The Furor Over Tiger’s 50th.

The media is going beserk over Tiger getting his 50th win at age 30. And it is no doubt a major achievement. But I don’t think that it’s as earth shattering as it appears.

A little historical perspective here: Jack Nicklaus turned pro at age 22 and won his 50th at age 33. Tiger Woods turned pro at age 20 and won his 50th at age 30. Woods thus is only one year ahead of Nicklaus. And I’m not sure that is statistically significant. (Just let me say here that I’m not a Nicklaus fan. He was not my favorite player of that era—any more than Tiger is my favorite player of this era.)

I’ve also heard some comentators say that Tiger’s ten year rush to 50 is a record that will never be matched. Really guys. I’m sure that back in 1973 when Jack won his 50th at the PGA Championship, golf writers were saying that his eleven year rush to 50 would never be matched.

I’d also argue—and I think that golf historials would agree—that Nicklaus faced greater competition: first Palmer and Player, then Trevino and Watson. All four of those are on the short list of all time greats. There were also others who went on major hot streaks during Nicklaus’ reign: Johnny Miller comes to mind.

But where is Tiger’s competition?  It’s certainly not coming from from the younger ranks. The guys who have been challenging him are in the latter halves of their careers. When guys like Chris DiMarco (38), Vijay (43), Jim Furyk (36), and Phil Mickelson (36) start feeling the effects of age, Tiger, six to twelve years younger is going to crush whoever remains (unless some of these younger guys start to show up to play).

The $50,000 question is whether the current crop of players appear as lesser talents because of Tiger’s greatness … or iwhether Tiger’s greatness in part due in part to the lesser talents. We won’t know for 50 years. But I’ll bet that aside from Tiger none of the current crop will make the list of top twenty golfers of all time in 2050.

8 thoughts on “The Furor Over Tiger’s 50th.”

  1. Another way to look at the comparisons in addition to the age – Tiger won his 50th after 192 events; Jack after 255 (the numbers might be a little off, but they are close).

    I think Tiger’s winning % is more impressive. Regardless of the competition, you still need to get the job done.

  2. His winning percentage IS impressive. But I find it interesting that Jack played 63 more events in just one more year of play. (Am I doing that math right?)

    If I were a Tiger detractor (I’m not, but I’m starting to sound like one, aren’t I), I’d say that’s evidence that the striped one is cherry picking his events.

  3. No doubt about it, Augusta (4), Firestone (3), Memorial (3), Western (3), La Costa (3 or 4), PB (2), Buick (2), St. Andrews (2), Bayhill (3)…

    That is almost half his wins (If I counted correctly). Am i missinig any?

    You can expect the concentration of wins because he plays so few events (unlike a Vigay). Good strategy or bad? Only time will tell.

    I like golf and I like watching Tiger. Mostly because he does things you just shake you head and say…impossible. Like the 238 yard 4 iron on Saturday.

  4. There is another factor in play as well-  What type of equipment did Jack win with in comparison with Tiger? 

    Further, the earlier statement about who was Jack’s competition vs Tiger’s competition is very much on point.  If you take today’s players #2 to #20, how do they compare to #2 to #20 when Jack was playing? 

    Tiger brand apperal is much nicer than Jack’s brands were though.  However, I am willing to bet that if Tiger designs courses, they won’t be as nice as Jack’s courses.

  5. When he has 100 wins by age 40, the answer to the $50,000 question will be the latter “due in part to lesser talents”.

  6. It is true that Tiger’s 50th win came only one professional season faster than Jack, but a large part of its significance lies in in their actual age at the date of number 50.  You cant discount Jack’s extra two years playing amateur golf and the mental and physical development that comes with that.  When Tiger turned pro in 96 at 20, he looked like he was 140 pounds, dripping wet.  The mental side of Jacks extra two years is even more important.  Including Tigers incredible amateur career (3 US Juniors and 3 US Amateur in 5 years), PGA Tour winning percentage, major winning percentage, world rankings domination, and closing percentage,it would be hard to argue against Tiger being the best golfer at the age of 30 in the history of modern golf.  How many wins will Tiger have at the age of 33?  I would guess 65 or more with a few majors thrown in there.  If Tiger continues to progress physically and mentally, keeps his passion for the game and winning, and stays relatively inujury free, who knows how many records he will have…im guessing all of them.

  7. Having been humbled by the game of golf on countless occassions, i have the utmost respect for the accomplishments of both Jack and Tiger.  And im not neccessarily advocating that Tiger is a better player than Jack.  Its impossible to compare two athletes in different periods of time, because golf is not an objective game.  Unlike track and field, accomplishments are relative; you vs. the course, you vs. your competitors, you vs. your inner demons, etc.  Its like posing the question of who is the better fighter, Ali or Tyson in their prime.  We’ll never know.  The same goes for Tiger and Jack.  However, for the sake of the arguement, the development in golf that occurs in the years of 3-10 is small compared to the development between the ages of 20-22.  I didnt start playing until 6, but i know that my 20-22 years were huge in my development as a player, and years 6-10 i could barely swing the club with proper fundamentals.  As for total worldwide wins, he probably wont get to 235.  But he also isnt playing the Euro Tour in the 40s, 50s and 60s, when the competition was sparse at best.  Comparing De Vicenzo to Tiger in the majors, which somewhat equalizes the playing field: Tiger: 11 De Vicenzo: 1… Additionally; yes, Jack was in contention more, but comparing 2nd places is like deciding who the best loser is.  Is that how we evaluate the best player in the history of golf? 

    On another note: I love Jack as a designer, but i wouldn’t use the word nice.  Playing the Nicklaus course at PGA West in the 30 mph trade winds removed that word from my dictionary with respect to his course design.  Cheers.

  8. a few more random thoughts:

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that Tiger will own all the records. But I think people will argue about whether they are as meaningful.

    As for experience at age 20 or 22—remember that Jack didn’t take up golf until he was ten. Tiger had been groomed since he was born.

    So at 20, Tiger had more experience than Jack at 22.  Also, Tiger may have been a lightweight, but Jack was frankly fat. I don’t see that either is important.

    Tiger also has a bit of an advantage over Jack in that he has a target number to pursue. He has always set his sights on winning 18 majors and passing Snead’s 88 wins. He’s also likely to pass Snead’s 135 worldwide wins. But I don’t think he’ll pass Roberto De Vicenzo’s 235 worldwide wins.

    Another statistic I don’t think Tiger will own: Jack finished second in majors 19 times.  Tiger currently has just two second place finishes. He generally either wins in majors or gets left back in the pack. Sadly, we’re not going to see any “Duels In The Sun” with Tiger.


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