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Jack vs. Tiger: Who's the Greatest Golfer?


Greatest Golfer (GOAT)  

212 members have voted

  1. 1. Tiger or Jack: Who's the greatest golfer?

    • Tiger Woods is the man
      1631
    • Jack Nicklaus is my favorite
      817


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For some reason, you have missed hundreds of posts that do accept that.  I've often said I can't even prove that Tiger would beat Vardon head to head, although I'd bet on him. What I CAN prove is

Here ya go, right our of Jack's 1996 autobiography.  He is giving the third of his three reasons (equipment and fitness being the other) for the decline of the superstar in golf (re

That's very unfair to Jack, since he played events well into his 60's.  It also distorts Tiger's record, since he played injured for several years. It would be more fair to look at the the period

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It is difficult to compare athletes between eras, and a lot of fun.  Ali v Joe Lewis, Ruth v Jeter, Unitus v Manning (either one!).

In golf Nicklaus played against more great players, Palmer, Player, Miller, Watson, Trevino and Floyd to name six multiple major winners during his time.  His major winning career spanned 25 years and he was in contention in the Masters on Sunday, back nine, a few years after his 1986 victory.  He had a lot of top threes against the winners: Player, Trevino, Palmer, Miller, Watson and Floyd.

Tiger only lost one major with the lead on Sunday, the PGA against YE Yang, I believe.   He had many victories against one time contenders like Rocko Mediate, Bob May and Chris DiMarko.  Golf writers are smitten with Rory McIlroy, a young winner of one major. Rory blew the lead in the Masters.  At the same age, Tiger blew away the field in the Masters letting the golfing world know he had arrived.  Dustin Johnson blew the lead in two majors.  The thing is, and Tiger understands this better than anyone, you only get a limited number of  chances to win a major.  You can’t waste any opportunity.

I don’t know that equipment is that relevant because each player has access to the same equipment each tournament.  Any of the top 100 players could play with any of twenty custom golf club brands and specific golf balls with little or no difference.  They could play with my 15 year old Titleist metals and irons and compete.

I think the golf writers are tired writing about Tiger Woods and cling to the hope there will be a new gun slinger in town.

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Originally Posted by golfhooker

It is difficult to compare athletes between eras, and a lot of fun.  Ali v Joe Lewis, Ruth v Jeter, Unitus v Manning (either one!).

In golf Nicklaus played against more great players, Palmer, Player, Miller, Watson, Trevino and Floyd to name six multiple major winners during his time.  His major winning career spanned 25 years and he was in contention in the Masters on Sunday, back nine, a few years after his 1986 victory.  He had a lot of top threes against the winners: Player, Trevino, Palmer, Miller, Watson and Floyd.

Tiger only lost one major with the lead on Sunday, the PGA against YE Yang, I believe.   He had many victories against one time contenders like Rocko Mediate, Bob May and Chris DiMarko.  Golf writers are smitten with Rory McIlroy, a young winner of one major. Rory blew the lead in the Masters.  At the same age, Tiger blew away the field in the Masters letting the golfing world know he had arrived.  Dustin Johnson blew the lead in two majors.  The thing is, and Tiger understands this better than anyone, you only get a limited number of  chances to win a major.  You can’t waste any opportunity.

I don’t know that equipment is that relevant because each player has access to the same equipment each tournament.  Any of the top 100 players could play with any of twenty custom golf club brands and specific golf balls with little or no difference.  They could play with my 15 year old Titleist metals and irons and compete.

I think the golf writers are tired writing about Tiger Woods and cling to the hope there will be a new gun slinger in town.


So Jack did not know what he was talking about when he refuted your points in the quote I posted a few messages ago?  When he said that the top players today have to be as good as the superstars in his day?  When he said that the advances in equipment make it harder for the top players to distance themselves from the pack?

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Well that's what makes Jack stand out.

He did distance himself from the pack.

Tiger is having a tough time doing that now.   Does that make him greater?

It's not Jack's fault is it?

When I bragged about winning I always got the comment.  "Who did you beat"?

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Originally Posted by golfhooker

It is difficult to compare athletes between eras, and a lot of fun.  Ali v Joe Lewis, Ruth v Jeter, Unitus v Manning (either one!).

In golf Nicklaus played against more great players, Palmer, Player, Miller, Watson, Trevino and Floyd to name six multiple major winners during his time.  His major winning career spanned 25 years and he was in contention in the Masters on Sunday, back nine, a few years after his 1986 victory.  He had a lot of top threes against the winners: Player, Trevino, Palmer, Miller, Watson and Floyd.

