Let’s Face It, Tiger Will Inevitably Surpass Jack

By Bryan Burwell
Updated: August 22, 2006

ST. LOUIS — There was a time not too long ago when it sounded like a question. Yet now that Tiger Woods is in the midst of yet another staggering streak of domination of his sport with back-to-back major victories, Tiger’s making us understand that his pursuit of “greatest golfer of all time” is already as inevitable as the sun rising.

So remove the question mark and insert an exclamation point. Statistically, we will have to wait a few more years before Woods surpasses Jack Nicklaus as the “official” greatest in his sport, because with Sunday’s 5-stroke rout in the PGA Championship, the 30-year-old is still six major titles shy of the Golden Bear’s record 18 career major titles.

But it’s starting to feel like it’s only a formality, because Tiger is back to his old frightening self. He is not simply winning majors. He’s dominating. He does not merely defeat his competition. He vanquishes. He devastates.

By winning the PGA by 5 strokes over runner-up Shaun Micheel, Woods won his fifth major by at least a 5-shot margin.

While winning 12 majors is impressive enough (he passed the late Walter Hagen for second all-time), what’s even more impressive is how he crushes the field when he wins.

His average margin of victory in his 12 majors is 4.66 strokes, while Nicklaus won his 18 titles by a mere 2.44 strokes.

Yet even as Tiger continues to catalogue such overwhelming statistics, we keep missing the true beauty of his reign as the most dominant competitor of our time.

We keep trying to reach back and compare his golden age with other past legends, and in many ways diminish his accomplishments by asking the question: “Where are his competitive foils?”

While craving the answer to where’s the Frazier to his Ali, the Bird to his Magic, the Arnold to his Jack, we fail to comprehend what Tiger’s really doing out there.

You want to know where his competitive foils are? I say look beneath the divots that litter Augusta National, Medinah and Pebble Beach, because that’s where they’re all buried.

There perhaps are just as many great golfers in this era as in Nicklaus’ time, and it’s fair to say the depth of talent is much greater, too. On any given weekend, some faceless player is more likely to win on the tour today than in Nicklaus’ era.

The big names of today have all had their shots at Woods, yet they have all come and gone. Tiger systematically humbles them, intimidates them, then ultimately vanquishes them.

Late Saturday afternoon at Medinah, the top of the leaderboard was crowded with legitimate contenders with their eyes on the finaln major title of the year.

Yet by the time Woods walked off the course in suburban Chicago tied for the 54-hole lead, everyone knew it was over.

When I say that everyone knew it was over, I’m not talking about all the fans or even all the sports writers. I’m talking about everyone — including all his contemporaries whose names were up near the top of the leaderboard.

Woods is the most lethal lead dog in recent sports history. He closes with a ferocity and intimidation that would make the most scowling baseball closer or snarling football middle linebacker jealous.

“It’s unbelievable that he can feel that comfortable (with the lead on Sunday),” said British Open runner-up Chris DiMarco, who finished 11 strokes behind Woods at the PGA.

“I mean, it’s almost like he comes into his comfort zone in that situation and just relishes the fact that everybody for the most part wants to see him trip. People are, like, ‘Please make bogeys.’ Other people make birdies, and he just puts the hammer down.”

It wasn’t that long ago when Nicklaus’ record seemed as elusive and unreachable as touching the horizon. You could see it sure enough, yet it was too far away to sensibly consider as an achievable destination.

Not anymore. Woods has become so utterly in control of his athletic universe that it’s only a question of when, not if, he’ll surpass the Golden Bear.

“He’s just such an intimidating force, really,” said a humbled Micheel. “Tiger has a unique ability to play well when he thinks he’s not playing well. I mean, we all kind of smirk and laugh when he says he’s got his B game, but that’s better than most of our A games. He’s just that good.

“He doesn’t do anything silly. He doesn’t make any mistakes. He’s so mentally tough there, I’m not sure anything ever bothers him. I wish I had that feeling just once.”