Is Tiger Woods the greatest athlete of all time?

Let’s be honest, Tiger Woods is old news. Ever since he picked up a club at the age of two, the former child prodigy seemed destined for greatness. And since he broke onto the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour in 1996, we have constantly been reminded that Woods is hot stuff while watching him in television commercial endorsements for Buick and Nike or his most recent mind-boggling shot on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

But after having won eight of his last nine tournaments, and after talks of an unprecedented perfect year surfaced, rumblings in the sports world have been of a different tone. Sports analysts are beginning to postulate that Tiger Woods may not only be the best to play the sport of golf, but that he may be the greatest, most dominant athlete of all time.

Now, the historically conscious sports fan does not easily accept statements of this nature. When you say “the greatest athlete of all time,” it evokes images of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and, if you are especially conscious, Wayne Gretzky. You also need not forget a current tennis player by the name Roger Federer. Are we expected to believe that a golfer has surpassed all of these athletes in greatness?

It's hard to follow along with this recent movement, and many probably prefer to denounce it as just another example of present-day bias in the sporting world. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time sports media has fallen into such a pitfall; all you have to do is ask New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (or Bill Belichick, the head coach for the New England Patriots, for that matter), just how quickly public perception can be swayed.

It doesn’t take much research to realize, however, that this is not the case when it comes to Tiger Woods. Greatness aside, Woods may be the smartest athlete of all time. More than once, he sacrificed current performance in order to improve his technique, as he knew it would allow him to be a better player in the long run. He endured periods outsiders termed as slumps to improve his swing, allowing him to come back stronger than ever.

Woods has the lowest scoring average of any player (a good thing in golf), and has more PGA tour and major wins (54 and 12, respectively) in his first 11 years, than any golfer in any 11-year span, ever. Sounds a little like Federer over the past five years, doesn’t it? And reminiscent of Jordan and Ali, Woods has a ferocious killer instinct while in action, center stage. So hey, it’s okay to take your time with reaching perfection when you are already setting records at a pace unprecedented by your sport.

Undefeated and in the lead going into the final round, Woods has joined MJ as the greatest closer in the history of sports.
Woods is the only golfer ever to win all four majors consecutively, and he seems poised to easily surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. The scariest part is that Woods is now saying his swing is better than ever before. It seems that Woods is only now beginning to peak as a player, with no end to his prime in sight.

By the end of his career, Tiger Woods should have surpassed every golf record to the point of shrouding all his predecessors in obscurity, similar to the way Wayne Gretzky put up untouchable records in hockey. But unlike Gretzky, Woods was able to popularize his sport with his transcendental personality. He showed people that golf is not a sport limited to old, white men. And Woods’ ability to effectively market himself, much in the way that Jordan did, has him on track to become the world’s first billion-dollar athlete.

It’s extremely hard not to buy into the greatness of Tiger Woods. Is he the greatest athlete of all time? He sure seems like a manifestation of the qualities of past sports greats. Once he surpasses Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors, it will be difficult to argue that he is not, unequivocally, the most dominant athlete in history. Golf fans are being treated to a once-in-a-lifetime individual. Soon it will be incorrect to call him the Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, or Muhammad Ali of golf. He will simply be known as the greatest.