Bernstein: Tiger Doesn't Need To Catch Jack

Evolution in sports matters, and Woods is the best golfer who ever lived.

Dan Bernstein
April 15, 2019 - 2:30 pm

(670 The Score) We'll restart this particular machine again because it's what we do. It's not enough to have appreciated immortality in the moment Sunday, watching one of history's great athletes complete his most improbable of accomplishments, because already it must be on to the next challenge on the list, apparently because we have to obliterate anyone's possible doubt of any kind.

It's absolutism fed by both-sides sports screaming that gets us here, asking this immediately if Tiger Woods can win three more major championships to equal the mark of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus. We impose this challenge without proper context, it seems, falling back to the reflexive patterns of a decade ago without looking at the larger picture.

The truth is that Woods doesn't need to match Nicklaus in that one category to magically become the unquestioned best golfer who ever lived. He probably didn't even need his latest Masters title, if we're being real. Woods was better when golf had become better, and then after his success raised the stakes further by creating another generation of top-level players from around the planet, he came back from the all-but-dead to conquer them again.

Evolution in sports matters, with every era of every game producing more talent both at the top and across the board. Bigger, stronger humans with more technology and better training and medicine surpass what came before, but it does nothing to diminish or invalidate any previous achievements.​

There have never been fields like this in PGA tournaments every week, with so many capable of victory and more arriving each season polished and unfazed enough to contend on the biggest stages. Margins for error are so thin that golf's equivalent of the peloton tends to reel in even those who break free to reign for a time. It's just too hard to win at all, let alone sustain at the very top.

For Woods to have endured four back surgeries that included microdiscectomies and spinal fusion and go from not being able to walk to striding up the 18th fairway at Augusta with the lead while also piecing back together a personal life shattered by his behavioral problems, myriad poor choices and substance abuse is a remarkable return from what looked to be an insurmountable distance away.

Those wielding Nicklaus' record in a petty effort to deny Woods' obvious standing now are engaging in an enormous self-own: They merely remind us of how easily that mark may have already fallen had Woods not been beset by injury and driven himself off the rails, denying himself a significant segment of his prime years. It's a brilliant feat worthy of immense respect, but not the whole measurement of a career.

Especially not today -- and not when outdated arguments are being unearthed. The fact that in 2019 we're even discussing the newly realistic possibility of three more major wins for the 43-year-old Woods is proof that the best ever of his sport doesn't have to get them.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​​​​