The Great Debate

The Great Debate...
And the winner should be Jack


The debate about who is golf’s GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) almost always comes down to two men – Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. I admit it, I am “older,” which means that I can actually remember watching both Nicklaus and Woods play in multiple Majors versus my younger friends who grew up in the Tiger Mania era. It’s hard for me to believe that it was 1997 – 25 years ago – when Tiger won his first Major – The Masters – when he was 21 years old. At the age of 25, he had already won six Majors (1997 & 2001 Masters; 2000 U.S. Open; 2000 British Open, and 1999 & 2000 PGA).

As sportswriter and best-selling author Dan Jenkins (1928 to 2019) said about Tiger’s potential as a Major winner in a 2001 Golf Digest interview: “Two years ago I would have said 10 or 12, but now I put the over-and-under at 24. He already has nine (if you include three U.S. Amateurs), he's only 25, and he's proved there's nobody even remotely in his class.

“I never thought I'd ever see a greater shotmaker than Hogan or a greater winner than Nicklaus, but I have. It's Tiger. Not that I still wouldn't want Ben to get the drive in the fairway for me for my life. But Tiger makes all those other slugs out there today look like they don't even know how to play. We're talking about a truly remarkable athlete here. Something the game has never seen.

Only two things can stop Tiger--injury or a bad marriage.” (My emphasis.)

Well, sure enough, both of those “things” happened, which has left Tiger with 15 Majors, not 20-plus wins.

Yes, I understand that Tiger is tied with Sam Snead for the most career PGA Tour wins with 82 and that Jack only has 73, but I agree with seven-time Major winner Gene Sarazen (1902 to 1999), who said “I was interested in one thing – Majors – because I know they live long. You could win a million dollars, and that will go. But when you win the U.S. Open or the British Open or the Masters or the PGA, that titles goes to your grave.”

The Majors are where Jack really stands out.

Consistency -- From the 1970 British Open through the 1978 British Open, Nicklaus finished in the Top 10 in 31 of 33 Majors. In the two in which he didn't, he tied for 11th and 13th.

Major Wins -- Jack 18; Tiger 15.

Major 2nd place finishes -- Jack 19; Tiger: 6.

Major 3rd place finished -- Jack 9; Tiger: 4.

Major Top 5s -- Jack: 55; Tiger: 31.

Major Top 10s -- Jack: 73; Tiger: 41.

Longest streak of Top-5 in Majors -- Jack: 7; Tiger: 6.

Winning span in Majors -- Jack: 24 years (1962-1986); Tiger: 22 (1997-2019).

Below you will find a compilation of opinions about The Debate. I am firmly in the Jack camp because of his Major record. Those in the Tiger camp often defend their choice because of his personality – his Q rating. For example, last year, a columnist in The Observer went with Tiger for his flair: “While his style of play and consistency rivaling that of Jack Nicklaus, Woods introduced an almost college-football-like atmosphere to the tournaments he took part in. From the twirl of his clubs to his drives that lead to ‘Tiger Proofing,’ which was the lengthening of courses due to Woods’ mastery of the game, fans were drawn to the biggest name possibly in sports. The crowds’ roars rivaled any World Series game, finals or Super Bowls.”


TIGER:’s Amy Kulkarni – From a July 2021 article.

Keeping all the things in mind, Tiger Woods is probably slightly ahead in this debate. If you look at the number of victories, he has 82 PGA Tour trophies and 15 major championship titles. But along with all these things, Tiger created a renaissance in golf. Before Tiger broke onto the scene, everyone saw golf as an old man’s sport with very little excitement.

But Tiger Woods changed the perspective of everyone. He brought excitement, thrill with his style of play. And apart from playing some beyond-belief shots, his club twirl, the fist pump, and many other things attracted fans. He took the level of golf to greater heights, and soon he became the face of golf.


Nicklaus:’s Kyle Dalton – From a July 2020 article.

The last category to compare Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus is the level of competition each player faced on a weekly basis. And once again, major tournament winners are the barometer for characterizing that success. In the case of Woods, his unquestionable biggest rival was Phil Mickelson. Lefty won five major championships. Ernie Els and Vijay Singh are the only two other golfers to capture at least three majors.

For Nicklaus, he battled against stiffer competition and four of the greatest golfers in the history of the game, including Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson, and Lee Trevino, each of whom won six or more majors. In other words, each time Nicklaus teed off in a major championship, there were four other legitimate contenders who were capable of taking home the trophy. That was never the case for Tiger.


In the end, both men will go down as the two greatest golfers in the game’s history, but Nicklaus has to be given the title of GOAT because when it mattered most, he was the more successful of the two.   


