The coronavirus relief golf match featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning has been set for May 24 in Florida.
It is the US Masters 2019, and Tiger Woods is 43 years of age.
It has been 11 long years since the man has last won a golfing major. Despite winning various PGA tournaments in this period and even being voted PGA player of the year in 2013, Woods had never really looked like adding to his 14 majors and narrowing the gap on fellow American Jack Nicklaus’ record-holding 18 majors.
But what would you expect? Knee and back problems have crippled the man now for the best part of 15 years, not to mention his well-documented marriage breakdown caused by messy affairs, his use of prescription drugs and being arrested due to drink driving.
When faced with these circumstances most sportsmen would have just given the game they love away altogether to focus on getting their life back in control, but Tiger Woods isn’t most sportsmen. He proved that as a young man in his 20s taking up a sport and dominating it in a way in which no person not before nor since has ever done before.
Woods putts a bogey on the 18th hole of the final day at Augusta. With millions around watching, his return to glory demonstrates bravery, resilience, talent and the love of golf.
So is Tiger Woods the greatest sportsman in history? Well, first you have to ask yourself where he ranks in his own field. Jack Nicklaus has won the most majors at 18 compared to Woods at 15.
While in terms of PGA wins Woods is only tied with Sam Snead at 85. These stats alone aren’t even enough to say Woods is the greatest golfer, let alone the greatest sportsman.
However, you should never measure greatness in any sport based on longevity and total numbers. Most people admit Sir Donald Bradman is the greatest Test batsman in history, yet he isn’t even close to scoring the most Test runs. In fact, he doesn’t even have half of Sachin Tendulkar’s, yet his Test average of 99.94 speaks for itself as no other players who have played at least 20 Tests have even got past 65.
That same logic can and should be applied to golf as with any other sport. In terms of majors, Tiger Woods has won 17 per cent of all grand slams he participated in. That’s a rate of one in every five and a half. Remarkable considering he’s playing directly against over 150 other players where if you have one bad round you blow any chance of winning. Nicklaus’ record, by contrast, is just 11 per cent.
However even that can be misleading as it includes all the times Woods has attempted to come back in the last 11 years while trying to play through dislocated knees and a crookback. Pre-2008, the average is even more extraordinary.
It sits at 28 per cent winning almost one in four tournaments during that period. Yet his nemesis Jack Nicklaus only managed one in eight wins in grand slam starts. What an amazing difference.
Had Tiger Woods not suffered the setbacks he did the average could have been even higher, as unlike in other sports golfers are believed to be at their prime during their 30s. Woods was 32 when he won the 2008 US Open.
You could argue that he had his best years taken away from him. Yet despite all this his achievements are staggering. His average wins in majors are mind-blowing but he has also won 22.8 per cent of PGA starts, the most of any player. He also has the lowest scoring average in PGA Tour history.
He is the only player to have won all four major championships in a row between 2000 and 2001 and he also holds the record for the most consecutive cuts made.
Taking into account all this includes half of his career being washed out, his domination of the sport demonstrates how for a period of time he was not just the best in the world but easily the greatest golfer of all time. Had it not been for all these setbacks the debate of the greatest golfer wouldn’t even be up for discussion, and to a matter of fact neither would the greatest sportsman.
When asked to name the greatest sportsman in history most jump to names such as Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Muhammad Ali, Pele, Don Bradman and Roger Federer. But for all their accomplishments, theirs aren’t of the same significance as Woods’.
Why? Just look at the sports they play. Bradman, Jordan and Pele all played team sports which are a lot easier to excel in than individual sports. In team sports there is less pressure as the fans and press mostly scrutinise the team as a whole rather than an individual player.
As a result, there is less pressure on the individual to perform as even with one bad performance they can redeem themselves. With an individual sport though, it is much harder physically with all the isolation and personal commitment that comes with the game as well as mentally through the constant public spotlight.
Golf itself is even tougher than athletics, tennis and boxing. To win a tennis grand slam you only have to defeat seven players, wherein every match you play you have a 50-50 chance of winning. In boxing a great fighter can have two bad rounds and still win a fight.
While to win the 100m gold medal at the Olympics you only have to win three races against eight athletes on each occasion. Yet in golf, every single tournament Woods enters he has to compete directly against over 150 players meaning the margin for error is so much greater.
Given how hard majors are to win, good players are happy to win one in their entire career. Australian Adam Scott is but one example. Champions win several, Woods and Nicklaus are at the top. While Woods may not be a saint of a person, his talent as well as his determination opened up the door for him to achieve the impossible of winning the Masters at the age of 43 after more setbacks than most of the world’s greatest sportsman combined.
To many people his shock comeback is almost as mind-blowing as his first 13 years of dominance. And it’s those few individuals who can achieve things that are considered impossible who truly should go down as the greatest.
No sportsman that I can think of excites and brings together such massive crowds who barrack for him almost to the exclusion of the other players he’s competing against.
His is the power of the people. In fact, who would say that he will not add to his major tally in his 40s? Certainly not me.