Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tiger vs. Roger: It's a win-win proposition

Tiger or Roger? Well, it's kind of a trick question. 

And depending upon how it's asked, there really is no wrong answer.

By winning the French Open, Roger Federer pulled even with Eldrick Woods in the Majors Won Dept. at an incredible 14 apiece.

If you're asking which player has had the better career in his chosen occupation, it's Woods - and he likely will continue his dominance long after Roger has put his racquet in mothballs.

Such is the nature of the two games. Woods won his first major - the 1997 Masters, by a record landslide, as a 21-year-old - before anybody even knew who Federer was.  And Woods has kept winning and winning and winning.

Meanwhile, after dominating tennis for several years, Federer has been overshadowed and overwhelmed lately by my good son, Rafael Nadal ... to the point where some respected observers were wondering out loud if Roger's best days were done. 

Tiger? He's been No. 1 for so long now it's hard to remember when he wasn't. He was No. 1 as an amateur, he was No. 1 in college, he established himself as the No. 1 pro as a 21-year-old kid and he's still No. 1 as a 33-year-old father of two even after undergoing major surgery that kept him out of action for nine months. 

Sad to say, tennis pros simply don't have that luxury of longevity.

OK, but whose run of 14 majors has been more impressive? 

That's a different question - and one with a different answer.

Woods is nearly six years older than Federer. Nevertheless, if Tiger wants to keep winning well into his 40s, he surely will. Roger can have all the want-to in the world, but he simply won't be able to compete with younger players.

So Roger had neither as much time nor as much room for error to get to his 14. Roger won his 14 in a six-year span - twice as quickly as Tiger got his 14.

And then there's this: 

Tiger never hit a drive only to watch Phil Mickelson or Sergio Garcia or Ernie Els slam the ball back at him. There is no way to defend Tiger because golf is the ultimate me-against-myself game. 

There is, however, a way to defend Roger. Nadal has been doing it quite well for a couple of years now. Before that, Federer had to get the ball past Andy Roddick. Before that, Andre Agassi

You can make a great shot in tennis ... only to see your opponent return it for a winner anyway. Tiger has never had to worry about a great putt being kicked out of the cup by Vijay Singh.

Hell, Tiger goes ballistic if he hears the slightest camera click. Imagine how he'd react if his opponent was charging the fairway the way Pete Sampras used to charge the net.

So yes, Tiger has had (and will continue to have) a wonderful career. And yes, he deserves props-a-plenty for being the most accomplished athlete in all of sports. 

But I'm giving props for Best Major Achievement to Federer, who has had to both psych out and physically whip his opponents.

Still, when Tiger gets Major No. 15 - very likely in two weeks - I reserve the right to change my mind.

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