And in this Corner, the Challenger is…

(Left to right) None of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, nor Vijay Singh have been able to challenge Tiger on a consistent basis

Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia. It has been and still is a revolving door for players who could potentially be Tiger Woods’ version of Rafael Nadal. A player who has consistently challenged Tiger Woods in major championships has been absent throughout his career. There is much reason to believe that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time but the fact that there has never been a true contender in the other corner of the ring makes you wonder if he really can be placed on the top of the pedestal.

Yesterday, Graeme Mcdowell outlasted a number of top players in the world to win the 2010 United States Open at Pebble Beach. Mcdowell came into the final round 3 shots behind Dustin Johnson, who was 6 under par after 54 holes. However, Dustin Johnson had what was possibly the biggest collapse in US open history. He posted an 82, which was the worst final round for a player leading after 54 holes. As in most other major championships, no one stepped up to the plate to take the tournament. Ernie Els, who at one point was at 3 under during the final round, eventually faded into the night finishing at +2. Phil Mickelson, who is known as both gambler as well as a perennial choker also had a very legitimate shot to win, but ended up at +3. The 391st ranked Gregory Havret out of France was very solid throughout the day, but on most days solid isn’t going to get the job done. Havret was the runner-up to Graeme Mcdowell, shooting a +1 for the day and finishing the tournament at +1. The US Open Champion Mcdowell did not by any means step up at all. He was given the tournament on a solid gold platter by his peers. Who could have predicted that Mcdowell could shoot a 3 over 74 on day 4 and still win the US Open? Not me.

Many of the players, including champion Graeme Mcdowell, blamed the tough course for the poor play. It was evident that this was partially the case but I think that the players poor play was equally to blame. If you watched the entire US Open you would have noticed that players were missing fairways, hitting bunkers, and things that you shouldn’t be blaming the course for. There is no excuse for not one player in the top 12 to shoot under par.

The most surprising play though came from Tiger Woods who started the day at -1 and ended up at +3. This sure doesn’t sound like the golfer that golf fans have come to know. Tiger Woods is best known for stepping up his play on the final day of a tournament and most notably in majors. However, after yesterday Tiger Woods is actually 0-43 in Majors when not leading after 3 rounds. Yes, Tiger Woods has won 14 majors when leading after 54 holes and on only one occasion has he given up a lead after 3 rounds of a major. Really though, what does this say about the competition that Tiger has had to face throughout his career?

Many people speculate that the reason players never really stepped it up to take a tournaments away from Tiger was a combination of Tiger’s uncanny mental toughness, skill, and intimidation factor.

Those reasons could not be farther from the truth. I think it is apparent that the reason for players not consistently upping their game a couple notches is because they are simply not good enough. In the Tiger generation there has not been one player with the talent and mental strength to challenge Tiger. None of it has to do with Tiger himself, Tiger just happens to be a much better all-around golfer than everyone else. It showed when Tiger was injured in 2008 and as usual players would do their best to cough up leads. It shows when Tiger is not in contention on the final day of tournaments and players still want to do their best impersonation of Santa Claus and gift wrap tournaments.

Well you must be asking yourself what this has to do with Tiger not being the greatest of all time. If he is a way better golfer than anyone else on tour, how could he eventually not go down as the best ever? One name. Jack Nicklaus. Unlike Tiger, the Golden Bear played during quite possibly the most competitive period in golf history. Nicklaus was always faced with legitimate players who stepped up their game when it mattered most, rather than guys who just roll over when the going gets tough. With Tiger there have been players who have stepped it up but as I said, not on a regular basis. Names like Rich Beem, Y.E. Yang, and Zach Johnson come to mind, but where are they now?

In all stages of Jack Nicklaus’ career he faced players that will go down as some of the best ever. During the early stages there was Arnold Palmer and Gary Player who each won 7 and 9 major championships respectively. Then you have a guy who came along by the name of Tom Watson. Watson is still making cuts and even contending in majors to this day. Tom Watson has won 8 majors in his career. The last true contender in Nicklaus’ career was Severiano Ballesteros who “only” won 5 majors.

