Tiger Woods: the greatest golfer of all time?

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Tiger Woods is the greatest of all time, plain and simple. 

Despite having one less major crown than Jack Nicklaus, his counterpart in the GOAT conversation, Tiger reigns above all (besides being tied with Sam Snead) with his 82 career PGA tour victories, with Woods bound to take sole possession of first place before his career wraps up. 

However, Tiger’s success started even before his professional career began. After becoming the only three-time US Junior Amateur champion in its history, he also became the only golfer ever to win the US Amateur championship three consecutive times, something Bobby Jones—the greatest amateur golfer of all time—wasn’t able to do. Followed up by an NCAA individual championship in 1996, Tiger made the move to the professional ranks.

Throughout his pro career, Tiger has dominated the sport more so than anyone has before. With five Masters wins, four PGA championship titles, three US Open crowns, and three wins in the British Open, he is a master at his craft, and many of these results weren’t even close. The 2000 US Open saw Woods win by a massive number of 15 strokes, and he quickly followed this up with an 8-stroke victory at the British Open. The stretch from 1999-2002 saw Tiger take home seven major championships and 27 PGA Tour wins, consistently playing some of the best golf the world has ever seen. Following his 2001 Masters win, he held all four major titles at the same time for the first time in history, generating the name of the “Tiger Slam.” He reached pure domination that hadn’t ever been seen before, and he struck fear into his opponents each and every tournament he participated in. 

The elephant in the room in this argument is Nicklaus’ 18 major titles to Tiger’s 15. However, it is ill-advised to make an argument of who the greatest of all time is solely based on their amount of championships won. If that were the case, Bill Russell would undeniably be the greatest basketball player of all time; he’s one of the best, but he’s not the GOAT. Secondly, another argument for Nicklaus is that he faced much tougher competition throughout his career, continuously battling against the likes of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson, and Lee Trevino, who each won six major championships or more. 

I circle back to Tiger’s dominance to reiterate my point of why he is the greatest and why these arguments are the wrong path to take. Tiger’s aforementioned period of dominance from 1999-2002 and his 25 tournament trophies from 2005-2008 show that in their primes, Woods was winning more. Nicklaus’ closest mark to that came from 1970-1973, but Tiger did better than twice. Tiger in his prime was better than prime Jack. Also, Woods holds the record for consecutive cuts made, qualifying for the weekend 142-straight times from 1998 to 2005. Jack did so 37 fewer times, giving him the third-highest total. 

Furthermore, Tiger has done all of this while going through constant struggles in his life. Golf is an incredibly mentally-based game, and any little change or issue can get in the way of playing at your peak. His scandal in his marriage was plastered for the world to see, but he overcame the embarrassment and mistakes and fought his way back to the top. Not only did he overcome mental struggles, but he also experienced plenty of injuries along the way, even struggling with his back still today. Any minor injury can completely derail a career of a player of his caliber, but Tiger continued to fight through injuries, psychological trauma, public embarrassment, loneliness, and drinking issues, among other things. 

Not only did Tiger find unparalleled success, but he also broke barriers and completely changed the landscape of professional golf. In 1997, Woods became the first African-American to win the Masters, paving the way for minorities to follow in a sport that had been historically dominated—and even played at all—by rich, white men. He encouraged and showed that everyone could play the sport and reach the highest level.

He also brought exponential popularity to the sport. Today, no crowd is louder than the one following Tiger, and when he’s on, the atmosphere on the course is incredible. He brought many new fans to the sport, and his impact is seen just in the TV viewership alone of any event he plays in. People were starting to play, too. In 1996, there were 24.4 million golfers; just ten years later, right in the middle of Tiger’s career, that total rose to 29.8 million golfers. In that same time period, 2,000 more 18-hole golf courses were constructed in the US.

Lastly, Woods changed how the sport was played. He raised the standard for athleticism in golfers, working out five to six days a week for up to three hours per session, adding 25-30 pounds of muscle into his professional career. Rival Phil Mickelson followed suit in the trend, and today’s golfers are as fit as ever and place a lot of importance on their build, as can be seen in the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson.

All in all, this debate will never be settled unless Tiger tops Nicklaus’ major titles record. However, in my opinion, Tiger’s accolades and revolutionary effects on the sport are second to none, and he is the true greatest of all time.

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See Joe’s story for why Jack Nicklaus is the greatest of all time:

Jack Nicklaus: the greatest golfer of all time?