By Amy Tennery
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – Joe Montana or Tom Brady, Serena Williams or Steffi Graf — there is no shortage of debate in sport over who is the greatest of all time, but do not even try separating golfing icons Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, according to Gary Player.
Woods (14) and Nicklaus (18) have won 32 majors between them, dominating their respective eras, but that does not mean there is any basis for comparison, Player said on Thursday.
After kicking off the Masters in a ceremonial first tee shot with fellow golf great Nicklaus, nine-times major winner Player reflected on how the game has changed — and why that makes it impossible to pitch his old sparring partner against Woods.
“How can you compare Tiger Woods to Jack Nicklaus? It’s not fair. Let him (Nicklaus) play today with these greens and raked bunkers or bunkers all the same width, and with a driver and a ball that goes 50 yards further,” Player told reporters.
Sam Snead was the most athletic, Ben Hogan the greatest golfer “tee-to-green” and Woods is perhaps the most talented, Player said.
But Nicklaus? “He had the overall game,” the three-times Masters champion added.
That is not to say the South African was not giving the most recognisable player in modern golf his due.
“If Tiger never had the problems he had, which were numerous, he would have won at least 20, 21 majors,” said Player, referring to Woods’ physical ailments. “I don’t think there is a debate about that.”
On Thursday, Woods begins his bid for a 15th major win and fifth Masters title.
“Everybody wants to see Tiger Woods win more majors because he moves the needle like nobody playing golf today,” Player said.
“What you saw when he won that (Tour) Championship the other day, I don’t think I ever saw excitement like that, even when Arnold (Palmer) was at his best.”
(Reporting By Amy Tennery; Editing by Toby Davis)