Tiger only lost one major with the lead on Sunday, the PGA against YE Yang, I believe.   He had many victories against one time contenders like Rocko Mediate, Bob May and Chris DiMarko.  Golf writers are smitten with Rory McIlroy, a young winner of one major. Rory blew the lead in the Masters.  At the same age, Tiger blew away the field in the Masters letting the golfing world know he had arrived.  Dustin Johnson blew the lead in two majors.  The thing is, and Tiger understands this better than anyone, you only get a limited number of  chances to win a major.  You can’t waste any opportunity.

I don’t know that equipment is that relevant because each player has access to the same equipment each tournament.  Any of the top 100 players could play with any of twenty custom golf club brands and specific golf balls with little or no difference.  They could play with my 15 year old Titleist metals and irons and compete.

I think the golf writers are tired writing about Tiger Woods and cling to the hope there will be a new gun slinger in town.



I disagree 100% with that statement about Tiger appreciating the finite number of chances better than anyone. I'd guess that someone who came really close a bunch of times and didn't quite get it done. Either never, or not nearly often enough.Tiger seems to have capitalized on almost every opportunity to win - much more than a lot of other "great" players ever did. Do you know who I think would grasp the limited number of chances? Someone like DLIII, Tom Lehman, Tom Weiskopf, Doug Sander, Greg Norman, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie, and so on.

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Spoonbill, I agree with much of what you wrote, but I think my point still stands.

First, you listed 15 of the best players from 73 and 74.  I agree those guys were superb, even though we can't say how they would rank if they had to compete against the best 15 of today.

Be that is it may, my point concerns the players below the top 15, and on down the line.  I submit that the 2nd and 3rd-echelon players of today are better than their counterparts from earlier eras.  For all the reasons I cited in my earlier post, average players of today are better, and have a more realistic chance of winning on a given weekend, than they used to.  It is harder to win today - not because the top 15 guys are better, but because the rest of the field is better.

This is exactly the point Jack Nicklaus made is the quote provided by turtleback (post #2835).

A more rigorous examination of this idea was made by evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould in his book, Full House.  Gould tried to find out why there are no more 400-hitters in baseball, and his statistical analysis led him to the same sort of conclusion - that the best players improve relatively slowly over the eras (as they approach the mechanical limits of human capability), while average and below-average players improve faster.  Paul Kedrosky applies this to golf here: http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2007/01/full_house_or_t.html.

Second, you made a good point about the decline in the popularity of golf over the past decade. I was surprised to hear that, but even if the trend continues, the effect won't be felt in terms of the skill levels of pros for another decade or two, when children born since 2001 mature to pro golfing age.  It's not something that should influence our comparison of Tiger and Jack.

Golf had been steadily increasing in popularity in prior decades - ever since WWII.  This is especially true outside of the US.  We've all seen the enormous improvement in play from the Europeans since Jack's time.  Now the Asians are catching up, as well.  Jack didn't have to face that.

Finally, I agree that improved competitiveness among pros can be attributed to "golf becoming more athletic, with better equipment, instruction, nutrition, strength conditioning, coaching, etc."  To that list I would add increased monetary incentives.  But the size of the talent pool should be considered, as well.

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Lets see who Tiger has played against with multiple majors (I am counting anyone that won after 1997. Tiger beat guys like Watson, Norman and Daly but we can say they were past thier prime)

1) Phil Mickelson

2) Payne Stewart

3) Ernie Els

4) Vijay Singh

5) Padrick Harrington

6) Lee Janson

7) Mark O'Meara

8) JM Olazabal,

9) Retief Goosen

10) Angel Cabera

Now there were a few more that you can list for Jack  depending how far you stretch is career out (that outlier win in 86 would get a lot of golfers) but Tiger has also played with a bunch of guys who are likely to win one more (If you have a major and your under 30, you have decent odds of getting another one.)

Tigers 10 year run between 1997-2007 is the best 10 years of golf that anyone has every played since 1940 (I don't know the old guys well enough) over an extended period. If he does nothing in the next 10 (when Jack won 6 of his majors) I would definitely give Jack the edge.  If Tiger wins 4 more majors and 8 other events total, it would be hard not to say he is the best ever. Thats a big if. I hope he is healthy for all of next  year to see what he can do.

Originally Posted by golfhooker

It is difficult to compare athletes between eras, and a lot of fun.  Ali v Joe Lewis, Ruth v Jeter, Unitus v Manning (either one!).

