Tiger Woods – G.O.A.T.?

The following is a letter I sent off to a college buddy of mine who is loving Tiger a bit more than I am.  I am no less impressed by Mr. Woods.  It those other peckers with woods in their hands I can’t stop laughing at. 

ESPN weighs in with one perspective (below). 


Someone else has picked up your argument about Tiger Woods.  He’s arguing that Tiger is the greatest individual athlete of all time.  You probably already agree with that.

For me, the jury is still out because of one simple thing…Tiger’s primary competition is Phil Mickelson.  Take Muhammad Ali.  His primary competition was Joe Frazier.  Mickelson is in absolutely no way remotely comparable to Joe Frazier.  In fact, if there were a golf-equivalent to Joe Frazier in the golf world, I feel comfortable saying Tiger would not have yet won 12 majors.  He might still be the lead dog pulling the sled, but his singular dominance (by definition) would not be in evidence.

I’m going to roll with Ali at this point because that’s my immediate reaction.  I could just as vehemently argue for Jim Thorpe.  What I won’t do is concede that Tiger is the best.  I have very little respect for his competition.  These are not tough men.  These are highly skilled automatons who lack personality, charisma and the essential competitive fire where shit-talking transforms the game from a friendly competition over a million dollars to a bar brawl over the sanctity of your mother’s name.  Tiger does not have to deal with any of that from his competitors.  Phil is fat and sloppy.  Sergio needs some hair on his chest.  And the average golf fan doesn’t know any golfers younger than Fred Couples and Greg Norman – neither of whom had much testicular fortitude when it came to majors.

This is a game that requires nerves of steel – but so is boxing and auto racing.  I could make a case for AJ Foyt.  When your competition is as weak as Tiger’s appears to be – and they are, it casts aspersions about an era.  Pete Sampras, as dominant as he was, did not compete in an era with players like Borg, Nastase, McEnroe, Connors, Geraulitis and others.  Tigers achievements, unlike those of Sampras, are largely unprecedented – and must count for alot.  Still, when it comes down to Joe Frazier and Phil Mickelson, I simply can’t stop laughing.


  1. It’s an interesting thought on the matter, but I think the one thing that hurts the comparison is that Tiger Woods supporters can always respond by saying that Mickelson could be on that level of proper competition had Woods not dominated the field as much as he has. It is somewhat like the NBA when Jordan dominated. The league was certainly better than it is right now, but Jordan was head and shoulders above the competition. You can’t say Kobe
    Bryant, or whoever, is better because at times it looks like he has better competition…since the league as a whole was better in Jordan’s era compared to right now.

  2. The only thing they can say is that Lefty’s career is not over. Where would you rank Phil all-time as a golfer (certainly not as an athlete)? Is he Top 15? If so, how many others of this current generation would you rank as high as Top 30 or Top 50?

    Jordan played in an era where he was surrounded by Top 50 players. Here’s the rub: the players that Jordan is most often referred to didn’t play with another Top 50 player during their primary battles with Jordan. It’s a long story – but Barkley, Wilkins and Ewing didn’t play with Top 50 players in the primary Jordan-Pippen battles. But Isiah Thomas did. Larry Bird did. Magic Johnson did, once. Drexler didn’t at Portland – and Jordan was retired when Drexler played with Olajuwon.

    The lone exception, one could argue, would be Malone and Stockton, but for my money, John Stockton is not a Top 50 player. I don’t even think he was great. He think he was a tremendous specialist and a compiler fortunate enough to play alongside a dominant power forward.

  3. I never thought I’d say this, but Stockton’s longevity combined with his stats make him a top-50 player. how many games did he miss throughout his career?

    The thing with golf is that Tiger is not just competing with Mickelson. He’s competing against a field of fifty or so, AND he is competing against HIMSELF. Not only winning, but winning walking away. Eighteen under at a MAJOR?!? You got to be KIDDING me.

    If Tiger isn’t the greatest of all time, he’s the greatest in the modern era, and I’d say that era starts in 1979 when Bird and Magic lace up in the NCAAs.

  4. Mickelson would be a top 15 golfer without Tiger Woods around, I believe. Not top 15 as an athlete though, definitely not, Tiger is the first golfer to really transcend and cross over that list. Mickelson in terms of Tournament wins and Major wins will likely be in the Top 15 of golfers by the team he reaches the age of 40, especially if he keeps on the pace he has had in 2004, 2005. This is going up against Tiger.

    Is it enough to make Mickelson/Frazier comparisons, it’s hard to say. I certainly think you can start to make the case and especially if you took Woods out of the equation. When your ultimate comparison is Ali/Woods, I guess the question becomes, is Mickelson a borderline Top 15 golfer because of Tiger Woods’ greatness or is he simply that level of golfer. I think Mickelson would certainly have more trophies and with that, more prominence if Woods was not as strong as he is.

