It’s a baited question, of course. And I’m not asking if she could beat Tiger in a match. Clearly, she can’t.
But with Annika winning her tenth tournament of the season, she dominates the competition at her own level as no one ever has. This season, she won ten tournaments in twenty starts.
That’s very impressive. And it’s enough to get sports radio and various internet forums talking about who’s the better player: Tiger or Annika.
Putting aside the obvious absolute differences between the PGA and LPGA, the talent on the PGA is much more tightly bunched than on the LPGA. That is—at their own level—there is more relative talent and skill in the Top 50 on the PGA than there is in the LPGA.
Lets say that you were able to assign a numerical value for each player’s skill, as measured against the top player on their tour. Tiger and Annika are both 10s.
Tiger would be facing a lot of players with scores in the nines. Annika would be facing a couple of nines, and a whole lot of eights.
So when Tiger takes the field, he’s up against a lot of guys who have only slightly less physical skills than he does. In fact, over the last couple of years, you could argue that there are a lot of guys who actually strike the ball better than he does. I believe that—like Nicklaus—he continues to win (even with his “B” game) because of his superior mental game.
On the other hand, when Annika tees off, there are far fewer players who can match her physically. If you watch the LPGA, you can see that her ball striking is miles ahead of most of the field. (Although, with the young guns coming into the LPGA, that may change soon).
So for me, it comes down to this. Is Tiger the better player for his fewer clutch victories over equivalent fields, or Annika for her total domination of slightly lesser fields?
Surprisingly, I think I’m going to vote for Annika. If you discount her ten victories against “lesser” fields, then you also probably should discount Byron Nelson’s 1945 record 18 victories, since he also was playing against “lesser” talent.
And I’m not ready to take anything away from Lord Byron. To win a tournament at any level, you game has to be in top form. And to have your game in top form as often as Nelson and Sorenstam is amazing.