Comparing Tiger and Jack ...

Originally Published: January 6, 2004
By David Lefort | ESPN.com

How does Tiger stack up to Jack? It's the comparison Tiger Woods will live with for the next 20 years -- or until he wins 19 majors.

Jack Nicklaus
Nicklaus

Tiger Woods
Woods

Jack Nicklaus is the gold standard for major championship golf. He has seven more majors than anyone else in history, and his total of 18 is the number Woods has made his career goal to surpass. His Holy Grail.

Where does Tiger stand in that quest after his eighth season as a professional? Comparing their first eight years, Woods has a leg up on Nicklaus in almost every category: eight majors compared to seven, 39 PGA Tour victories compared to 29. Nicklaus' start had been the best in the history of the sport. Until Tiger. By our projection (we'll explain our method below), Woods will finish his career with 23 majors, five more than Nicklaus.

The X-factor in this equation is longevity. Sure, Woods got a better start out of the blocks than Nicklaus, but will he be able to stay as consistent over such a long period of time? Because he peaked earlier than Nicklaus, will Woods also begin to slide back to the pack earlier? Will evolving equipment technology allow him to contend into his 50s? Those are questions no crunching of numbers can answer with any certainty.

What a close examination of the numbers will do, however, is identify trends. For example, Woods has gone six majors without winning one, having just finished his first season without major hardware since 1998. Similarly, Nicklaus went a span of three years (12 majors) without any Grand Slam victories at about the same point in his career. When he ended the drought at the 1970 British Open, it kicked off a streak of nine straight major finishes in the top 6 and an amazing 33 straight in the top 13. He won four in that span.

Here's how their career numbers break down:

  THROUGH FIRST 8 YEARS AS PRO
THROUGH 25 YEARS
Category Tiger Woods Jack Nicklaus Tiger (projected*) Nicklaus (actual)
PGA Tour events played 145 184 453 457
Wins 39 (27 percent) 29 (16 percent) 119 (26 percent) 73 (16 percent)
Top-3 finishes 62 (43 percent) 70 (38 percent) 182 (40 percent) 162 (35 percent)
Top-10 finishes 94 (65 percent) 114 (62 percent) 281 (62 percent) 273 (60 percent)
Majors played 34** 40** 102 108
Major wins 8 (24 percent) 7 (18 percent) 23 (23 percent) 18 (17 percent)
Top-3 major finishes 11 (32 percent) 19 (48 percent) 28 (27 percent) 46 (43 percent)
Top-10 major finishes 16 (47 percent) 23 (58 percent) 56 (55 percent) 70 (65 percent)
Majors before career slam 21 27
Major drought? 6 ('02-?)
Years 7-?
12 ('67-'70)
Years 6-9
Money titles 5 3 14 8
Earnings $39.7 million $996,521 Unprojectable $5,723,192***
*-Our method: We compared Nicklaus' first eight seasons to his final 17 full years on the PGA Tour, measuring the change in percentage in each category to help project Woods' numbers over a similar 25-year span. Why 25 years? Nicklaus won his last tournament -- the 1986 Masters -- in his 25th season, which was the last one in which he'd play more than 11 PGA Tour events.

We applied any slowing (or increase) in production by Nicklaus over the second half of his career to Woods, giving him a similar drop (or increase) in production over the final 17 years of his career. For example, if Nicklaus won 5 percent fewer tournaments over the last 17 years of his career than his first eight, we'll assume Tiger will win 5 percent fewer tournaments over his last 17 years than his first eight as well. It's far from a perfect indicator, but it should get us in the ballpark.

**- includes majors played as an amateur.
***- career PGA Tour earnings.


David Lefort is the golf editor for ESPN.com, and can be reached at david.m.lefort@espn3.com.

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