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Masters

How Masters favorite Woods ranks with all-time legends

With Tiger Woods, left, heavily favored to win the Masters, where does he rank against Wayne Gretzky, middle, Muhammad Ali and other great athletes in history? One columnist ranks him ahead of most, but behind one of the above legends.

With Tiger Woods, left, heavily favored to win the Masters, where does he rank against Wayne Gretzky, middle, Muhammad Ali and other great athletes in history? One columnist ranks him ahead of most, but behind one of the above legends.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Here at Tiger Woods' winter home, there is work to be done.

For one thing, none of the "Magnolia Lane" signs have been changed to "The Tiger Walk" yet. And Amen Corner has not been rechristened "Elle's Garden," as a tribute to his wife. And the Crow's Nest has not been renamed "Sam's Club" in honor of his daughter.

Except for that, however, the Tiger Woods Invitational, formerly known as that tidy little golf tournament called the Masters, is ready to crank up again.

Tiger this. Tiger that. Tiger's tournament. Tiger's slam. Tiger's sport. All wrapped around Tiger's latest commercials.

And so it goes. Here in Tigerville, it is all about Woods. You hear his name as you walk onto the grounds, and then you hear it repeated thereafter in five-minute increments.

If you believe the rumors, there are also 93 other golfers.

From this point on, you may refer to them as "the Vandellas."

Provided, of course, you refer to them at all.

Of course, this is not particularly new. Golf has been Tiger's World for a long time now. But never has he ruled it so thoroughly, so completely. At times, it is as if other players win only when Tiger lets them win.

For instance, Woods spent much of his Tuesday press session talking not just about winning the Masters, but the next three majors after it. And his competition? Pretty much, they agreed that if anyone else could do it, by golly, it would be Tiger.

There are times it seems as if there are no other golfers except for Tiger. Certainly, future generations may wonder. Can you name another Mongol except for Genghis Khan? Can you name another Hun besides Attila? Can you name another daytime talk-show host besides Oprah.

Yeah, that kind of domination.

And at that point, the question begs to be asked, if only to start an argument:

Has any athlete ever dominated a sport the way Tiger Woods has dominated golf?

Babe Ruth? Wayne Gretzky? Michael Jordan? Lance Armstrong? Martina Navratilova? Muhammad Ali? Jim Thorpe?

Anybody?

This is not supposed to happen, not in this generation and not in this sport. This is golf, remember? The great equalizer to golf is supposed to be that all of the players are playing against the course, not against the opponent. In boxing or tennis or basketball, in most other sports, one athlete can force another athlete to play poorly. Supposedly, that isn't supposed to happen in golf.

It does, though. Most other golfers seem fully aware when Tiger is in the field. You can see it in their eyes. Also, their scores.

Have you seen the odds of Woods winning the Masters this week? They're 7-5, which is almost even money, which is almost unheard of in golf. Again, that's the mark of the Tiger, history's best golfer who is off to his best start. Woods is so good that he has turned everyone else into a long shot.

Has it ever been like this? Rarely.

You could argue for Ruth, who hit 54 home runs in 1920. That year, the second most home runs in major-league baseball was George Sisler's 19. That's a pretty good argument for domination. Pretty impressive. Of course, for most of his career, Ruth hit in front of Lou Gehrig. Edge: Ruth

Chamberlain? In the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds a game. That was also the season he had his 100-point game. On the other hand, Chamberlain lost in the playoffs to Bill Russell, again. Edge: Woods

Gretzky? No one else in the NHL has ever had a 200-point season, and Gretzky had four. He also had four Stanley Cups and four Hart Trophies (MVP). Edge: Gretzky

Armstrong? He won seven straight Tour de France races. Yes, that's impressive. But four other riders have won five. Who is that close to Tiger? Edge: Woods

Navratilova? Easily the most dominant tennis player of all time, she won 18 Grand Slam singles titles. For a while, however, Chris Evert built a nice little rivalry with her. No one has done that with Tiger. Edge: Woods

Ali? He was a mesmerizing, entertaining fighter. On the other hand, he did lose fights to Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. Edge: Woods

Thorpe? The King of Sweden called him the greatest athlete in the world. On the other hand, Sweden? Edge: Woods

Jordan? His six NBA titles put him into the debate. But even Jordan needed Scottie Pippen to emerge as a star before the titles started to flow. Edge: Woods

So there you go. On one man's list, Woods ranks third. On the other hand, he's only 32.

When it comes to domination, as with all things with Tiger, the question isn't whether he will eventually finish first.

The question is: Who is going to stop him?

>>FAST FACTS

72nd Masters

When/where: Today-Sunday; Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club

Length/par: 7,445 yards; 36-36—72.

TV: 4-7 p.m. Today-Friday, ESPN, and highlights, 11:30 p.m., Ch. 10; 3:30-7 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 10; 2:30-7 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 10

How Masters favorite Woods ranks with all-time legends 04/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 5:44pm]

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