In golf Nicklaus played against more great players, Palmer, Player, Miller, Watson, Trevino and Floyd to name six multiple major winners during his time.  His major winning career spanned 25 years and he was in contention in the Masters on Sunday, back nine, a few years after his 1986 victory.  He had a lot of top threes against the winners: Player, Trevino, Palmer, Miller, Watson and Floyd.



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  • 3 months later...

Tiger has tremendous talent and so did Jack -  But it would be have been interesting to see how far Jack could have taken his career wins with new innovation in equipment and golf course design and layouts, if he was Tiger's age.

My hat off to both of them!

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I'll just leave this here . . .

In the 1998 Masters the defending champion was one Tiger Woods who at the age of 21 had set a tournament record the year before with a score of 270 and won his first major. In one of the most remarkable performances of his career, Jack Nicklaus tied for 6th place in the tournament at the age of 58, 4 shots behind the winner, Mark O'Meara. Nicklaus' five-under par 283 is the lowest 72-hole score by a player over 50 in the Masters. Nicklaus was in contention for the title until well into the back nine holes in the final round.

Tiger ended 2 shots behind Nicklaus tied for 8th place.

By 1996 Nicklaus began playing a very limited schedule. After 29 years on the regular tour and 6 on the Champions Tour, he continued to play at least some of the four regular Tour majors until 2005, when he made his final appearances at The Open Championship and the Masters Tournament.

In the 1998 Masters, Nicklaus didn't win, and obviously by that time in his career he was not "preparing" for the majors like he did in his prime but, he beat Tiger by two shots on a course that was 6925 yards long with modern equipment, a modern ball and gave up a 36 year age difference doing it AND it was a major tournament.

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Without getting into crazy amount of stats this is how I break it down.

Jack is the better overall golfer. He has more majors, in my opinion played against tougher competition and did it for a longer time.

However what Tiger did during "tigerslam" was the greatest feat this sport has ever seen. He dominated every tournament he was in. During tigerslam he was the best golfer ever. But that was only for that time frame. So in that time frame Tiger would have beat any golfer ever period. But Jack did it for a much longer time. And yes I think Tiger is done. He had a great run and he may well win another major(I dont see it happening) but that domination is over. So just be happy that we were able to witness history.

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In all fairness, Hogan, Snead and Nelson also worked as club pros.  It was a bit more of a necessity for guys to actually make ends meet.

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Originally Posted by bwdial

In all fairness, Hogan, Snead and Nelson also worked as club pros.  It was a bit more of a necessity for guys to actually make ends meet.

That "way" ended with Arnold Palmer. Jack never worked as a club pro, nor did virtually any of the guys you think of as his main competition. The depth of the PGA Tour was incredibly shallow through most of Jack's time.

The guys at the top may or may not have been better than currently or for the past 15 years, but the depth was unquestionably shallower.

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Originally Posted by iacas

That "way" ended with Arnold Palmer. Jack never worked as a club pro, nor did virtually any of the guys you think of as his main competition. The depth of the PGA Tour was incredibly shallow through most of Jack's time.

The guys at the top may or may not have been better than currently or for the past 15 years, but the depth was unquestionably shallower.

It did, but mainly because Arnie was popular enough to make money with endorsements.  That opened the door for all of the guys to make a little money wearing Munsingwear and Amana hats.  I'll agree that the talent pool was shallower, but the guys were a lot hungrier.

They played for a living.

Jack never made more than about $320,000 in a year.

Daniel Summerhays has made more than that already this year in nine tournaments... and he's 95th on the money list.

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Originally Posted by bwdial

It did, but mainly because Arnie was popular enough to make money with endorsements.  That opened the door for all of the guys to make a little money wearing Munsingwear and Amana hats.  I'll agree that the talent pool was shallower, but the guys were a lot hungrier.

They played for a living.

Jack never made more than about $320,000 in a year.

Daniel Summerhays has made more than that already this year in nine tournaments... and he's 95th on the money list.

They may have been hungrier, but the point is they weren't as skilled. I could be as hungry as I want - I'm not winning a major or even making a cut. The guy who finishes 125th these days could probably dust the floor with the guy who finished 60th on the money list back then. The pool of "potential winners" each week on the PGA Tour is 140 deep - it was about 20 deep during most of Jack's career.

Comparing money won doesn't make sense to me, even if you adjust for inflation. Plenty of basketball players probably make more than Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson combined. Are they better? No, of course not. That's why we look at wins, but even "wins" is a weird stat simply because it's influenced so heavily by the competition. It's the best metric we have, though.

