginnings. Notwithstanding much due respect to Bobby Jones.
Francis Ouimet; enough said. Very, very poor. Golf for the very, very poor became a possibility over the wealthy, advantaged elite.
Walter Hagen almost single-handedly created the PGA "tour," which became The Tour of today and "outings." It is well-documented that Hagen was not allowed into country club clubhouses, changed his clothes in his expensive cars with the help of his valet-driver-caddie (if he changed them at all), and competed against players that spent most of their time as club pros and part-time tour players. There may be no way of telling how many exhibitions Hagen played for guaranteed and (oft-times) split purses in advance of the finish. (btw, this practice was still in existence in the late '60's when I caddied in two tour events. I have no idea of this practice was outlawed, although I suspect and hope that it was long ago.)
Bobby Jones was an amateur, at least as defined at the time. His father and grandfather were both wealthy. Jones also worked for Spalding, receiving a salary and who knows what other incentives for designing golf clubs with his name on them. An extraordinary talent, he competed against the best amateurs and pros at Home and abroad. A slight man by all accounts, he hit the ball extraordinary distances with equipment that would be considered extremely primitive by today's standards. If you have the interest and the time, check out his movie-star type instructional videos and let us know what you think. He was a Renaissance-man type golfer, learned in engineering (Ga. Tech.), literature (Harvard), and read for the law to become a lawyer after a little more than a year at Emory law school.
Sarazen (an even smaller man), Byron Nelson, Snead, Gary Player, Hogan, Demaret, Palmer, Trevino, Rodriguez, and Ballesteros all came from very humble backgrounds. (I would almost include the diminutive, short game genius Paul Runyan in this category, just b/c of his short game prowess).
NIcklaus' dad was by all accounts somewhere between upper middle class and barely "rich."
Now for the Tiger. By all appearances, Tiger, the son of a retired Army officer, also came from very humble beginnings. However, my own personal suspicion is that is only an appearance. Earl traded heavily on his son's potential as a prodigy. Tiger was his father's "ticket" and "property" from a very, very early age. Think Johnny Carson. I would argue that Earl was paid for his son's potential before Tiger was paid for it. How does one explain Tiger's travels, equipment, lessons from Ledbetter, entry fees, ... go on and on? A free ride to Stanford.
Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Ray Floyd ... advantaged upbringings, yes, but also self-made, hard working, and vastly competitive, improved golfers. Put Wadkins and Kite in there, too. (Kite practically invented the modern L-wedge, altbeit at a 34", 58*Cleveland gap wedge.)
Tiger's injuries, past and present, are not remotely as bad as those of Ben Hogan. Check it out. IMHO Tiger's course management has been second only to Jack's, but still a distant second. IF Tiger can bring himself back to the field in driving distance, improving accuracy and fairways hit, and absolutely BEG for the opportunity to shine on and around the greens, he may find himself in contention and winning majors again.
Tiger cannot count on beating McIlroy ever again head-to-head. Tiger cannot out drive, hit more greens in regulation, make more putts, or intimidate today's players.
Tiger's narcissism will be his undoing, until he accepts his limitations and he adapts. Fans don't pull for Tiger the Man, fans pull for Tiger the Talent, the Powermeister, the prodigy. He is no longer The Talent. Tiger may, should, could become the Corey Pavin with world class but not premiere length.
Does anyone see Tiger becoming the Tom Watson of the next 25 years? I don't; but I could be wrong.
OK; I cannot resist. Can anyone see Tiger becoming a true Gentleman? See narcissism, supra.