  5. I suppose I have to give it up for the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals – but here’s the rub for me…

    Aside from the fact that Stockton was a dirty player and that I didn’t like his game, I remember him as a significant defensive liability. Sure, he made all-defense teams because of his steals, but he was torched for years in the playoffs by Tim Hardaway, Kevin Johnson, Terry Porter, Sam Cassell, and Gary Payton. It took the Jazz a decade to get to the NBA Finals with two Top 50 players.

    I never liked Karl Malone’s out-of-control game. He wasn’t a power player with the skills of someone like Moses Malone. Moses was a bull, but a saavy bull who never once fouled out of a game.

    Moreover, with Stockton’s defensive limitations etched firmly in my dome, I’m thinking about players like Alex English, Dominique Wilkins and others who are not on the list. Hell, Dennis Johnson is not on the list – and Dennis Johnson was a better player than Stockton at both ends of the floor. DJ had about three careers. He began as a tandem guard in Seattle playing with Gus Williams – then he was a big scoring guard in Phoenix with Paul Westphal and Walter Davis – and he finished up as a dominant defensive guard with the Celtics. He was always an elite offensive and defensive player. And DJ was a winner. He didn’t have a nemesis – let alone five of them.  He used to give Magic fits.

    When Tim Duncan retires, he’ll push Stockton off the list for me. I’m simply not feeling that cat – besides if he or Karl Malone were really legit, Malone would not have had to hit Isiah in the nose – just because he relentlessly torched Stockton’s sorry ass after Stock was named to the Olympic team in Isiah’s place. If it was a boxing match, it would have been called because Stockton couldn’t defend himself…body blow – left, left!!

    Represent, Detroit – represent!!!!!

  6. Doug:

    I feel your love for Phil. Here the other rub – I’ve got a list of about 14 golfers that Phil probably won’t be passing anytime soon. (My man has already rubbed me the wrong way on Stockton – and he’s from Detroit.)

    Let me know what you think. In no particular order:
    Ben Hogan
    Bryon Nelson
    Sam Snead
    Jack Nicklaus
    Tom Watson
    Gary Player
    Bobby Jones
    Arnold Palmer
    Gene Sarazen
    Walter Hagen
    Harry Vardon
    Nick Faldo
    Lee Trevino
    Severiano Ballesteros
    Raymond Floyd
    Ernie Els

    That’s 16.
    Tiger Woods = 17.

    Phil has more tour victories than many of these men – but he does not have more major wins than any of them. He’s also tied with Vijay Singh for PGA victories and major championships. He has more upside right now – but the question of whether Phil cracks a fairly tight Top 15 is still open to debate.

    I’d rank him ahead of Norman and others – but in his prime Ballesteros walks all over Phil…so does Nick Faldo. Imagination and cheeseburgers – some combination.

  7. I think ranking players in any sport over generations is very difficult to do and arguments can always be made one way or the other. I think if we just accept sports for what they are…entertainment…and stop trying to legitimize rankins we’d have more fun.

    All that said, I think Tiger is probably one of the best of all time…records don’t lie. This coming from a guy who’s never even seen Jack Nicklaus play…well at least not in his prime.

    Now – NFL quarterbacks…there is a fun conversation. Who’s in?

  8. You know I’m down for Isiah from way back. But Stockton and Malone’s faults don’t erase their longevity (combined with excellence). If I took anyone off that list, it’d be Bill Walton first and foremost. I wouldn’t take either Stockton or Malone off of it. Even though I remember those stitches Malone put on Isiah like it was yesterday.

  9. Ok. I’ll give you guys that. I didn’t even know that Bill Walton was on the list. He did, however, earn his championship in 1977. He was also an essential part of the 1986 team. I would have to take Stockton’s career over Walton’s – no question.

  10. “Phil has more tour victories than many of these men – but he does not have more major wins than any of them. He’s also tied with Vijay Singh for PGA victories and major championships. He has more upside right now – but the question of whether Phil cracks a fairly tight Top 15 is still open to debate.”

    Phil without having to play against Tiger probably has the number of Majors to crack that list. Tiger dominates Majors, that has to be accounted for in some way. You can’t just look at numbers like wins in a situation like this. How much better would Phil look as a golfer without Tiger Woods?

    The other thing is that five years from now, Mickelson should pass about half the guys on that list.

  11. I think you’re right. Phil will probably pass most of the guys on the list. Is it possible for him to do a Norman? I guess his Top 15 status is secondary to my feeling that he’s not a Smokin’ Joe Frazier-ian nemesis for Tiger.

    Sometimes that type of competitor emerges later in one’s career. Chris Evert and Martina had two different phases of battle. Evert won early – and then she got smacked around.

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