Alternate Shot: Tiger's biggest rival

Originally Published: March 14, 2005
ESPN.com/Golf World

In September, Tiger Woods battled Vijay Singh in a Labor Day final pairing at the Deutsche Bank Championship. That round became a passing of the torch, as Singh won the event and stole the title of No. 1-ranked golfer from Woods, who had owned it for 264 consecutive weeks.

Two weeks ago, Tiger reclaimed the throne in another memorable final-round pairing. Woods bested Phil Mickelson at Doral in historic fashion.

And yet, despite the competition Woods has received from Singh and Mickelson, perhaps neither one is his main competition. ESPN.com's Bob Harig and Golf World's Ron Sirak have different takes on just who is Tiger's biggest rival.

Who is Tiger Woods' biggest rival?
JACK NICKLAUS

Going back to the time when Tiger Woods won seven of 11 major championships, it was clear that his lone true rival in the game would be Jack Nicklaus -- the man whose record he is chasing.

And even 10 victory-less majors later, that still remains the case. At age 29, Tiger trails the Golden Bear by 10 majors. The record that seemed preordained just three years ago is now quite the challenge. And yet, it is quite doable, too.

Yes, Woods has those who have stepped up to challenge him. There was David Duval and Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen and Ernie Els and Mickelson and Singh. All have been or remain formidable foes. All have played and could still play a big role in whether Woods chases down Nicklaus and his 18 major titles.

But it is no different from the challengers Nicklaus had in his day. While stalking greatness, Nicklaus had to deal with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and Billy Casper and Lee Trevino and Hale Irwin and Johnny Miller and Tom Watson. Some have argued that Nicklaus had it tougher than Woods, that Nicklaus' competition was winning majors, too.

And there is some truth to that. Since Woods won the Masters in 1997, only Singh has managed to win three majors in the time that Woods has won eight. Els has two (and three overall), as does Goosen. The only other player with multiple majors in that period is Woods' pal Mark O'Meara, no longer a threat. It is interesting to note that since Woods won his last major at the 2002 U.S. Open, 10 majors have passed -- and they have been won by 10 different players.

So it is difficult to argue that any one player has stepped up to become Woods' major rival. They all have taken their shots, and they likely will take more. But Woods is playing against Jack and history, making Nicklaus his true rival.

-- Bob Harig
ESPN.com

TIGER WOODS

If not from the moment Tiger Woods teed it up for the first time as a professional in the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open, then certainly beginning with his first PGA Tour victory in just his fifth start, his main rival has been history. And the only obstacle to Woods completely rewriting the record book is his own desire. There will always be players who can beat him, but no one who can beat him with any consistency. At his best, Tiger is simply the best.

Take the 2-foot putt Vijay Singh missed on the second playoff hole of the Honda Classic. Have you ever seen Woods do that in that situation?

In any sport, it is difficult to discuss the "best ever" question because generational differences bring so many things into consideration, including equipment, conditioning and, in the case of baseball, having your head suddenly become the size of Cleveland. What we can discuss is the best of each generation. In golf, we have Harry Vardon at the turn of the century, followed by Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones in the 1920s (because one was a pro and the other an amateur, it is difficult to decide definitively between them), followed by Ben Hogan and Nicklaus.

The best of this generation is Tiger Woods, and the best we can hope for -- for the time being, at least -- is a rival by committee. There is no one player currently competing who can stand up to him. At 29, Tiger can continue to dominate for another decade as long as the fire within him continues to run hot.

-- Ron Sirak
Golf World

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