The Collegian
Sunday, January 29, 2023

Tiger's shot to end a debate

The Masters Golf Tournament, maybe the most prestigious tournament in all of golf, begins today, and this year's storyline is as captivating as it could be.

Tiger Woods is not only seeking his fifth green jacket, he is also trying to end a discussion.

With a win at this year's Masters, Tiger would establish himself as the most dominant athlete in any sport.

Ever.

Some have already given Tiger this crown and others will hold judgment until he passes Jack Nicklaus' record 18-major championships, but this week at Augusta will be the clincher for me.

First, let's look at what Tiger is up against.

Not only will Tiger face off against all of the top 15 players in the World Golf Rankings, he will be teeing it up against the likes of Anthony Kim and Rory McIlroy, some of the best young talent the game has seen in quite some time.

The field at the Masters is one of the toughest Woods may ever face. Tough competition hasn't stopped Tiger before, but this time he faces the task of re-establishing himself as the king of the golfing jungle.

Woods will be playing for only the fourth time since June of last year when he underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee following a one-shot, 91-hole, playoff victory at the U.S. Open. Even though Tiger somehow won that tournament on one leg, this is his first chance to show that he can still win the big ones on a knee that has been operated on four times.

A win this weekend shouldn't be easy, but the amazing thing is that if Tiger shows his stripes, it might be.

Two weeks ago, Tiger trailed young star Sean O'Hair by five shots heading to the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. For those of you who aren't golf fans, that's like being down three touchdowns heading into the fourth quarter. But, surprise, Woods found a way to win, draining a 15-foot birdie on 18 to clinch his sixth win at Bay Hill.

There is also the fact that when Tiger plays, he usually wins. And by usually, I mean he wins more often than he doesn't.

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Since the 2006 British Open, Woods has won 18 of his 31 PGA Tour starts. That's 58 percent. Golf analysts are often asked whether they would take Tiger or anyone else in the entire rest of the field to win a given tournament. As outrageous as this sounds, picking Tiger every time would have paid off.

Now, in to order make the statement, which I did, that Tiger would be the most dominant athlete ever with a win at the Masters, he has to be compared to athletes across the sports spectrum.

How about Michael Jordan? Jordan won six NBA championships and five NBA MVP awards. He averaged more than 30 points per game during his career, played in 14 All-Star games and won two gold medals. That's pretty tough to beat.

And it gets better. Jordan was the MVP of the NBA Finals during all six of his championships. And he even had time to take a few years off to give baseball a try and to act alongside Bugs Bunny in Space Jam.

So why does Tiger beat out Jordan? Two reasons.

For one, Jordan had help. Scottie Pippen, who averaged 17.5 points per game in his career and is a future Hall of Famer, played with Jordan on all six of the Bulls' championship teams. Dennis Rodman, as good at rebounding as he was at turning heads, also helped Jordan on the last three teams.

Second, Jordan is already hearing footsteps. Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.1 points per game in his career to go along with his three NBA titles. Sure, three isn't six, but if Shaq had hung around as long as Pippen did, who knows what could have been.

And then there's this guy LeBron James. He plays for Cleveland. One-on-one with Jordan, I'll take the 6-foot 8-inch, 250-pound King James, who has never had a Hall-of-Fame-caliber teammate and still manages to lead the Cavs to the top of the Eastern Conference and deep into the playoffs.

If Tiger goes one-on-one against any creature to ever walk the face of this Earth, I'll take Tiger. That's dominance.

What about Wayne Gretzky? Gretzky is the only player in NHL history to score more than 200 points during a single NHL season, and he did it four times. The NHL also retired his number, making him the only athlete other than Jackie Robinson to have his number retired throughout an entire league.

But, Gretzky won his four Stanley Cups between 1984-88 and never won it all after leaving the Edmonton Oilers in 1988. Sure, 10 scoring titles and 9 MVPs secure Gretzky as the greatest hockey player of all time, but true dominance, even in team sports, can only be proven by championships.

Other names can enter the conversation. Heavyweight Mike Tyson, slugger Babe Ruth, tennis phenom Roger Federer and hot dog eating champion Takeru Kobayashi have all had their time at the top, but none have done it like Woods.

There are very few sporting events that a person remembers throughout his entire life. With the exception of Richmond's National Championship, the last such event in my life was Tiger's win during last year's U.S. Open.

Limping around on one leg and using his driver as a cane, Tiger made shot after shot and putt after putt until Rocco Mediate couldn't take it anymore. I had chills.

This weekend, at Augusta, I'll be watching Tiger again, this time on two legs. Even if you aren't a golf fan, tune in to see one of those rare few who your great-grandchildren will be asking you about one day.

If Tiger somehow falls short this weekend, at least you can say you watched the greatest golfer ever play in the Masters. But, if Tiger is what he has been throughout his career, you may get to see one of those events you'll remember for the rest of your life.

Get your popcorn ready.

Contact sports editor Reilly Moore at reilly.moore@richmond.edu

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