Is Tiger the best ever at match play?

Originally Published: September 13, 2006
ESPN.com/GolfDigest.com

He's won three U.S. Amateur titles, two Accenture Match Play Championship crowns and a handful of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup singles matches. Suffice it to say, Tiger Woods is a pretty decent match-play competitor.

But is he the best of all time? And can he add to that stellar record with a victory at this week's HSBC World Match Play Championship in Wentworth, England? Our experts answer those questions and more in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.

Tiger Woods is the best match-play golfer of all time.

Bob Harig, contributor, ESPN.com: FICTION. Woods' match-play success is impressive, including winning six straight USGA events, three juniors and three amateurs. But Bobby Jones won five U.S. Amateurs. And Walter Hagen won five PGA Championships when the tournament was contested at match play. Woods has strong competition for the honor.

Ron Sirak, executive editor, Golf World: FICTION. Although Tiger's record in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior are phenomenal, his Ryder Cup record is mediocre. Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones were the two best match-play competitors.

Jason Sobel, golf editor, ESPN.com: FICTION. Most folks might cite Bobby Jones or Walter Hagen as tops in this particular category and they're probably right, but there's a reason for it: Each of those players (and the dozens of other star golfers who competed in the first half of the century) had more match-play opportunities and therefore won more tournaments in that format. With only two or three match-play options each year, it's tough for Tiger to be considered the best ever.

Brian Wacker, associate editor, GolfDigest.com: FACT. His mediocre record in the Ryder Cup aside, Woods is the only player to ever win three straight U.S. Amateurs. And when it comes to clutch putts and seeing the finish line, there's no one better.

Tiger Woods' current winning streak ranks in his top five accomplishments.

Sobel: FICTION. Impressive? Yes. But let's break it down: There's the 15-stroke win at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open; The Masters scoring record in his first professional major in 1997; those three U.S. Amateur titles; the Tiger Slam of 2000-01; and the streak of making 142 consecutive events. Nope, no room for the current winning streak in there.

Sirak: FACT. Considering where he came from -- rebuilt swing and the death of his father -- this might be his most remarkable, and he's not done yet.

Wacker: FACT It's impressive less so for the fact Tiger has won five straight -- remember, he won six in a row in 1999-2000 -- than it is for the way he's won. Woods has been simply dominant and again has a lot of opponents thinking about second place.

Harig: FACT. You could argue that it ranks second to his winning four straight major championships from 2000-01. Although he won six straight tournaments from 1999 to 2000, this streak includes two major championships and a World Golf event. Throw in his second-place finish at the Western Open to precede the five victories, and this is one heck of a run.

Pick to win -- HSBC World Match Play Championship.

Wacker: TIGER WOODS. The beat(down) goes on for Woods, who is so locked in right now that as soon as he gets out to any sort of lead, his opponents start making too many mistakes.

Sirak: SERGIO GARCIA. Tiger takes a break from winning since this is a non-PGA Tour event and doesn't count toward his streak, and Sergio wins another non-major.

Sobel: ERNIE ELS. He lives on the course, and there's a great story from a few years ago when play was suspended due to rain and he simply walked straight through his backyard and into his house. Here's saying he stays on the course through Sunday this time around.

Harig: ERNIE ELS. The Big Easy has had a rough year, but he's owned this event and lives on the Wentworth course

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