Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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Sports column

April 3, 2014

Woods is great, but Nicklaus’ 18 majors are safe

BLUEFIELD — Is Tiger toast?                A tradition like no other, the Masters, will be held next week, and Tiger Woods won't be involved.

Woods decided to have surgery to relieve the pain from a pinched nerve in his ailing back, and will have to sit out the Masters, and possibly even the next two or even all the majors this season.

Back surgery is serious, and it isn't that easy to come back from. Especially for a golfer like Woods who needs his back to produce the torque needed to hit the ball 300-plus yards in the air.

Anyone who has swung a golf club can relate, although few of us can hit the ball that far. I can do it with two shots on a good day.

Let's call it like it is: Woods' chase for Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships is over.

Does that, however, make him any less greater than Nicklaus?

Years ago when I was working at another paper, I wrote a column that spoke of Woods as 'the greatest golfer ever not named Nicklaus.'

I received a few responses in return, more than I will receive for this one, one of which was an offer for a free golf card proclaiming the Woods as the greatest ever. It came from a magazine I had seen at a local bookstore —  wouldn't it be nice to have one of those around here — which proclaimed the same.

My response was to wait and see, but Nicklaus was the best in my mind and still is.

At the time Woods was the greatest — at that time — but 18 majors is a lot of majors. That mark is safe, probably for as long as we all shall live.

Does that make Nicklaus the greatest ever or is Woods still the greatest? In reality, does it really matter? Both have been great in their own eras.

Ever since Woods withdrew from the Masters, I have listened and read numerous dissertations that the Masters was doomed without him. Ratings will plummet, folks with turn to the NBA, baseball or even mow grass whether than watch a golf tournament with no Tiger in it.

Excuse me? The Masters survived before Woods, and will do just fine this week. It is still the most cherished golf championship in this country.

Many assumed, even all those years ago, that Woods had to be the greatest ever, but weren't willing for his career to play out to see how he did over the long haul.

Does that mean all those folks were wrong?

One attribute that legitimate media and the many media wannabees don't have is patience. They cannot stand to wait. That is what has made social media so popular. Getting the news out as soon as possible is all that matters. If it isn't accurate, not a problem.

It seems like the national media is too busy trying to proclaim someone the greatest ever, even if their careers are far from over. I could deal with the greatest right now argument better than the greatest ever.

Both are simply opinions, but it is a question that can never be answered.

Muhammad Ali used to bug me to no end by declaring himself ‘the greatest’. At the time I was about 6 and thought he was saying he was the greatest "person" on this great big earth.

I later realized he meant boxer.

Rickey Henderson broke Lou Brock's stolen base record by picking up third base and declaring he was the greatest.

The numbers say he is, but is he really? Pete Rose is the all-time hit king, but he is never recognized as the greatest hitter in baseball. He can't even get in the Hall of Fame, which is an object for another column in the near future.

Greatness is all in the opinion. Today's media has tried to crowned anyone from Woods, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Roger Federer and Barry Bonds — without the steroids — as the greatest in their respective sports.

Yet, is it all about numbers, or are championships more important?

Were Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno greater coaches than Paul "Bear" Bryant just because they hung around long enough to garner a whole lot more wins?

Who is to say? That is an argument that simply can't be answered, and is part of what makes sports so much fun.

It simply takes time for a career or era to play out. You have to wait, and then make your decision. The media will try to make the choice for you, but you have to make up your own mind.

No one questions that Woods is one among the top golfers in history, just from 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour wins. Does that make him the greatest ever?

Even Nicklaus — who also finished second in a remarkable 19 majors and third in nine more — thought Woods would shatter his record, but Woods hasn't won a major since claiming the U.S. Open in 2008.

It's been a personal and professional roller coaster since then for Woods. Every time another golf tournament is held, the whole story on the AP wire is about Woods, oftentimes even if he is not playing.

Golf can survive without Woods. The Texas Open, which didn't include Woods last week, wrote out a check for $1.116 million last Sunday to someone named Steve Bowditch.

The Masters will be fine. It is still the most anticipated golf event of the year in America.

As for the magic 18, there are many factors playing against Wood. He is now 37, but that isn't the only issue. Nicklaus won three majors after 37, including the Masters at 46. There is also the competition, which is as deep as ever thanks to the rising stars who grew up trying to be just like Woods.

There is a perception that golf needs a superstar. Why? There are plenty of talented golfers on the PGA Tour. All these guys are good, and many are just as good as Wood is now.

So, if Woods doesn't get to 18, will he go down in history as the greatest? Or, is it still Nicklaus?

Who really knows? But, mark my words, there is a young golfer who will some day do what Woods did during his heyday and suddenly that person will be declared the greatest.

If Woods does eventually catch Nicklaus, you can count me among those media types who didn't have the patience to wait.

For media types, remember, patience is definitely not a virtue.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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