At the conclusion of last week's PGA Championship, my friend Joe Risacher made an observation on Facebook, and I am not quoting exactly, to the effect of "Is it time to start comparing Rory McIlroy to Tiger Woods and the race to catch Jack Nicklaus?"
Well, thanks to that seed planted by Joe, I decided to do a little research, and away we go....
Rory McIlroy is playing the 2014 season at the age of 25 (hereafter referred to as the "25 Year Old Season"). So far, McIlroy has accumulated 9 PGA Tour victories, and 4 Major Championships. He also has six other professional victories world wide, for a total of 15 professional victories. No one would dispute that this is very impressive, and he still has a chance to add to those totals in his 25 Year Old Season.
Tiger Woods 25 Year Old Season was 2001. When that season was over, Woods had 29 PGA Tour victories, and 6 Majors. His career totals in these categories are 79 and 14, respectively. Woods has also added an additional 27 other wins world wide, for a total of 106 in all (I do not know how many of those twenty-seven wins were by the age of 25).
So, doing the simple arithmetic, to catch Woods over the next 13 years (Tiger is now in his 38 Year Old season), McIlroy will have to rack up another 70 PGA Tour wins and 10 Majors wins. Because he plays much of his schedule between both the American and European Tours, and this could change, he is simply not going to win 70 more times. As for ten more Majors in that time, well, that could happen, but would you bet on it?
And what about Nicklaus, the guy they are both chasing?
By the end of his 25 Year Old Season, 1965, Jack had 17 Tour wins and 4 Majors. He would go on to win 73 total tour wins and, we all know, 18 majors. He won his last Major, the 1986 Masters, at age 46. This was also his last Tour victory as well.
Nicklaus also went on the play a bit on the Senior Tour, but not as full time Geezer Golfer. He won a total of ten senior tournaments, and eight of those were Senior Major Championships. Jack pretty much saw that he could dominate the Seniors when and if he chose to do so, and then hung up his clubs as a serious competitive golfer.
Arbitrarily, let's say that Rory will win five more Majors over the next three seasons, not unreasonable given how he has played this summer, but no sure thing, either. That will give him nine Majors by age 28, and at that time we can start the -can-he-catch-Jack discussions seriously. Even then, the odds against him will be long (Exhibit One to support this statement: Tiger Woods, himself!)
And what about the all-time "standings" of Majors winners? Take a look:
Jack Nicklaus 18
Tiger Woods 14
Walter Hagen 11
Ben Hogan, Gary Player 9
Tom Watson 8
Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Harry Vardon 7
(By the way, the one name on that list that all but serious golf history nerds have forgotten is Walter Hagen, and he may well have been the most interesting and most colorful guy of anyone else on the list. Look it up if you don't believe me.)
So, even if you give McIlroy his five additional Majors as speculated above, he would be tied for fourth all time, and in some VERY exclusive company, even if he doesn't match Nicklaus and Woods.
- No one is going to catch and surpass Nicklaus' 18 Majors records.
- Woods will catch and surpass the record of 82 PGA Tour wins, held by Snead, which isn't the record he wants, but will be a gold standard in and of itself. And one of those wins might even be another Major Championship, but he is running out of time to win five more of those.
- The greatest professional golfers of all time are Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. I could be talked into supporting either one of them for the honor, depending on what argument you make.
- Rory McIlroy may well be in the discussion one day, but let's wait anther 3-5 years before we begin making that argument.
One final word about the guy who may well be everybody's favorite golfer, Arnold Palmer. I don't believe that anyone would argue that Arnie was the greatest golfer of all time, but a case can be made that he was and is the most important golfer of all time (I'll bet even Jack Nicklaus would agree on that one.) That, however, is a subject for another post.