Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Burning Bright

Jack Nicklaus won 18 major golf championships and finished in second place another 19 times. There are only 4 major championships in a season.. The chance for any of the best golfers in the world to challenge for a 'major' even once in their careers is a milestone achievement. For one golfer to either win, or almost win, one of these championships on 37 different occasions in a career is a staggering accomplishment.

Tiger Woods was born to play professional golf. At the age of 2 he appeared as a golfing wunderkind on the Mike Douglas TV Show, putting against Bob Hope. By the age of 3 he had broken 50 for 9 holes. He began winning junior world championships at the age of 8 and dominated those his age throughout a remarkable junior career. He was the first golfer to win the United States Amateur championship 3 years in a row. After turning professional at the age of 20 , he has continued to leave all competitors in his wake. Now , at age 32, he has won 13 major championships. He is closing in on the record of the great Nicklaus. Most believe that , if Tiger remains in good health and the competitive fires continue to burn, that the number 18 may be reached and surpassed.

Which one of these golfers is the best ever?

The pursuers of Nicklaus included some of the best the game has ever seen, from Arnold Palmer to Gary Player and later, Tom Watson. Jack was able to win a major championship at the age of 46, when most players would be happy just being able to compete on the same stage with the best. His longevity and his focus on the task at hand, are the stuff of legends.

Tiger has sustained his greatness from the first day he picked up a golf club until the present. In watching his exploits it has appeared that he is capable of greatness with every swing , every round all year long. Year in and year out, he has amazed me with his presence , his composure, his mind, as much as his God given talents. He seemingly wills himself to win, and win and win some more. Those who try to wrestle victory from Tiger know that it is not only his swing but his mental toughness that they must overcome. Given this combination , Tiger's sum is greater than the parts of all others. To be the best in the physical AND mental aspects of the game has made him an impossible opponent from the cradle onward.

At age 21 , Tiger won the Masters, one of the 4 major championships, by 12 strokes. At age 24 , he won another of the majors, the US Open, by 15 strokes. At age 25 , he held all 4 major titles simultaneously. At age 29 , he won the British Open by 5 strokes. At age 30 , he won the PGA championship by 5 strokes. At 31, Tiger improved to a perfect 13 and 0 when leading going into the final day of a major championship. When Tiger has you down, you don't get up. When he beats you, you stay beaten.

The Masters begins this Thursday in Augusta , Georgia. As always, Woods is the favorite to win this tournament. If he fails to do so, it will be a surprise to me, and most every other person watching. His dominance is unabated. The gap between him and the rest of the golfers on the planet seems enormous and unassailable.

For me, every swing Tiger Woods takes reenforces my belief that his star burns brighter than that of any other person who has ever played this game.

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