The Tiger-Jack debate is almost over…

March 17, 2008 | Drew Forrester

All the arguments about the respective careers of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are nearly over now.

What’s left to discuss?  Not much.

Better player?  Tiger.

More impact on golf? Tiger.

More money? Tiger.

Who improved the TOUR more?  Tiger.

Who faced more media scrutiny? Tiger.

Better career?  Jack.  For now.  But that won’t last much longer.

With 64 wins in 12 years on TOUR, Tiger is closing in on Jack’s all-time wins number of 73.  That mark will likely stand until next year, unless Woods goes on some kind of unthinkable tear between now and October and wins 9 more times.  Come to think of it, maybe he doesn’t have to wait until next year.

Once Tiger finishes polishing off Jack’s 73-win career, he’ll take dead aim on Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 victories.  At 64 now…I’d say Tiger will win his way past Snead sometime in 2011.  18 wins in 3-plus years?  Very likely.

In reference to the above, the only thing Jack has over Tiger right now is a better career, and that’s merely because Woods still has at least a dozen high-level years of golf remaining in his career.  Golfers define greatness by the number of majors a player wins, which is one reason why Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh are already better than Greg Norman. In Woods’ case, he has 13 career major titles – Jack finished with 18. 

At some point, someday (maybe sooner than I thought, frankly), Woods will win #18, then #19, then #20…and who knows where he’ll stop?  If you wanted to bet me $1,000 right now that Woods reaches 25 major titles and made me take “the under”, I wouldn’t do it. 

But, the “who has had the better career?” debate is all that’s left of this battle.

If the discussion about the respective careers were a “match play event”, Tiger would be 3-up heading to the 14th tee.  In other words, it’s all but over. 

Tiger’s the better player of the two.  Jack might have hit the driver better, but that’s about the only thing he could do better than Woods.  Irons?  Tiger.  Short game?  Definitely Tiger.  Putting? Jack was a great putter, but he can’t carry Tiger’s putter-jock when it comes to making the ones that matter.

The equipment-argument always interests me because it’s generally made by older people who don’t understand how much the golf courses have changed over the last 10-15 years with the advent of titanium, graphite shafts and the Titleist Pro V1 golf ball. In Jack’s hey day, a long par-4 would have measured between 430-460 yards.  Most players in the “old days” would have hit 5 or 6 irons into a green after a 260-275 yard drive.  Today, a long par-4 measures more like 470-500 yards and guess what players are hitting into those greens?  Right, a 5 or 6 iron. 

Length isn’t everything, as Tiger shows each week.  He’s rarely in the Top 10 in driving distance, yet no one ever beats him.  He’s “averaging” 282.5 yards per-drive, but that’s a very misleading number.  He’s hitting 3-wood, 5-wood and occasionally a 2-iron off the tee on a number of holes, depending on the course, the situation and whether or not he feels like beating everyone without using his driver that day.

I bring up driving distance and equipment because it’s the only argument the old-time crew uses to try and justify Jack’s place in history when compared with Tiger.  Trust me, it’s NOT the equipment.  I’m playing today’s latest high-standard of equipment on the local amateur golf scene and my scores haven’t changed all that much over the last 5 years in tournament play.  It’s all relative.  Yes, the ball travels farther than it did 30 years ago.  No doubt about it.  But, the holes are longer.  Much longer, in fact.

Tiger wins more than anyone else right now because he gets the ball in the hole more quickly than everyone else.  In other words, he has a better short game and he is, without question, the greatest putter to ever play the pro game.  If you don’t think that’s true, show me how many bad putters win on TOUR.  Bernhard Langer won a pair of Masters titles with two different “unconventional” putting grips, but at the time of his victories, he was in the midst of a spell where he putted well for a couple of years before his nerves got the best of him again.  If putting didn’t matter, Sergio Garcia would have three or four major titles by now.  Woods is better than everyone else because he putts better.  Vijay Singh is a good putter and he has three major titles to show for it.  If Singh were a great putter, he’d have as many majors as Faldo (6) if not more.  But, he’s not – and he doesn’t.

Tiger’s just better than Jack.  It’s that simple, really.  Just like Jack was better than Arnie.  And better than Watson.  And better than Trevino. And better than Faldo. And better than Seve.  And better than Norman.  Just like those comparisons — Tiger’s better than Jack. 

There’s only one argument left now, and it’s the “who had a better career?” debate. Today, all of the Jack-lovers can proudly say Nicklaus and you’d still be right in saying that. 

You’d better get it all in now.  Pretty soon, the whole argument will be closed out. 

Kind of like all of Tiger’s foes since 1997.