Tiger vs. Jack, head to head in majors

By Brandel ChambleeJuly 16, 2014, 11:00 am

The late Frank Chirkinian hated it when anyone would try to compare Jack Nicklaus to Ben Hogan. “All comparisons,” he would bellow, referring to those that involved athletes of different generations, “are onerous."

The longtime CBS producer, hailed as the “father of televised golf,” was right, of course. But that has never stopped golf fans from debating who is the greatest of all time. And as Tiger Woods returns to major championship competition with this week’s British Open, resuming his pursuit of Nicklaus’ 18 majors, the debate is officially rekindled.

There are any number of ways to compare Woods and Nicklaus. In this case I have limited the discussion to majors and will focus on the question, “If Jack and Tiger were both in their primes, who wins?”

Neither needed a breaking-in period when it came to majors. Tiger won his first major as a pro, the 1997 Masters, at age 21, destroying the rest of the field by a record 12 shots. Jack won his second major as a pro, the 1962 U.S. Open, at age 22, beating Arnold Palmer in a playoff. So we’ll start the comparison in those years, and compare each man’s first major with the other’s first major, second to second, and so forth.

Photos: Tiger Woods through the years

Photos: Jack Nicklaus through the years

With one exception, that comparison neatly pits Masters against Masters, U.S. Open against U.S. Open, etc., for the first 17 years of each man’s career as a pro – taking Nicklaus to the end of 1978 and Woods to the end of 2013. The exception is 1971, when the PGA Championship was played in February in Florida and was that year’s first major, not its fourth. Because I’m comparing majors by the specific number they were in each man’s career, I have compared the 1971 PGA, Nicklaus’ 37th major, with the 2006 Masters, Woods’ 37th major.

After the 1971-2006 comparisons, the tournaments fall back in line until Woods’ 2008 season, when after winning the U.S. Open, he missed the British Open and PGA while recovering from injury. Obviously Woods should not be punished in this comparison for missing tournaments, so they are not counted in this quest to determine who was more dominant in his era. 

At their best, both were nearly untouchable. Tiger won eight of his first 22 majors; Jack won seven of his first 22. Tiger won four majors in a row from the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2001 Masters, a “Tiger Slam” instead of a Grand Slam only because all four wins did not come in the same calendar year. Nicklaus, though the most consecutive majors he ever won was two, came within a Lee Trevino chip-in of holding all four major titles at the same time in 1972. Nicklaus had won the 1971 PGA, played in February as a concession to the South Florida heat, then added the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open titles. He had the claret jug in his sights at Muirfield, but he finished second by one shot to Trevino, who chipped in on the 71st hole.

In 1963, Jack became, at 23, the youngest to win the Masters. When he won a green jacket again in 1965 by nine shots over Palmer and Gary Player (the only time the Big Three would ever finish in the top three together in a major), he shaved three strokes off the scoring record of 274 set in 1953 by Hogan. Jack broke another Hogan scoring record at the 1967 U.S. Open in winning by four shots over Palmer. In the 70 majors that Jack played from the ’62 Masters to the ’79 U.S. Open, he was out of the top 10 just 16 times while winning 15. 

When Tiger won the 1997 Masters his score of 270 broke by one shot the record that Jack had set in his 1965 rout. Tiger's 15-shot win in the 2000 U.S. Open set a record for widest margin of victory, but his score of 272 only tied the record (since bettered by Rory Mcilroy) that Jack set in the 1980 U.S. Open. When Tiger was 24 he completed the career Grand Slam at the 2000 Open Championship, two years ahead of the age that Jack was when he completed the feat in 1966, also at the Open Championship. Of the 64 majors Tiger has played as a professional, he¹s finished outside of the top 10 some 26 times while winning 14.

Because of injury Tiger has missed six majors spanning from the 1997 Masters to the 2014 U.S. Open, which means Tiger and Jack would've gone “head to head” 64 times in the game's four biggest championships. Jack finished higher 38 times to Tiger's 22, with the two greats tying four times. At his best Tiger might have the slightest edge over Jack in the majors during this time period, but the majority of the time even these two weren't at their best and in that case Jack was easily the winner.

It must be noted that this comparison involves only majors; if you expand it to include regular Tour events Tiger wins easily. He has a career winning percentage of 25 percent; Jack's winning percentage through the end of 1979 was 18 percent. Clearly when it comes to the week-to-week grind of the Tour, Tiger has no equal. I dare say that his winning percentage is the most untouchable of all of his accomplishments. 

