Both can stake a claim as most impressive of all time
Posted: Friday July 22, 2005 5:23PM; Updated: Saturday July 23, 2005 3:50PM
In 2005, both Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods have produced two of the greatest performances in recent sports history.
Getty Images; Robert Beck/SI
Who's the more impressive athlete, Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods?
First, some parameters. If you've followed these guys during the past year, it's fair to say you had a front-row seat to the prime performances of two of the greatest athletes in history.
Other times in recent history have been similarly charged. The period from 1979 to 1992 was a Golden Age of its own, with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson saving the NBA from late-night cable extinction, Wayne Gretzky dragging the NHL beyond the clubby Original Six and Joe Montana bringing his own singular gifts to the quarterback position and to the Super Bowl. The four of them could be carved into a Mount Rushmore of their own making.
They overlapped with Michael Jordan who, with North Carolina, beat Georgetown in 1982, won six NBA championships with the Bulls and became arguably the biggest crossover athlete in history, a man who remains one of the most popular sportsmen in America even deep into retirement.
Yet there have been few occasions like last weekend. On Sunday Woods won the British Open, his 10th major championship on the drive to match Jack Nicklaus' 18. Just a few hours away, Armstrong took command of the Tour de France, one week from sealing his seventh consecutive victory, two more than any other rider in history.
So which one will be held in the highest regard in the history books? There's a talk-radio question if ever I've heard one. Let's break it down:
Tiger's going to get close to 18 majors. Despite the facts he's ahead of Jack's pace and that even his peers acknowledge his superiority, it would be foolish to suggest he's a lock. He needs to win eight more majors before he retires. There are stretches -- this is one of them -- when Tiger looks like he could win eight more in the next three years. If not for Michael Campbell's out-of-nowhere performance in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Tiger would be playing for the Grand Slam at the PGA next month.
But golf is a fickle game. At age 29, Tiger already has re-tooled his swing twice, which means he has dominated golf with three different swings in less than a decade. And the world is full of great players. Vijay Singh will beat him in a major. There will be another Campbell. Still, add up all the odds, and it's pretty likely Tiger gets past 18. Maybe by a mile. That makes him the greatest player in history. End of discussion.
That's not all. Tiger has done two remarkable things -- remarkably divergent things -- beyond winning tournaments. First, he has fueled the engine that has made golf a potent commercial and televised industry. Second, and more significantly, he has sparked an interest in golf among minority children. And not just the ones in Nike commercials.