- Jason Sobel, Senior Golf Writer
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MEDINAH, Ill. -- It is the autumn of '76. In a modest house on the outskirts of Los Angeles, Earl Woods bounces baby son Eldrick on his lap. The youngster won't sit still, can't sit still. Dad knows the trick. He places the boy he calls Tiger into a highchair and convenes to the garage in search of a new toy.
The golf clubs, the golf clubs ... where did he put them? Must have left 'em at the club again. No matter. Earl pulls a wooden tennis racquet from a duffle bag and returns to the living room. He places the oversized Bjorn Borg Pro model into Tiger's hands and watches with gratification as the boy swats everything in the house with a nice smooth forehand.
Earl smiles. He has a plan. Over the next few years, he teaches his son the nuances of the serve-and-volley, the timing of a proficient lob shot. Tiger becomes good at the sport. Very good. Dominating.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Flash forward almost 30 years and you'll see Tiger Woods, no longer a boy, but a fully formed tennis champion. John McEnroe says he wishes he'd had half the talent. Pete Sampras calls him the best he's ever seen. On the verge of his 12th major championship at Flushing Meadows, Woods has turned the world of professional tennis into his own personal playground, made the sport eminently watchable, yet all the while predictable. After all, he always wins.
Meanwhile, the sport of golf is booming in its own way. This other individual country club pursuit has no Woods, but what it lacks in Q-rating it more than makes up for with edge-of-the-seat excitement. Never have there been so many tightly contested major championships, so much drama on Sunday afternoon.
Take the just-completed PGA Championship, for example. We're used to watching major champions falter under final-round pressure and 2003 champion Shaun Micheel was hardly exempt from such a feeling, stumbling home with a bogey on the final hole, yet still claiming his second Wanamaker Trophy in four years.
Plenty of red numbers littered the leaderboard at relatively benign Medinah Country Club, though certainly Micheel's final tally of 13-under 275 was the lowest score any player could have possibly hoped to achieve. In doing so, he held off a trio of young challengers who finished one spot further back. Twenty-somethings Adam Scott, Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia ended the weekend in a share of second place, once again proving the notion that the sport's future rests in the capable hands of the next generation.
Garcia became the youngest major champion since Young Tom Morris took the British Open in 1868 when he won the PGA Championship as a 19-year-old here at Medinah seven years ago. Though he fell agonizingly short this week, the 26-year-old Spaniard is considered the world's best player under the age of 35 and will assuredly claim more major championships in coming years.
Perhaps the biggest story to come out of Sunday's competition was Chris DiMarco's failure to run up the leaderboard. The reigning British Open champion, who also captured last year's Masters, finished the tournament in a share of 11th place, five shots behind Micheel.
Two strokes further back were proven contenders Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, five- and four-time major champions, respectively. Despite winning only one major this season, Mickelson remains the game's top player, according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Of course, none of the aforementioned men will ever catch Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 major championship titles is a record that will stand for all of time. In an age when golf owned little parity, the Golden Bear was an unparalleled performer, the rarest combination of power and finesse, brute strength and mental acumen. Nicklaus could outthink his opponents around a golf course like no player since, and his 1986 Masters victory remains the second-most goosebump-inducing performance of the past 20 years, surpassed only by Tom Kite slipping on the green jacket at age 47 in 1997.
Ah, how times have changed since Jack's era. Six golfers have combined to win the previous eight major championships. Four men have held the No. 1 ranking this decade.
Which makes us think: Is it more beneficial for a sport to have parity or domination? Sure, golf's major championships are always a roller coaster of activity, but the best tennis events -- read: the ones in which Woods competes -- draw front-page headlines, sell out their tickets and earn five times the television ratings of a top golf tournament.
Maybe golf can have the best of both worlds. One commanding talent who is truly superior to his peers, plus a bevy of competitive contenders, each of whom could hold his own against the master on a given week, but would ultimately fail in any long-term confrontations.
The vanquisher would win multiple majors in a season, annually be selected the Player of the Year and -- dare we say it? -- even challenge Nicklaus' crown as the greatest golfer of all-time.
Too bad there's only one man in the world who is that dominant. And he plays tennis.
Now, if we could only find a Tiger Woods for golf. Wouldn't that be something?
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com