Woods vs Nicklaus: Another way to compare them

By Joe PosnanskiJune 16, 2013, 12:57 am

ARDMORE, Pa. – An interesting question came up the other day: Most golf fans know that Jack Nicklaus did not only win 18 major championships, he also finished second 19 times. It’s an amazing but curious thing – what does it mean? Nicklaus just put himself in position time after time after time after time. This led to remarkable victories. It also led to spectacular heartbreak.

These 19 runner-ups included:

1960 U.S. Open: As an amateur, Nicklaus finished second to Arnold Palmer, who came from seven shots back. After the round, Ben Hogan, who played with Nicklaus, famously said: “I played with a kid today who should have won this thing by 10 shots.”

1971 U.S. Open: Here at Merion, lost to Lee Trevino in an 18-hole playoff. Nicklaus missed a 15-foot birdie putt that would have won it on the 72nd hole.

1972 British Open: Nicklaus had won the first two legs of the Grand Slam, and went into Sunday’s Open at Muirfield trailing Trevino by six shots. Then he put on one of the greatest British Open charges ever, shooting 6 under par for the first 15 holes to pull himself to the top of the leaderboard. He shot 1 over on the final three holes and lost to Trevino by a shot.

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1974 PGA Championship: Trevino got him again, this time by a shot at Tanglewood Park in North Carolina.

1977 Masters: And now it was Tom Watson’s turn – he birdied the 17th to take a one-shot lead. Nicklaus, needing birdie on 18 to force a playoff, bogeyed the hole instead.

1977 British Open: The Duel in the Sun at Turnberry is probably the greatest man-to-man duel in golf history. Nicklaus and Watson were 10 shots clear of the field as they entered the last two holes. Nicklaus’ birdie at 18 from the rough was one of golf’s most spectacular finishes, but Watson birdied the hole himself by hitting a 7-iron 2 feet from the cup, and won by a shot.

1982 U.S. Open: Watson. Pebble Beach. The chip.

1983 PGA Championship: One more time, at age 43, Nicklaus make a spectacular charge, shooting 66 on Sunday, but fell one shot short of Hal Sutton at Riviera.

For the record, Nicklaus finished second at the Masters four times, the U.S. Open four times, the British Open seven times (!) and the PGA four times.

To the question: Do all those close misses add to Nicklaus’ case for greatest player of all time? Do they subtract from the case? Do they spotlight his extraordinary constancy and will or do they show that he was not as great a finisher as Tiger Woods? Or neither? Do those second places have no impact at all on the case?

So much of the Tiger Woods vs. Jack Nicklaus debate has revolved around those 18 major-championship victories. When the young Tiger Woods had that Nicklaus poster on his wall, that was the number he focused on – major championships won. In so many ways, the history battle between them has come down to simple scoreboard watching. Woods has 14 majors. Nicklaus won 18. Can Woods catch him? Will Nicklaus hold on?

But, as we are finding out again this week at the U.S. Open, there’s a more subtle difference between Nicklaus and Woods – one that, I readily admit, might not matter at all to you. Nicklaus had 19 second-place finishes. Woods, so far, has had six.

Who cares about second place? Maybe nobody. But it’s part of a story. Woods has never come from behind to win a major championship (he almost did when he birdied the last four holes at the 2002 PGA, almost catching Rich Beem). He has also, with only one exception, never allowed anyone else to come from behind to beat him. He has rarely, if ever, had his heart broken at a major (maybe the Beem loss). And he has never broken someone else’s heart. If he’s in position to win it, he wins it, the surest bet in the history of the game. The rest of the time, he just kind of lingers around, just out of reach.

This will be the 20th consecutive major championship that Tiger Woods will not win – Woods missed four of those tournaments with injuries – and of those 20, he really was in position to win only one. Well, quickly, here’s a recap (for a more in-depth look, see Jason Sobel’s fine recap):

2008 British: Missed with injury.

2008 PGA: Missed with injury.

2009 Masters: T-6, bogey-bogey finish but probably wasn’t going to win anyway.

2009 U.S. Open: T-6, terrible first round ended hopes.

2009 British: Missed cut. Tom Watson almost won at age 59.

2009 PGA: Second; this was the one heartbreak. Y.E. Yang chipped in for eagle at 14 and Woods, for the only time in his career, lost a lead going into the final round at a major.

2010 Masters: T-4, first major after the scandal, played well but was no factor on Sunday, five shots behind Phil Mickelson.

2010 U.S. Open: T-4, looked in position for Sunday charge but flamed out with 75.

2010 British Open: T-23, no factor at St. Andrews, where he had won twice before.

2010 PGA: T-28, no factor.

2011 Masters: T-4, Woods makes a rare Sunday charge at a major and actually ties for the lead at the turn, but his momentum stalls and he finishes four back.

2011 U.S. Open: Missed with injury.

2011 British Open: Missed with injury.

2011 PGA: Missed cut. Shot 77 on opening day. Looked lost.

2012 Masters: T-40, no factor.

2012 U.S. Open: T-21, was tied for the lead the first two days but miserable 25-hole stretch beginning Saturday knocked him out.

2012 British: T-3, but a triple bogey on Sunday – one where Woods made rare mental errors – cost him any chance.

2012 PGA: T-11, once more led after two rounds, once more flailed on weekend and finished 11 shots behind Rory McIlroy.

2013 Masters: T-4, another good but not great performance, he was never in a threatening position on Sunday.

And that takes us to this year’s U.S. Open, where Woods has never looked comfortable. Even so, he started the day just off the leaderboard, and he birdied the first hole, and then he utterly collapsed. He missed putts. He flubbed chips. He shot 6 over for the day, he’s out of the tournament, 10 shots behind Phil Mickelson, and he admits being frustrated. “I’m playing well enough to do it,” he said, “and, unfortunately, just haven’t got it done.”

So, that makes 20 majors, and if you’re being honest about it he was really only in general position to win two or three coming into Sunday. He was only a serious contender on the back nine in one.

But does that matter? Do close calls add to your legacy or detract from it? Here’s a fun statistic for you:

In the 1970s, Nicklaus finished first or second in 15 of the 40 major championships, which is amazing.

In the 2000s, Tiger Woods finished first or second in, yes, 15 of the 40 major championships, which is probably even more amazing considering the depth of talent.

The difference? In the 1970s, Nicklaus finished out of the top 10 only five times. The whole decade. He was just about always a factor. He was as invariable and inevitable as weather in San Diego.

Woods, meanwhile, finished out of the top 10 13 times in his decade, not even counting the tournaments he missed for injury. When he was on his game, he was money, he was a lock. Nobody could beat him at his best. But when he was off, even if only off a bit, he was often not in the thick of things. He was just off.

This major drought for Tiger, believe it or not, is now as long as the drought from Nicklaus’ PGA Championship in 1980 to his miraculous Masters victory at age 46.  People were saying during that time that Nicklaus was done. Nobody’s saying that about Tiger. He’s still, clearly, the best golfer in the world.

But, it is true, that Nicklaus just gave himself more chances, even during his 20-tournament drought (he finished second three times, including the Watson chip-in). He bludgeoned golfers by being in position over and over. In the year after Trevino beat him in the 1971 U.S. Open playoff, he won the Masters and British Open. One year after Watson beat him at the Duel in the Sun, he went to St. Andrews and won. Nothing ever discouraged him or knocked him off course.

People will disagree about how to weigh all those Nicklaus second-place finishes. But, you know, it has been almost four years since Woods finished second at a major. You get the feeling he even could use one of those.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.

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S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.

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''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.