Ali had Frazier, Chamberlain had Russell, Nicklaus had Palmer and Woods has Mickelson.
Check that … Woods has Els.
No, hang on … Woods has Singh.
Dang! Who’s Tiger’s rival again? Oh, that’s right; he has all three of them. And he has none of them.
The Big Four? Please. Lumping Tiger Woods into that group of golfers is like giving Mel Gibson the keynote address at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference: Insulting.
Sure, we like rivalries, and nothing gives us more thrills than seeing our favorite team or athlete dropping the hammer on our most despised enemy. But the joy of bludgeoning a rival into submission can only be felt when there is in fact a rival of equal or greater ability and accomplishment opposing our heroes in battle. And try as we might to find a yin for Tiger’s yang, the effort has been futile.
Heading into Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship, the gap between Tiger and his would-be foils looked like both John Daly’s trailer and his pants — double-wide.
In the 11 previous starts Woods has made in 2006, he has produced four wins, including one major, the British Open.
In a combined total of 51 starts, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els, who might be known, more appropriately, as "The Next Three" have produced a total of … three wins.
Yes, that total includes Mickelson’s Masters win in April — his third major victory. Singh and Els each hold three major championships as well, accounting for a remarkable nine between them.
Tiger? At the ripe old age of 30, making him 13 years younger than Singh, 12 younger than Els and six less than Mickelson, Woods owns 12 major championships. That’s three more major wins than his so-called rivals combined.
"The Next Three" have pooled their resources to come up with 71 career PGA victories between them, an average of just under 24 wins per man.
Tiger? With his win at the Buick Open two weeks ago, he became the youngest player in PGA history to win 50 career tournaments.
As I watched Saturday’s third round with a friend, cheering birdie after birdie off Tiger’s short blade, my buddy
couldn’t take it any more.
"What are you cheering that guy for?" he asked with disdain. "Because he’s Babe Ruth," I answered flatly. "He’s Babe Freaking Ruth."
You know how your grandpa always talked about Ruth? How none of these guys playing today could ever touch the Babe? Well, that’s us in 30 years, talking to our grandkids about Tiger.
I root for Tiger because I root for history. I’ll root when he wins his 19th major to pass Nicklaus. And I’ll root when he wins his 25th. We’re watching one of the greatest individual athletes in the history of competitive sports, and we’re watching him in his prime.
And about those rivals? Well, Hank Aaron passed the Babe in 1974 — 26 years after he died. Which means that, assuming Tiger lives to be 80, we’ll see his rival emerge … in about 2082.