Originally created 07/18/02

There's no titans around to challenge Tiger

Not enough fat bellies.

In one simple statement intended as a slap to earlier generations of golfing greats, Ernie Els inadvertently hit on the problem regarding the lack of challengers to Tiger Woods.

"You don't see guys with fat bellies out there anymore," said the Big Easy Chair, no stranger to the training ways of the sloth himself.

Finally, an explanation for Tiger's dominance. Not enough fat in the fire.

How else can you explain why any list of the current greatest players never to win major championships always begins with Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie? Philly Cheesesteak's girth is growing faster than his record for futility. And Mrs. Doubtfire's relevance decreases with every lost pound in his yo-yo diet cycle.

Not enough heavyweights. So simple.

Remember when the greatest player in the history of the game was called Fat Jack? Remember when a malt beverage at the 19th hole was a more common post-round tradition than a rubdown in the fitness trailer? Remember when more than one guy had a chance to win majors?

Fat Jack remembers. Jack Nicklaus set the standard with 18 major victories in his career. The only standard he set higher was finishing as runner-up, which he did 19 times.

That's 19 major championships in which somebody else stepped up to defeat the greatest, most intimidating golfer of his era.

Nicklaus, with the backing of his peers, drew the ire of several lightweights of modern golf by stating the obvious - that Woods hasn't faced the level of quality competition that Nicklaus encountered in his heyday. This is not sour grapes from a legend watching his major margin of dominance trimmed almost in half. This is simply the truth.

Nobody is arguing that the depth of talent today is vastly superior to golf's depth 20 to 40 years ago. But it's not the depth that defines history. It's the cream at the top.

Nicklaus lost major titles to the likes of Tom Watson (8 major wins), Lee Trevino (6), Gary Player (9), Arnold Palmer (7) and Seve Ballesteros (5). These were titans of the game.

Woods has few such titans to contend with. Not a single other player under 45 years old has collected more than two major titles, and only five guys under 40 - Els, Vijay Singh, Jose Maria Olazabal, Lee Janzen and John Daly - can claim as many career Grand Slam victories as Woods has this season.

Cry all you want, Brad Faxon, but that means something.

"I had guys who had a history of knowing how to win golf tournaments, who were not afraid to win golf tournaments," Nicklaus said. "The guys today are terrific players, great players, but they haven't had the luxury of having history behind them, of having won significant tournaments. ... You have guys who have won one, maybe two major championships. That's not enough. Until that happens, he's going to have guys who are scared not only of him, they're scared of themselves, of winning."

Els is right. The only thing too fat about today's golfers is their wallet size. Players settle for standards of greatness far below their predecessors. They consider winning one major title a lifetime achievement.

Trevino or Watson in their prime might still not be good enough to beat Tiger, but they'd certainly give him a better run for his money. Give me a fat belly over today's fat lifestyles any day.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.


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