How does Tiger stack up to Jack? It's the comparison Tiger Woods will live with for the next 20 years -- or until he wins 19 majors.
Jack Nicklaus is the gold standard for major championship golf. He has seven more majors than anyone else in history, and his total of 18 is the number Woods has made his career goal to surpass. His Holy Grail.
Where does Tiger stand in that quest after his eighth season as a professional? Comparing their first eight years, Woods has a leg up on Nicklaus in almost every category: eight majors compared to seven, 39 PGA Tour victories compared to 29. Nicklaus' start had been the best in the history of the sport. Until Tiger. By our projection (we'll explain our method below), Woods will finish his career with 23 majors, five more than Nicklaus.
The X-factor in this equation is longevity. Sure, Woods got a better start out of the blocks than Nicklaus, but will he be able to stay as consistent over such a long period of time? Because he peaked earlier than Nicklaus, will Woods also begin to slide back to the pack earlier? Will evolving equipment technology allow him to contend into his 50s? Those are questions no crunching of numbers can answer with any certainty.
What a close examination of the numbers will do, however, is identify trends. For example, Woods has gone six majors without winning one, having just finished his first season without major hardware since 1998. Similarly, Nicklaus went a span of three years (12 majors) without any Grand Slam victories at about the same point in his career. When he ended the drought at the 1970 British Open, it kicked off a streak of nine straight major finishes in the top 6 and an amazing 33 straight in the top 13. He won four in that span.
Here's how their career numbers break down:
David Lefort is the golf editor for ESPN.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.