Admittedly I am not a Tiger Woods fan, leaning more to the Phil Mickelson model, but I cant deny that Woods is the best to ever tee up a golf ball.
The Masters in Augusta wont be the same this week without him for the first time in two decades. As I am sure you are aware, he underwent recent back surgery for a pinched nerve that forced him to withdraw from this years tournament.
Even though he is winless in 2014, he already has 79 career PGA Tour wins, just three shy of the all-time record of 82 set by Sam Snead. It took Slammin Sammy 30 years to set that mark, while Tigers total has come in just 19 years as a professional. With a good dozen years ahead of him on the PGA circuit, I can see him easily reaching the century mark.
Rounding out the top five in PGA Tour wins are Jack Nicklaus with 73, Ben Hogan with 64 and Arnold Palmer with 62. Mickelson is currently No. 9 with 42 wins in 23 years, 37 fewer than Woods in four more years.
Outside of possibly a young Jordan Spieth, who is only 20 and already has a win under his belt, I dont see any other current player on the tour who can reach Mickelsons total, much less Woods.
Davis Love III, who is in the twilight of his career, has 20 wins in 29 years. Ernie Els, already in his mid-40s, has 19 victories in 25 years. Jim Furyk, also getting long in the tooth, has 16 in 22, David Duval 13 in 21, David Toms 13 in 25, Justin Leonard 12 in 20, Steve Stricker 12 in 24, Zach Johnson 11 in 16 and Adam Scott 10 in 14 years. No other current tour player has double-digit wins.
Woods holds so many records that seem to be untouchable, including playing in 142 consecutive tournaments between 1998 and 2005 without missing a cut. The next best all-time is 113 straight by Byron Nelson between 1941-48, Nicklaus with 105 in a row from 1970 to 1976 and Hale Irwin with 86 between 1975-78. Woods holds the record for the largest winning margin in the Masters (12 in 1997), the U.S. Open (15 in 2000) and the British Open (eight in 2000).
He is the PGA Tour all-time money winner by a wide margin, having already won more than $109 million. Mickelson is a distant second with better than $73 million, Vijay Singh is third at more than $68 million, Furyk is fourth with $56 million, and Els rounds out the top five with $46.7 million. Woods probably has had more to do with increasing prize money than any other player in PGA Tour history.
Even with Woods $109 million in PGA Tour winnings, he trails what Chipper Jones made in his 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves. That figure was $161 million, but when you take in Woods worldwide wins and money winnings, you have 106 titles and $164 million in earnings.
None of the 1960s and 1970s superstars -- Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer or Gary Player -- rank in the top 100 in money winnings. Nicklaus pocketed $5.7 million in his career, Palmer $2.1 million and Player $1.8 million. But dont feel sorry for them. In 2013, investments and business ventures saw Palmer bring in $40 million, Nicklaus $30 million and Player $19 million.
The big question about Woods is whether he equal or surpass Nicklaus all-time majors win total. As any golf fan knows, Woods has 14, which is four shy of Nicklaus record of 18, but Woods has not won a Masters, U.S. Open, British Open or PGA Championship title since beating Rocco Mediate in a playoff to win the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Woods won that title despite a serious knee injury that required surgery following the Open and sidelined him for almost a year. It is expected he will be fully recovered in time for the U.S. Open in June at Pinehurst to get another crack at No. 15.
Nicklaus played in 45 Masters with six wins, while Woods has four green jackets in 19 appearances. In all the rounds that Nicklaus played at Augusta National Golf Club, he is a cumulative 23 under, while Woods is 79 under all-time.
While I will be pulling for Mickelson to capture his fourth green jacket and sixth major this week, I look for Jason Day to pick up his first Masters title. When Woods returns to Magnolia Lane in 2015, you can expect to see him in the hunt.
Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at email@example.com