It’s tricky comparing athletes from different generations. Even in a sports such as sprinting, where numbers on a stopwatch tell what appears to be a cut-and-dried story, there’s more than meets the eye.

For instance, Usain Bolt is faster than Carl Lewis was and Carl Lewis was faster than Jesse Owens. But the circumstances of a time and generation do not provide a level playing field. Jesse Owens faced more hurdles than the 3 ½-foot-tall barriers on a track. He also had to deal with bigotry, segregation and poverty. When he won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin he single-handedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy. The fact that over his career he didn't win as many medals as Carl Lewis does nothing to convince me that Carl was better. 

Usain Bolt made me look harder at the careers of Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens. While one can point to improvements in technique for the evolution of speed, one can also point to lighter, improved shoes, more aerodynamic clothes and better track conditions, to say nothing of the improvements in nutrition and the effect that has had on the size of athletes. Jesse Owens was 5-10, Carl Lewis is 6-2 and Usain Bolt is 6-5.

But back to golf. The answer to the question, “Who is the greatest of all time?” is “It depends.” In the majors, Jack wins. In the majors with a cutoff of the 2008 U.S. Open, after which Woods began missing tournaments because of injury, It’s dead even. In a particular major where they are both playing their best, Tiger wins in a playoff. At a Farmers Insurance Open or Andy Williams Classic as it was called decades ago or any other regular Tour event, Tiger would've beaten Jack like Jack beat Arnold. 

The Golden Bear would have an encore in the ’80s, winning three more majors to bring his total to 18, a number as well known to golf enthusiasts as the batting average of .406 is to baseball lovers. Tiger is still a man at work. He may yet silence all critics (myself included) who rank him a slim tissue thickness behind Jack with the work he does over the next decade. If he does, it would be to the sport’s utter delight.

Here's a chart of their majors as professionals, in order and head-to-head:

