Wednesday, June 22, 2016

There Is No "Next Tiger"

As all golf fans know, at the age of 21, Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters in record-breaking fashion.  At the age of 32, he won the 2008 US Open in an 18 hole playoff while, oh yeah, playing on a broken leg.  In that span of time, forty-six of golf's major championships were contested, and Woods won fourteen of them, or 30% of them.

Nobody would have predicted that that '08 Open would have been Woods' last major championship, and while I will "never say never" where Woods is concerned, it must be conceded that with each passing year that does appear to be the case. Also with each passing year, the clamor arises as to who will be the "next Tiger".  

Time for The Grandstander to open up a spreadsheet.

US Open
British Open

Padraig Harrington
Padraig Harrington
Angel Cabrera
Lucas Glover
Stewart Cink
Yang Yong-eun
Phil Mickelson
Graeme McDowell
Louis Oosthuizen
Martin Kaymar
Charl Schwartzel
Rory McIlroy
Darren Clarke
Keegan Bradley
Bubba Watson
Webb Simpson
Ernie Els
Rory McIlroy
Adam Scott
Justin Rose
Phil Mickelson
Jason Duffner
Bubba Watson
Martin Kaymar
Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy
Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth
Zach Johnson
Jason Day
Danny Willett
Dustin Johnson

As you can see, the chart above represents each of the twenty-eight Majors played since Woods' Open win in 2008.  There have been thirty-two of them that have been spread out among twenty-two different winning players.  Six of them - Padraig Harrington, Phil Mickelson, Martin Kaymar, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, and Jordan Spieth - have been multiple winners, with McIlroy winning four of them, and each of the others winning twice.

McIlroy was the first obvious Next Tiger candidate, winning four majors in the span of four years, but he hasn't won since, and when he has been in contention after three rounds, he has spit the bit and not been close, often fading dramatically, as he did in this past Masters. Jordan Spieth appears to be the next most obvious candidate.  He has won twice in the last six tries and has been in contention in five of them.  Others like Jason Day and Dustin Johnson appear to be on the verge of superstardom, Day, in fact, is already there.  All four of those guys are young enough to be factors in and winners of Majors for years to come, but do you really think that they will accomplish what Woods did over a twelve year span of competing in Majors?  Again, "never say never", but I certainly wouldn't bet on it.

Two of the names on the chart above, Ernie Els and Mickelson, won additional Majors outside of the time frame of the chart.  Phil won five of them, Ernie won four.  Mickelson is undoubtedly the single greatest "other" golfer of the Woods Era, and Els is certainly in that same discussion, but they finish far down the track from Tiger when the tally of Majors is viewed.  In fact, going back to a point made in the prior paragraph, I'd say it's a good chance that neither McIlroy nor Spieth will surpass Mickelson's career total of five majors.

The point, if there is one, is that it is extremely hard to win a professional golf tournament.  You have to be better than over 140 other players over a four day period of time.  You have no team mates to block for you, get on base in front of you, or to set you up and feed you that ball or the puck. Sometimes you might get lucky, like Yang Yong-eun did back in 2009 (I mean, do you remember that he won the PGA that year, and have you ever heard of him since?), and there are some other One Hit Wonders that come along (Lucas Glover, Keegan Bradley)  It is real crucible out there, and with each passing year of Tiger not winning, his accomplishments in that twelve year span become more and more remarkable.

My conclusion - there is no "next Tiger", and if there is, I will be a very, very old man when I see him (and I'm old now!).

One final point for this little bar room argument.  Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors beginning with the 1962 US Open and ending with the 1986 Masters.  That was a total of 92 Majors during that span.  Jack's winning percentage was 20%, compared to Tiger's 30%.  If you tell me that Nicklaus was the greatest golfer of all time, I won't argue with you, and I would probably agree with you, but if you tell me that he was more dominant that Woods during their times on Golf's main stage, I might argue with you, although I would also grant you that Nicklaus nineteen second place finishes in Majors are a huge point in Jack's favor.

Just a little something to think over as we await the The Open Championship next month.

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