I’m just wondering whether Tiger Woods’ recent 74th PGA win has changed the opinion of anyone who formerly thought that Jack Nicklaus was the greatest player of all time.
Jack had 73 official PGA wins (71 individual wins, and two with Arnold Palmer in team events). When Tiger won his 74th individual PGA title, he left Jack with only one significant career stat that exceeds Tiger, namely major wins. Tiger had already passed Jack in the other major career stats two years ago, at age 34, holding the records for most money titles, most scoring titles, most years with the most wins, most Player of the Year awards, etc.
Team Jack will argue that none of that matters; the only thing that matters is professional major wins. Team Tiger will say that it’s ridiculous to ignore all but four events a year, and that majors were not the sole standard of excellence before Jack lobbied for it (after falling short of Snead’s career wins mark, which had been one of his goals, and which many considered the standard before Jack came along). For example, Walter Hagen was never widely considered the greatest golfer of all time, and he held the pro majors record for over 40 years before Jack broke it. And just incidentally, he won his 11 majors with only about half the opportunities Jack had, because neither the Masters or the PGA existed when he first hit his prime (the PGA was founded in time for him to win several, but the Masters wasn’t founded until he was 41), the British Open required almost a month out of the US for travel by ship, and WWI cancelled several majors.
Even today, Walter Hagen (11 majors) is almost always ranked below Ben Hogan (9 majors) on the all-time lists. Many Jack fans even rate Hogan above Tiger (14 majors). So it seems inconsistent at best for Jack’s fans to insist that majors are the only thing that matters.
It’s also significant that Tiger compiled his 74 wins in the hardest way possible, playing both fewer and tougher events than any top golfer since Bobby Jones. Due to injuries, he’s only played one full season (2009) in the last five years, and even when healthy he played fewer events than most players. And the events he did play were typically those with the most accomplished fields — majors, WGCs, and elite invitationals. There were a few Buick Opens in there for contractual reasons, but overall, and making the very reasonable assumption that the fields today are deeper than in the past, he has played the strongest schedule in history.
So my questions (mostly for golf fans who thought Jack was the greatest of all time as of January of this year, but comments welcomed from anyone) are:
- Does Tiger passing Jack for #2 in career wins change your opinion of who’s the greatest of all time?
Would Tiger passing Sam Snead to become #1 in career wins do it, if he won no more majors?
If Tiger finished his career with 17 pro majors, so that he and Jack were tied at 20 total (counting US ams), would his lead in the other stats do it?
If Tiger finished with 18 pro majors, would that do it?
If Tiger finished with 20 pro majors, and more total wins than Snead, would you still think Jack was the greatest because he had tougher competition, or wasn’t a whoremonger, or some other reason?