In Nicklaus’ quarter century of golf supremacy he won a total of 18 majors. What people fail to see when this stat is presented to them is how many times he was pushed to the brink by some of the all-time great golfers. Jack Nicklaus was the runner-up an astounding 8 times to just those 4 players I mentioned above. Compare that to Tiger Woods who has barely even had a Seve Ballesteros to rival him.

Probably the most notable rival for Tiger Woods is Phil Mickelson who has won 4 majors. But at a certain point in his career it was thought that maybe Phil Mickelson just didn’t have the mental make-up to win a major tournament. Doesn’t sound like a true contender to me. A couple other notables that I mentioned are Vijay Singh and Ernie Els who each have 3 majors. This is the “big” 3 that Tiger has had to take on in his career.

Back in his prime when Tiger was winning major championships by double-digit strokes I’m not sure that he could have been beaten by anyone. But those times were not long lived. In the days when Tiger had to really start fighting for his majors he was still not challenged by anyone. When Tiger would go into the lead on Sunday and not come up with his best stuff there was no one to take it away from him, which is why Tiger is 14 for 15 when leading after 54 holes in a major. The one time that Tiger lost after 3 rounds was when he gave up a 2 stroke lead to Y.E. Yang, who shot who a very mediocre 70 to win the PGA championship.

There is no doubt that Tiger has as good a mental make-up as any champion in the history of sports. In the league of guys who come up big at big times, Tiger is right up there with the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Roger Federer. The one thing that was missing was a rival like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. I can’t recall a time in a big tournament where Tiger Woods went shot for shot with an “arch rival” to see who could take the tournament away from the other. There has been nothing like the 2008 Wimbledon final. Anthony Kim? Ryo Ishikawa? Are either of these guys the next great thing in golf? Through the law of averages you would think the golf world is due for another great golfer and a true challenger.

About Chris Ross
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15 Responses to And in this Corner, the Challenger is…

  1. MMeroney says:

    It seems like you have been very active in posting. I liked the content, especially statistical references but there are some spelling errors that can easily be taken care of with editing. I am constantly catching my own spelling and grammatical errors long after something has posted. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my blog and I will definitely look forward to reading more of your stuff too.

    Oh and just for the record I think Tiger’s era has been the most competitive because of the global growth of the game, the introduction of golf fitness and the drastic improvement in equipment.

  2. cgraff09 says:

    Nice article. Although no one has regularly competed with Tiger, I think you could compare the 2008 U.S. Open to last years Wimbledon Final – “the guy” against someone no one though would be there and lasted just long enough to make it one of the best finals.

  3. Pooch says:

    I do agree that Tiger does not have the stiff competition that Jack had from the all-time greats, but he does have competition from a larger pool of players. Although he may not be going head-to-head with his “rivals” (which every fan would likely prefer) he does have to battle with the PGA Tour Flavor of the Week. As we saw this past weekend, any Tour player can win a tournament on any given weekend, which makes it all the more difficult in my eyes.

  4. alexmayer93 says:

    Thanks for checking out my article, and I did enjoy the read. I think you made good points and supported them well by using facts. It was a good read no doubt, keep up the good work!

  5. I agree with a point from an article and a point from a comment. Tiger has fewer rivals, but a greater pool of chalengers. That being said, Jack had a harder time winning 18 than Tiger had winning however many he will. On top of fewer main rivals who cared about winning as much as he did, Tiger is just now learning what the pressures of family do to your focus that Jack dealt with his whole career.

  6. Nice post…you make good points. Tiger doesn’t have a “rival” like Roger Federer. Golf and tennis are individual sports so it makes sense to have a rival.

    However, I don’t think the lack of a rival hurts Tiger. If he is compared to the other players mentioned. When Jordan was on top I can’t remember anyone beating him. A rival of Jordan would have at least won 2 or 3 championships from his 6. Kobe has who? If anything Kobe admits he is chasing Jordan, a guy he model his game after. So that could be his “rival”. Lebron has no rings so that’s not his rival. D Wade could be but his teams of late have been garbage.

