Surprising, because Woods is only 26 years old, been a pro just five-plus seasons. Surprising, because Nelson has seen most of the great players of the 20th century ' Hagen, Sarazen, Jones, Snead, Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino and Watson. Surprising, because some people would consider Nelson and his 11 straight wins in 1945 and his all-time string of 113 times in the money the greatest of all time.
I have seen Tiger play every year since he was 14, said Nelson. And Ive never seen a player at the age of Tiger ' when he was 14 or 16 or 20 or 22 or 26 ' who was as good as Tiger the age he was. Whether or not he is going to beat Nicklaus major record, I dont know and Im sure he doesnt know. But Ill tell you this ' hes working on it. He has a great desire to accomplish things, and I think hes doing a remarkable job of that.
Every era of players has been better than the last one. That doesnt mean that Nelson doesnt believe he couldnt play today ' I dont think Id go broke, he says. But a greater knowledge of golf, of basic anatomy, of the basics of kinetics, and of the increased size of todays players all play a part. And dont tell Byron its all in todays equipment, which Nelson concedes is a big improvement over the equipment he used. The players are simply better today, he says.
There isnt an era in history where the players who came later werent better than the players who came before, he says flatly. He cant see how anyone will be better than Tiger, but he concedes that the generation which follow might produce someone who might be.
Oldtimers will undoubtedly get their dander up when they read this, but Nelson says there isnt any question that Tiger is better than anyone in history. In fact, a man by the name of Davis Love III might be better than him.
I dont think theres been enough said about todays players having learned to hit the ball hard, he said. They hit the ball so much harder than we did. When I played, it was pretty widely acknowledged that a long hitter couldnt play golf. They couldnt chip and putt and hit the finesse shots. You try to tell that to the big hitters today.
I saw a story comparing my swing to Davis Loves. They discovered Davis backswing covered 17 more inches than mine did. That gives him more time to gather clubhead speed and hit the ball hard. Look at (Jeff) Sluman ' hes worked on his swing and hes picked up 18 yards. I realize the equipment has improved some, but it hasnt improved THAT much.
Actually, Nelson wasnt that far behind todays players. Woods finally broke his scoring record by just 0.13. But over the course of a year, Woods would come out on the plus side of anyone in history, Byron believes.
He does the best job (in history) of course management, of knowing what to do and in which circumstance, as anybody I ever saw, Nelson said. And there has never been enough said about his putting skills. He has days when he doesnt putt as well as others, of course. But he has gone 157 holes without three-putting a green at Augusta.
So that tells you theres a lot more involved than just the stroke. That means hes thinking. Hes reading the green right. If you arent reading the green right, you can have the greatest stroke in the world, but you are going to miss.
And another thing about Tiger ' he gets upset sometimes about a shot, but that is over with by the time he hits his next shot. You never see him thinking about the last shot when it comes time for him to play his next one.
The words were spoken from the mouth of one who has seen every great one, who is himself a great one - and yet there wasnt the slightest hesitation. Tiger Woods is the all time greatest.