Tiger Woods, Getting Better All the Time

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Scott Simon marvels with Ron Rapoport about Tiger Woods' place in sports history, already duly marked at the tender age of 32.


Time now for golf.

(Soundbite of music)

Even the poetic powers of John Updike, a golf fan, would be stretched to conjure up new ways to call Tiger Woods the best golfer of all time. From his first U.S. amateur title in 1994 to last weekend's Match Play win, the superlatives about Tiger Woods continue to mount and mount.

Our own Ron Rapoport joins us from the 19th Hole in Culver City. Ron, nice to talk to you.

RON RAPOPORT: Nice to talk to you, Scott.

SIMON: Torrey Pines, Dubai and now Match Play last weekend. This is being called the greatest stretch of golf in history.

RAPOPORT: Well, that might be a little stretching a little bit, Scott. I mean, Byron Nelson did win 11 in a row, and Tiger's only got four, stretching back to last year. But you know what, Scott? Tiger Woods is 32 years and two months old, and it is not too soon to start assessing his place in history.

I went to the record book before I came in, Scott. He now has 63 career wins. It puts him one behind Ben Hogan for third on the career-win list. Jack Nicklaus didn't win his 63rd tournament until he was 37 years old.

Look at it another way. When Nicklaus was Tiger's age, 32 years and two months, he's won 47 tournaments, 16 fewer than Tiger. So any way you look at it, Tiger is way ahead of the man who has long been the consensus choice for greatest golfer of all time.

SIMON: Let me do my Skip Bayless impersonation for a moment. Tiger Woods, great golfer, but can he walk on water? Can he?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAPOPORT: Can I tell you a story, Scott?

SIMON: Yes, please.

RAPOPORT: More than 80 years ago, the great British golf writer, Bernard Darwin, who was Charles Darwin's grandson, actually, wrote a piece about Bobby Jones that he had titled "The Immortal Bobby." More than 40 years ago, Jones said that Jack Nicklaus plays a game with which I am not familiar. I've got to wonder what Nicklaus and all the rest of us really have to start thinking about Tiger.

SIMON: What do you seen in something as simple as Tiger Woods' swing, you know, the way people used to take a look at Babe Ruth's swing and talk about the bulwark of his body in the shoulders gave a base for the buggy-whip to snap from.

RAPOPORT: Well, I think you see something that other golfers would like to be able to imitate but can't. You look at the tremendous physical condition he's in, you look at how hard he works at it. You look at the consistency of it, and remember it's not just one swing, but he plays with all those clubs.

SIMON: I mean, usually somebody who drives as well as he does doesn't pick himself off the fairway as well as he does, or if you do that so well or chip so well, usually you're not putting as well as he does, but he really has a seamless game.

RAPOPORT: There's not much that you can pick apart in his game, but I really think that so much of golf is mental because nobody plays defense, nobody puts the ball in play. You have nobody to blame but yourself, and Tiger has mastered that part of it.

SIMON: But can he walk on water? Can he?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAPOPORT: I wouldn't bet against him.

SIMON: Ron, thanks very much.

RAPOPORT: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Ron Rapoport in Culver City. This is NPR News.

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