Archive for Sunday, July 24, 2005

Commentary: Tiger’s rivals are no match for Jack’s

With 10 major championships and counting, it’s just matter of time before Woods passes Nicklaus

July 24, 2005


— Jack Nicklaus won 18 major titles, one of golf's greatest feats, but he also finished second 19 times.

So other players were beating him. Gary Player captured nine majors, Tom Watson won eight, Arnold Palmer had seven and Lee Trevino six.

All were rivals to Nicklaus.

With Tiger Woods winning his 10th major at age 29, he is in hot pursuit of the Golden Bear's record.

So where are his rivals?

When Woods went through his lull while making swing changes, it appeared the gap had closed. But as simple as 1-2-1, Woods is back in major domination mode.

He won the Masters, finished second at the U.S. Open and overwhelmed in a five-shot victory at the British Open. Heading to the PGA Championship, you might wonder if Woods' rivals are capable of taking that next step because the gap is widening, and quickly.

Woods totally committed to a swing overhaul after going on the most dominant run in history. If he has improved, and there's no reason to think otherwise, then Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Retief Goosen better worry.

Those players are capable of beating Woods, but their impact on the majors has been minimal. They have combined for nine major titles, or one fewer than Woods.

During Woods' 10-majors winless streak, his fellow Big Five members claimed one major apiece, including Mickelson's first. First-time major winners got the others.

True, it's much more difficult to win because of the depth of talent. But all things being relative, Woods is winning majors significantly quicker than the Golden Bear. With 10 majors in 35 professional starts, Woods is on pace to catch Nicklaus in seven years.

Woods has rivals, but nobody he consistently trades punches with in majors. When Nicklaus finished second, it was usually to a rival. Nicklaus' prime rivals each won at least five majors. Singh and Els lead the current crew with three.

Since 1999, Woods has won nine majors. The only other multiple major winners are Singh and Goosen with two each.

"Right now, there's a generation where there's about five guys," Woods said last week. "There's myself, there's Vijay, there's Phil, there's Ernie, there's Goose."

Sure, Singh overtook the No. 1 spot in the World Ranking and posted nine wins last season, but he has only one major title in the last five years.

Mickelson was terrific last season, breaking through at the Masters and coming close in the others. Els suffered heartbreak by falling one stroke short of Mickelson at the Masters, losing to Todd Hamilton in the British Open playoff and then finishing one shot out of the PGA Championship playoff. Goosen won the U.S. Open.

This season, Woods' resurgence coincides with subpar major performances from his rivals. Singh has finished in the top 10 in each, but no higher than a tie for fifth. Goosen shot 81 to blow a three-shot lead at the U.S. Open and went backward again with a 74 on Sunday at the British Open. Mickelson, with a best of 10th, has been a non-factor in Grand Slam events.


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