Sport’s obsession with choosing a clear and definable greatest performer compromises the sheer brilliance of individuals, argues Reece Chambers in this guest post.
Tiger Woods’ victory at the 83rd Masters’ Tournament in Augusta last week illustrated one of sport’s greatest comebacks of all time.
From the depths of despair over the last 10 years, Woods has faltered both on the course and in his personal life. While many people believe personal lives should be kept separate from sporting achievements, Woods’ golfing career was tarnished by a series of extra-marital affairs through the turn of the decade.
His recurring injuries, too, added further doubt to his potential of returning to the illustrious heights he had previously hit in golf. But a 15th major on the greens of Augusta sent the sporting world into raptures on Sunday (April 14th 2019). Grown men had tears in their eyes as Woods left the 18th green.
His first win in professional golf for over 10 years showcases the qualities of a true champion. The sheer grit and determination coupled with intricate skill provides enough evidence to suggest that Woods is one of the greatest sporting athletes of all time.
However, while the rest of the sporting world compares Woods to 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, it could be argued that it’s time to start putting such comparisons to one side. The constant need for fans, pundits and even some players, to constantly compare the highest achievers in their respective sports is unfair and impossible.
Let’s start with Woods, whose recent success has seen him compared to Jack Nicklaus as the Greatest of All Time (GOAT). The two dominated golf in their respective eras, and two eras of very different nature.
Comparing the two golfers ignores the fact that both Woods and Nicklaus had different challenges to overcome in a sport that has drastically changed between their two reigns.
Tennis, snooker and Formula One all provide similar predicaments with Federer versus Sampras, O’Sullivan versus Steve Davis, and Senna versus Schumacher. While these sports are dominated by individuals, there is an immeasurable impact from external factors such as competition, finances and fortune that cannot fairly compare them accurately.
Individuals in team sports adds another issue… Messi vs Ronaldo
In soccer, there are further challenges to overcome in choosing the GOAT. Of course, personal preference is only natural. Personally, Messi’s genius on the ball makes me fall in love with football the more I watch of him, but that doesn’t mean he is the Greatest.
Cristiano Ronaldo has arguably produced more match-winning moments than Messi over recent years – winning three consecutive Champions League titles. He’s tested himself across Europe while Messi has broken records in Catalonia. That isn’t to say one is better than the other, they are just very different players who have sought after different things in their careers.
The obsession with comparing individuals detracts from the individual brilliance, and the Messi versus Ronaldo debate typifies that. When two players are quite simply in a different footballing universe to us mere mortals, do we have the right to even try and compare them?
Sporting greats will come and go long after Woods, Federer and Messi, but what must remain pertinent is the need to simply appreciate their genius. Comparing geniuses is impossible. You cannot compare Newton’s mathematical theory to the genius of Einstein, so why do we seem fixated on comparing sporting greats?
Enjoy Woods’ comeback, revel in his success. However, comparing him to other sporting greats will only detract from a genius that is only likely to come around once in a lifetime.
Photo of Tiger Woods by Tour Pro Golf Clubs.
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