Who is golf's Peyton Manning?

2/8/2007 - Golf

Who knew they still played football in the middle of golf season?

While much of the world was engrossed in the Colts and Bears, Jason Sobel and Bob Harig were paying attention to the PGA Tour -- and saw some interesting parallels between some golfers and gridiron guys.

Sobel: Hey Bob, hope you had a great Super Sunday. I was glued to the TV, watching Henrik Stenson beat Ernie Els and Tiger Woods in Dubai, then catching Aaron Baddeley come from behind to nip Jeff Quinney at the FBR Open. Unfortunately, there was no Champions or Nationwide event to round out the day, so I put on some little football game instead, as Peyton Manning played the role of Phil Mickelson in the 2004 Masters. You know the story: Great player can't win the big one. Great player criticized for not winning the big one. Great player finally wins the big one. Meanwhile, Rex Grossman looked like Quinney over the last few holes; not only did he not do enough to win, he did just enough to ensure an L.

Harig: If you are comparing Manning to Mickelson, does that mean that Peyton has another Super Bowl in the bag if he can just run out the clock, only to throw a pick that's returned for the winning touchdown? Would that be his Winged Foot? And to further the comparison … does it mean that Manning begins the following season on the bench, as is seemingly the case this year with Mickelson through three events?

Sobel: I'm not so sure Mickelson is on the bench right now -- after all, he is playing, just not very well -- but sure, if Manning came out next year and led the Colts to a 1-5 start to the season, then I could see the parallels. What's interesting is that golf doesn't have many other figures who are in the same situation. Almost every great player either has a major victory or is young enough that we have yet to stamp him with the BPTNWAM label that Mickelson held for so long. The only guy I see needing to vindicate his career with a major title is Colin Montgomerie, though he may be a better comparison to Jerome Bettis last year -- an aging veteran who finally wins the big one -- than Manning, who's still in his prime.

Harig: I agree that Monty deserves his own special category, but don't forget about Sergio Garcia, who is still young enough to get the benefit of the doubt but has also been around long enough and with plenty of misfires to make you wonder. As hard as it is to believe, Sergio is in his eighth full season -- that's one less than Manning -- and also came along with great promise, mostly because he contended in a major championship at age 19. He's also won enough times around the world and been highly ranked for long enough for us to consider him someone who should be winning the biggest tournaments.

Sobel: That comparison has so many faults that I'm not even sure where to begin. Sure, Garcia has played almost as many professional years as Manning, but the similarities end there. Perhaps if Peyton had quarterbacked the Colts into the AFC Championship game as a college sophomore, it would work. Or maybe if we knew he'd have the ability to still contend for Super Bowls when he was 40, 45 years old, then we could see the parallels. But at 30, Manning (like most NFL players at that age) is heading into the back nine of his career, whereas Garcia still has so much time left to prove himself.

Harig: I would argue that Manning has a lot of time left, maybe another 10 years. The guy has barely been nicked in his career. He's never been injured, never missed a game, heck never even missed a practice. So, like Sergio, I'd say he has plenty more chances. But really, you can't compare. Manning, like Dan Marino before him, needed a team around him to win the ultimate prize. Garcia only has himself to worry about, save for a good caddie and coach -- which it could be argued are overrated in golf. He also has come along at a time when Tiger Woods has made it difficult to win majors -- not that Garcia has put himself in position very often. That is probably the biggest factor, giving himself the chance. He needs to do that more often.

Sobel: Wow, you were going all John Clayton on me for a minute there. And maybe you should stick to the football analysis, because I'm not buying your claims about Garcia feeling the pressure. How about Adam Scott? He's only six months younger -- and probably a better overall player than Sergio -- does he get a free pass? What about Luke Donald? Or Trevor Immelman? Let's let these guys grow into becoming major winners before we anoint them the next failures of a generation so quickly.

Harig: Hey, nobody's saying they are failures. But they do put their names on their bags and they do proclaim to be players who aspire to be the best. And it only stands to reason that they will ultimately be judged by their success in the four biggest tournaments. No doubt, Woods has skewed this whole thing. He has won so much and so often, any comparisons are unfair. And it is true that golfers, usually, take time to develop. All of these guys have time. But a guy like Adam Scott is ranked third in the world and has how many victories again? Garcia didn't win anywhere last year except at the Ryder Cup -- a team event. Maybe he should have played football. Or should I say soccer?

Sobel: Even Peyton Manning's Colts were able to get past Tom Brady's three-time Super Bowl champion Patriots and eventually win a title, just as Mickelson was able to find his championships during this Tiger Woods Era. Garcia and Scott and other young players -- hey, maybe even Monty! -- will find their success, too. They (and we) just have to be patient.