Woods vs. Federer: Who’s the Best?

This morning on ESPN Radio, a commentator gave the following reason why Tiger Woods is better than Roger Federer: Roger only has to beat six players to win a major, Tiger has to beat the entire field.


First of all, it’s seven players not six. Roger has to beat seven players to win a major. Second, Tiger has to beat the course and one bad day doesn’t knock him out of a tournament.

Tiger plays one tournament a year with head-to-head matchups. He’s entered it eight times and won it twice. I’m sure Roger reminds him of that very thing in their ongoing text-messaging smackdowns.

I cannot say who is better, Tiger or Roger. I’m just happy to live through the beginning and middle of their careers and hopefully I’ll live through the end of them too.

I will say that Tiger is mentally stronger. Roger isn’t even the best in his sport in that category. Rafael Nadal is the player who can gut out the five hour marathons. Roger hasn’t needed it up until now because he usually wins so easily. Nadal is the only one who’s extended him to five sets in a major final.

On the other hand, as far as movement and athleticism goes, Roger is the Nijinsky of tennis. Tiger gets to stand still while he plays his sport.

I’ll also say this about Tiger and Roger as the greatest of all time (G.O.A.T.) in their respective sports. Some people wonder why we waste so much time arguing about G.O.A.T.s but I think players deserve it because that’s the main thing that drives them. Why else spend your life trying to pass Jack Nicklaus’ record for majors (18) or Pete Sampras’ record for majors (14).

Tiger is easy. If he wins more than 18 majors he’s in (he currently has 13).

If Roger wins 14 majors (he currently has 12) he’s better than Sampras because he got to the final of the French Open at least twice and Sampras did not . No matter how many majors he wins, he still has to share the podium with Rod Laver who has two calendar grand slams (all four majors in the same year).

If Roger wins 14 or more majors and one of them is the French Open, however, he stands alone and that’s even if he doesn’t go through Nadal to win it. Andre Agassi has a career slam (all four majors though not in the same year) but he needed a few rain delays and the timely onset of cramps in his opponent to win his only French Open Title. It takes a bit of luck.

I’d put Roger past Laver with only a career slam and 14 or more majors because Laver’s grand slams were played on only two surfaces: grass and clay. The Australian and the US Open switched to hard courts later.

Many people think Roger’s superiority is bad for tennis because it’s boring to know the outcome of a major before it starts. Maybe, but he’s so good that his name regularly appears on sports shows whether Tiger is in the conversation or not, and that’s a good thing because tennis will keep slipping in the ratings without that exposure.

The best writers also gush over his game resulting in such prose as this op-ed from the New York Times and these pieces from the New Yorker.

Our reader Gabs drops by and trashes us for fawning over Federer whenever we write anything positive about him but we’d have to be pretty cynical to deny the obvious.

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