    So if Tiger is like Jordan and Kobe he competes against himself, rivals himself, and make up imaginary beefs for himself.

  7. 67cnorthwest says:

    Nice article. I see your style is more of the longer articles. I too enjoy this style but a lot of my readers started to complain that they where too long. So now I am trying to condense, so hard to do! Anyways, keep up the good work, I like your writing so far!

    Joel Barnes

  8. Nick Poust says:

    Well done article, Chris! Very in-depth, with statistical analysis and clean-cut opinion. I’ll be coming back for sure. Keep it up and you’ll go places my friend!

    Too bad to see Johnson implode as he did. He just completely lost his composure. McDowell played quite well all things considered, as did Havret. One of those two clearly deserved to win. Mickelson, Els, and Woods had their chances to make moves, but the course at them up.

    Again, well done!

  9. Nice take on the US Open last weekend.

    It’s tough to get into the “which player was greater” discussion, because obviously there are several factors that could logically support either side one chooses. That being the case, the only true standard that could make the argument more clearly is major tournament performances, and Jack still rules the roost in that department.

    But when history reflects on this era of golf, I believe that the general consensus will be that Tiger had no real adversaries because no one wanted to win more than he did, and that’s something that you don’t acquire on a range hitting thousands of golf balls each week… that’s something you’re born with.

    Nice article.

  10. Good stuff. It was a good read, well thought out.

    In my opinion, Jack was the best of his era, while Tiger is the best in his era. Jack played at a time when there were numerous stud golfers in their primes; Watson, Nickalus (the twilight of his career) etc. While Tiger is sort of a lone wolf. In fact, Tiger came along at a time when golf was very dry. He burst on the scene as a phenomenal athlete with composure like none before him. Now, his devotion to the sport has launched a new breed of golfers. Dustin Johnson is a perfect example. He is a big strong kid who hits the ball crazy long, just like Tiger in the late 1990s.

    When people look back and compare you need to look at the competition, technology and the numbers. Tiger probably won’t pass Jack, it just isn’t looking good for him. But, he completely dominated during his time, even if the competition wasn’t as good. Lastly, would Jack have been even better given the technology available now?

    I am a Tiger fan and I feel he is the best ever just because what he has done to the sport. He revolutionized the game. Jack didn’t do that for golf.

    I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  11. Jim.Morgan says:

    Very much enjoyed the article. Easy read and filled with facts. Good job! I am just a hack blogger. Usually do them while on the air at 99.5 Kix Country. Keep it up! Will look again!

  12. Interesting take on Tiger and the field. I enjoyed the read. One thing i cant blog about is golf at this point and time for some odd reason. I guess its becasue of this era of golfers dont give me much to write about, lol

  13. bhalzee says:

    Nicely done Chris. Another fact is Jack was runner-up 19 times. That’s astounding to me because just think if his talent was an the great level that it was, Jack could have possibly won more than 30, that’s absurd.

    I have you bookmarked and I hope the same from you. I have a lot to say when it comes to sports, and you do also. You seem very knowledgeable and unbiased, keep it up bro.

  14. bobbyjones says:

    You can’t take anything away from Graeme McDowell. He maintained his focus in the midst of his playing partner Dustin Johnson’s complete and utter collapse. He put together four solid rounds 71 – 68 – 71 – 74 . Granted he was +3 on Sunday, but the average score on sunday was 74.9! The USGA did a fine job in making par a good score.

    The other interesting player to watch is Ryo Ishikawa, the 18 year phenom from Japan.

    As for Tiger, until/unless he figures out his putter, he’ll never surpass Jack.

    • Great angle about the struggling playing partner, BJ. It’s very difficult for a player under that degree of pressure to avoid the bad mojo that his playing partner is emitting. Not to mention the fact that Johnson’s erratic mistakes impacted the flow of the round regarding pace of play.

      McDowell certainly showed the level of patience and focus needed on Sunday, despite what was going on around him.

      Good insight.

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