TIGER: USA Today’s Andy Nesbit – From an August 2019 article.

Sit around any 19th hole for way too long and you might hear this question pop up: who is the greatest golfer of all-time, Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus?

When push comes to shove (which never really happens in an argument about the great game of golf, though the chances go up the longer you stay at the 19th hole), I easily have to go with Tiger.

Listen, I know Nicklaus has three more major titles than Tiger. And I know I could be seen as biased because I’ve been fortunate to live through Tiger’s prime.

But there’s been nobody as good as Tiger. Ever. And it really isn’t even close.

Tiger has excelled in an individual sport during a time when everything he did was examined, celebrated, and critiqued at levels that Nicklaus never even came close to having to deal with.

He took the PGA Tour to a whole new level and continues to make many golfers absolutely filthy rich because of all the money Tiger brought into the game.

But let’s get back to the golf and what Tiger has done on the course. Tiger’s 81 PGA Tour wins has him just one behind Sam Snead for the most ever and eight ahead of Nicklaus.

While both have had to face quality competition to get their wins, I’d have to side with Tiger’s era being deeper than Nicklaus’ era. And I know Nicklaus had Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, and many others but Tiger’s time, especially over the last 10 years, has been much more competitive.

Tiger was untouchable in the 2000s but it’s easy to forget that in 2013 he won five times and was the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year.

Then the back surgeries happened and we didn’t know if he’d ever be back again.

There were the brutal struggles after that which led many to wonder why he was even trying to come back at all.

Then last April, Tiger turned back the clock and won the Masters, leaving fans in tears as he pumped his fist on the 18th green Sunday afternoon at Augusta National.

Tiger has been the rare athlete to live up to unimaginable hype, be brought back down — by scandal and injury — and then absolutely crushing all the expectations (and doubts) in historic fashion. And for that, Tiger is the best ever. Sorry, Jack.


Nicklaus: Bleacher Report’s Sean O’Neil – From an August 2011 article

There is no question in my mind that Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer to ever play the game.

He has the most ever Major championship wins with 18 to go with his second most ever PGA Tour wins with 73. The Golden Bear won the Masters on six different occasions, the last coming when he was 46 years old, which makes him the oldest to ever win the tournament.

Nicklaus did great things for the game of golf, and there is a reason why he led the money list on eight separate occasions and was named PGA Player of the Year five times. He was the best.

As of now -- the GOAT still rests with Nicklaus. But any person betting against Tiger Woods had best realize the sheer tenacity he has shown in going beyond what many ever thought possible.







GOLF Magazine – Sept. 2021



“It’s a close call between those two,” Miller said. “They’re both so consistent. The body of work has been amazing.

They’re both right there at the best of all-time.”

Tiger Woods – May 2021

Rob Doster

Woods' contemporaries know what the rest of the world has come to appreciate: Tiger is the GOAT.

He doesn't just move the needle; he is the needle,



Golf News – July 2020


Nicknamed the Golden Bear, Nicklaus gained 73 victories in his career, including 18 major golf championships.

Nicklaus is the first player to win up to $2m in prize money, and, at 46 years old, he is the oldest player to win

the Masters.

Tiger Woods

From a Sept. 2019 article in Sporting News written

by Russell Greaves



"When you look – 2000, 2001, that whole stretch – no one has played the caliber of golf that he played then.

That's why I think he is the best player to ever live, because no one reached the levels that he did.

In my estimation, he is the best to ever do it.”

Tiger Woods – August 2019

Brent Kelley

Woods won more money titles, more scoring titles, more Player of the Year awards -- more than Nicklaus, more

than anyone else (it's not even close). Woods has more total PGA Tour wins than Nicklaus.

Jack Nicklaus

Golf Today – May 2019


Far too often there’s a rush to judgement of modern athletes elevating them beyond their predecessors.

The Nicklaus record is the Mount Everest in golf for a number of good reasons. As of now — the GOAT still rests

with Nicklaus.

Jack Nicklaus – May 2018

Alex Gormley

His 73 PGA Tour wins put him third all-time behind both Tiger Woods and Sam Snead, but his unbelievable play

in Major tournaments is surely enough for him to deserve the top spot on our list.



PledgeSports – August 2017


The best golf that has ever been played was from Woods from 2000 to 2008, but he still has work to do to catch

Jack in longevity (Nicklaus won his last major at the age of 46).

Jack Nicklaus

Bleacher Report – Dec. 2010

Kathy Bissel

Jack Nicklaus sets the "Golden" standard when it comes to golf.  Until someone breaks his major record,

he retains that stature.


Am I showing my age by going with Jack – or am I simply recognizing that style doesn’t trump performance?

Down The Fairway,

Allan Stark

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