I think this would be a fitting time, in the week in which Tiger Woods makes a move with his coaching situation to look at how Tiger’s major record stacks up against Jack Nicklaus’ record. The Tiger Era is over, for the most part. So let’s take a look
Numbers – Tiger’s Fields Were Not “Better & Deeper” Than Nicklaus’ Were
Here’s something you won’t find Charlie Rymer, Frank Nobilo or Kelly Tilghman yelling about:
Finally someone had the wherewithal to do some number-crunching to put to rest the old canard that even if he never wins 18 majors, Tiger Woods is still better than Jack Nicklaus because Tiger won his majors against “better players” and “deeper fields.”
Of course, it’s probably the geniuses at The Golf Channel who began this as they searched for ways to proclaim Tiger “The Best Ever!” even before he passed Nicklaus’ mark.
But it ain’t so, I’m going to report. I just came across an article “The Myth of Deeper PGA Tour Fields During Tiger Woods’ Era” in the online Bleacher Report.
Says contributor Mike Lynch:
Arguing that fields are significantly deeper today than during the Nicklaus era has no basis in statistical reality. If fields today are so much stronger, a greater number of golfers should be winning in a season. However the statistics say that is not the case…
The time periods being compared are 1962-1972 and 1997-2007. In 1962, Jack Nicklaus won his first major championship, a U.S. Open in which he defeated Arnold Palmer in a playoff at Oakmont. Tiger Woods won his first major at the Masters in 1997, obliterating the field in a 12 stroke victory…
Percentage-wise, the eras are extremely close. Dividing the winners number by the total tournaments gives us 69% for the Nicklaus era and 71% for the Tiger era. To further clarify, if 100 tournaments were played in the Nicklaus era, you would likely see 69 different winners. In the Tiger era you would likely see 71 different winners over 100 tournaments…
As for the number of total major champions over these time spans: The Nicklaus era saw seven different Masters champions, eight U.S. Open Champions, nine British Open champions and nine PGA Champions. The Tiger era saw seven Masters champions, nine U.S. Open champions, nine British Open champions and seven PGA Championship winners. One more total than the Nicklaus era.
So, there you have it. And guess what? For the “deeper fields” guys, these numbers show that Jack Nicklaus was better than Tiger is – he beat guys who had won 5, 6 and 7 & 8 majors during his career and won more majors than them while he did it.
During Tiger’s era, you have Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh having won 4 majors each. Padraig Harrington has 3. (*Note on August 30 2014 – Padraig shouldn’t even have been in here, since he won 2 of his 3 in ’08, outside the period, but I’m looking at total majors, and Phil also now has 5 total) So, Tiger’s won less majors than Jack to date, and he’s won his majors against fields that didn’t have 5, 6 and 7 & 8 major winners.
And there haven’t been “more players” good enough to win, as 69% to 71% is a statistical tie for all intents and purposes.
Get it? The best guys back then were better than the best guys from this era, and Jack beat them all for 18 majors and 70+ wins.
Add to that, how many of Tiger’s tournament wins have come from reduced-field events, further reducing the competition in the field (and don’t tell me you don’t remember Beem beating Tiger in ’02, Michael Campbell in ’05 or Y.E. Yang in ’09 – any person in the field can win it, and less people in the tournament increases the odds for the eventual winner).
Not much else to say, except that Jack Nicklaus was the man.
And still is…
At the end of the day, your personal affection or preference for or admiration for either of them shouldn’t be the factor in who’s considered the Greatest of All Time. That should be determined by factors that can be measured, and by standards that you won’t shift just to make your guy the best.
According to tradition for years, majors determined greatness.
And Jack still holds the most majors.