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Originally Posted by skates

Without getting into crazy amount of stats this is how I break it down.

Jack is the better overall golfer. He has more majors, in my opinion played against tougher competition and did it for a longer time.

However what Tiger did during "tigerslam" was the greatest feat this sport has ever seen. He dominated every tournament he was in. During tigerslam he was the best golfer ever. But that was only for that time frame. So in that time frame Tiger would have beat any golfer ever period. But Jack did it for a much longer time. And yes I think Tiger is done. He had a great run and he may well win another major(I dont see it happening) but that domination is over. So just be happy that we were able to witness history.

You pretty much HAVE TO ignore stats to come to the conclusions you come to.  In his first 15 years Jack was nowhere near as dominant as Tiger was in HIS first 15 years.  There is no statistical measuring post under which Jack finishes ahead of Tiger at equivalent points in their careers.  Jack won 4 POYs in his first 15 years and would win one more in the rest of his career for a total of 5.  Tiger won 10 POYs and a strong argument can be made that he also should have won in 2008 when in 6 starts he had more wins and won more money than the winner, Paddy Harrington.  But Paddy won 2 majors that year and probably deserved it.

As to strength of competition, I'll take the word of the great man himself, Jack Nicklaus, who wrote in 1996, right before Tiger burst into the pro golf scene:

“I am often asked to comment on the causes for the ‘decline of the superstar’, as many writers have chosen to call it. To my mind there are essentially three. Although it may not be the most critical, the first is golf equipment.”

“Even more unfortunate to my mind than the impact of equipment advances on our finest courses is their contribution to the homogenizing of the players. Simply put, the more forgiving the tools, the tougher it becomes for the best to rise above the rest”. …

“Improved equipment is, of course, not the only reason for golf’s lack of dominating performers in recent years.”

“One of the biggest changes in professional golf during my time in the game has been the physical fitness of the players. Thirty years ago, with a few exceptions like Gary Player, nobody did anything to increase his athleticism or improve his physical condition. Some guys after they had played might hit balls for awhile – most notably Ben Hogan – but the majority would just sit around and tell each other stories while having a few beers.”

“Those days are gone. … Most players eat more healthily than they used to, and they smoke and drink less, too. With a few exceptions like Greg Norman, who for years has trained strenuously under professional supervision, their athletic abilities might not compare with pro basketball players or marathon runners. Nevertheless, it is way beyond the standards of my early years. And, of course, the fitter the mass of golfers, the harder standing out becomes for any one of them.”

“Then there is the incentive factor.”

“Except for the Masters, the biggest purse on the tour in my first year as a professional in 1962 was the Thunderbird Classic’s $100,000, with most tournaments offering between one-third and one-half that amount, to be divided between thirty-five to forty players. Win and you generally took home between $5,000 and $9,000. Finish last and you hardly made the bus fare to the next event – usually well under $100.”

“Thirty-four years later, in 1996, the average purse on tour was $1,400,000, with highs of $3,000,000 (Players and Tour Championship).” …

“In evaluating these numbers, consider if you will how many more contenders your business would have attracted, and how much more competitive it would have become, given comparably huge increases in financial incentive over the same time span. By then imagining how much harder it would have become for you to remain a market dominator, you will get a sense what it takes to become a dominating golf champion as we approach the second millennium.”

“Whether for the above reasons or any others, the fact is that, to be able to hold onto their cards, and earn a decent living, the golfers in the middle of the pack today have had to become as good as the players at the top were when I started out thirty and more years ago, while those in the top have become the equals of superstars of my generation.”

As for the "longer time", you are comparing what Jack actually did to your ASSUMPTION that Tiger's dominance is over.  Well there were a couple of 2 or 3 year periods where Jack was written off as well.  And yet he came back and had some excellent years.  And there is no real reason other than bias to think that the same could not happen with Tiger.  But even if it doesn't, the fact remains that for the period 1997-2009 no golfer has ever been AS dominant as Tiger was for as long a period of time as Tiger was dominant.  In those 13 years Tiger was clearly not only the best player in the world but an historically dominant player for 11 of the 13 years.  Jack has less than a half dozen dominant years in HIS first 15 years.  He was always in the top 1-5 players, but he wasn't #1 in most of those years.  In his whole career he had the most wins in a season only 5 times.  To date Tiger has had the most wins in a season 11 times.

And again, lest we try to blame this on his supposedly tougher competition, some of the players winning POY in those years are Julius Boros, Ken Venturi, Dave Marr, Orville Moody,   Good golfers, but hardly a Who's Who of all time great golfers.

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