No. Jack's majors Result Tiger's majors Result Better Tally
1 1962 Masters T-15 1997 Masters Won Woods 1-0, Woods
2 1962 U.S. Open Won 1997 U.S. Open T-19 Nicklaus 1-1
3 1962 British  T-34 1997 British T-24  Woods   2-1, Woods
4 1962 PGA T-3   1997 PGA T-29  Nicklaus 2-2 
5 1963 Masters Won (2) 1998 Masters  T-8   Nicklaus 3-2, Nicklaus 
6 1963 U.S. Open MC  1998 U.S. Open  T-18   Woods 3-3 
7 1963 British 3rd  1998 British 3rd  Tie  3-3-1 
8 1963 PGA Won (3) 1998 PGA T-10  Nicklaus  4-3-1, Nicklaus 
9 1964 Masters T-2  1999 Masters  T-18  Nicklaus  5-3-1, Nicklaus 
10 1964 U.S. Open T-23  1999 U.S. Open  T-3  Woods  5-4-1, Nicklaus 
11 1964 British 2nd  1999 British T-7  Nicklaus  6-4-1, Nicklaus 
12 1964 PGA T-2  1999 PGA Won (2) Woods  6-5-1, Nicklaus 
13 1965 Masters Won (4) 2000 Masters  5th  Nicklaus  7-5-1, Nicklaus 
14 1965 U.S. Open T-31  2000 U.S. Open  Won (3) Woods  7-6-1, Nicklaus 
15 1965 British T-12  2000 British Won (4) Woods  7-7-1 
16 1965 PGA T-2  2000 PGA Won (5) Woods  8-7-1, Woods
17 1966 Masters Won (5) 2001 Masters Won (6) Tie  8-7-2, Woods 
18 1966 U.S. Open 3rd  2001 U.S. Open  T-12  Nicklaus  8-8-2 
19 1966 British Won (6) 2001 British T-25  Nicklaus  9-8-2, Nicklaus 
20 1966 PGA T-22  2001 PGA T-29  Nicklaus  10-8-2, Nicklaus 
21 1967 Masters MC 2002 Masters  Won (7) Woods  10-9-2, Nicklaus 
22 1967 U.S. Open Won (7) 2002 U.S. Open  Won (8) Tie  10-9-3, Nicklaus 
23 1967 British 2nd  2002 British T-28  Nicklaus   11-9-3, Nicklaus
24 1967 PGA T-3  2002 PGA 2nd  Woods  11-10-3, Nicklaus 
25 1968 Masters T-5  2003 Masters  T-15  Nicklaus  12-10-3, Nicklaus 
26 1968 U.S. Open 2nd  2003 U.S. Open  T-20  Nicklaus  13-10-3, Nicklaus 
27 1968 British T-2  2003 British T-4  Nicklaus  14-10-3, Nicklaus 
28 1968 PGA MC  2003 PGA T-39  Woods  14-11-3, Nicklaus 
29 1969 Masters T-24  2004 Masters  T-22  Woods  14-12-3, Nicklaus 
30 1969 U.S. Open T-25  2004 U.S. Open  T-17  Woods  14-13-3, Nicklaus 
31 1969 British T-6  2004 British T-9  Nicklaus  15-13-3, Nicklaus 
32 1969 PGA T-11  2004 PGA T-24  Nicklaus   16-13-3, Nicklaus
33 1970 Masters 8th  2005 Masters  Won (9) Woods  16-14-3, Nicklaus 
34 1970 U.S. Open T-49  2005 U.S. Open  2nd  Woods  16-15-3, Nicklaus 
35 1970 British Won (8) 2005 British Won (10) Tie  16-15-4, Nicklaus 
36 1970 PGA T-6  2005 PGA T-4  Woods  16-16-4 
37 1971 PGA Won (9) 2006 Masters  T-3  Nicklaus  17-16-4, Nicklaus 
38 1971 Masters T-2  2006 U.S. Open  MC  Nicklaus  18-16-4, Nicklaus 
39 1971 U.S. Open 2nd  2006 British Won (11) Woods  18-17-4, Nicklaus 
40 1971 British T-5  2006 PGA Won (12) Woods  18-18-4 
41 1972 Masters Won (10) 2007 Masters  T-2  Nicklaus  19-18-4, Nicklaus 
42 1972 U.S. Open Won (11) 2007 U.S. Open  T-2  Nicklaus  20-18-4, Nicklaus 
43 1972 British 2nd  2007 British T-12  Nicklaus  21-18-4, Nicklaus 
44 1972 PGA T-13  2007 PGA Won (13) Woods  21-19-4, Nicklaus 
45 1973 Masters T-3  2008 Masters  2nd  Woods  21-20-4, Nicklaus 
46 1973 U.S. Open T-4  2008 U.S. Open  Won (14) Woods  21-21-4 
47 1973 British 4th  2009 Masters  T-6  Nicklaus  22-21-4, Nicklaus 
48 1974 PGA Won (12) 2009 U.S. Open  T-6  Nicklaus  23-21-4, Nicklaus 
49 1974 Masters  T-4  209 British MC  Nicklaus  24-21-4, Nicklaus 
50 1974 U.S. Open  T-10  2009 PGA 2nd  Woods  24-22-4, Nicklaus 
51 1974 British 3rd  2010 Masters  T-4  Nicklaus 25-22-4, Nicklaus 
52 1974 PGA 2nd  2010 U.S. Open  T-4  Nicklaus  26-22-4, Nicklaus 
53 1975 Masters  Won (13) 2010 British T-23  Nicklaus  27-22-4, Nicklaus 
54 1975 U.S. Open  T-7  2010 PGA T-28  Nicklaus  28-22-4, Nicklaus 
55 1975 British T-3  2011 Masters  T-4  Nicklaus 29-22-4, Nicklaus 
56 1975 PGA Won (14) 2011 PGA MC  Nicklaus  30-22-4, Nicklaus
57 1976 Masters  T-3 2012 Masters  T-40  Nicklaus 31-22-4, Nicklaus
58 1976 U.S. Open  T-11  2012 U.S. Open  T-21  Nicklaus 32-22-4, Nicklaus
59 1976 British T-2 2012 British T-3  Nicklaus  33-22-4, Nicklaus
60 1976 PGA T-4  2012 PGA T-11  Nicklaus  34-22-4, Nicklaus
61 1977 Masters  2nd  2013 Masters  T-4  Nicklaus  35-22-4, Nicklaus
62 1977 U.S. Open  T-10  2013 U.S. Open  T-32  Nicklaus  36-22-4, Nicklaus
63 1977 British 2nd  2013 British T-6  Nicklaus  37-22-4, Nicklaus
64 1977 PGA 3rd  2013 PGA T-40  Nicklaus  38-22-4, Nicklaus
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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.