Major roads for Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus equally difficult

Chris Condon/PGA TOUR/Getty Images

Dan Jenkins has covered more than 200 major championships, making him a legendary figure in the golf writing game. In addition to the numerous books he's written and awards he's won, Jenkins was one of the few to get to really know Ben Hogan and even played golf with the nine-time major winner.

Outside of Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, Jenkins has chronicled nearly every great player in the modern era of golf -- and has a truly deserved place in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Even at 85, Jenkins can command attention with his opinions.

One such case occurred last fall, when he penned a satirical "fake" interview with Tiger Woods in Golf Digest that angered the 14-time major champion enough to write his own rebuttal.

And then there was last week, when Jenkins was the subject of a Q&A with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on the eve of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in which he said Woods defeated "a lot of nobodies" in winning most of his majors.

In a question about world No. 2 Jordan Spieth in which Jenkins says the reigning Masters champion is "the real deal," Jenkins added: "Incidentally, there's much more talent at the top (and the bottom) than there was during Tiger's peak years. Tiger beat a lot of nobodies to win most of his majors.

"Yeah, there was Phil (Mickelson) and (Ernie) Els around, in and out, but go back and look who was second to him in those majors and tell me where they are now."

Well ... let's take a look at who finished runner-up to Woods over the years in all those majors (including ties).

Starting with the 1997 Masters ... Tom Kite, Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els (twice), Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn, Bob May, David Duval, Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson, Chris DiMarco (twice), Colin Montgomerie, Shaun Micheel, Woody Austin and Rocco Mediate.

So that's victories over four Hall of Famers: Kite, Els, Mickelson and Montgomerie; and six major champions: Kite, Els, Duval, Goosen, Mickelson and Micheel.

Three of the wins came in playoffs against May, DiMarco and Mediate.

Compare that to those who finished second to Jack Nicklaus (including ties).

Starting with the 1962 U.S. Open: Arnold Palmer (three times), Tony Lema, Dave Ragan, Gary Player, Gay Brewer, Tommy Jacobs, Doug Sanders (twice), Dave Thomas, Billy Casper, Bruce Crampton (four times), Bobby Mitchell, Tom Weiskopf (twice), Johnny Miller, Ben Crenshaw, Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite (twice), Isao Aoki, Andy Bean and Greg Norman.

So that's victories over eight Hall of Famers: Palmer, Player, Casper, Miller, Crenshaw, Floyd, Kite and Norman; and 10 major champions: Palmer, Player, Brewer, Casper, Weiskopf, Miller, Crenshaw, Floyd, Kite and Norman.

Three of Nicklaus' wins came in playoffs: Palmer, Brewer and Jacobs (1966 Masters) and Sanders.

Did Tiger beat a bunch of nobodies? Well, to call someone who is in contention for a major a title a "nobody' might be a bit harsh. But if you are going to use that term, Tiger didn't beat more "no-name" players than Jack.

There is no doubt that Nicklaus had to fend off more all-star players during his time -- and it can be argued that is all he had to beat, with few interlopers. And he finished runner-up to the likes of Tom Watson and Lee Trevino four times each, while Woods' five total runner-up finishes in majors saw him go down four times to players who have never won again.

Perhaps that helps make Jenkins' point, but it also leaves out the very important fact that Woods has clearly had deeper fields to contend with than those Nicklaus faced.

The Golden Bear might have had to beat more top-heavy fields, but rarely had to worry about the likes of Rich Beem, Michael Campbell, Trevor Immelman or Y.E. Yang beating him. Those are the four players who have not won on the PGA Tour since vanquishing Woods.

Nicklaus? You'd be hard-pressed to find too many "flukes" among the winners in his 19 runner-up finishes. Charles Coody perhaps at the 1971 Masters? Bobby Nichols at the 1964 PGA?

Jenkins might feel a few of the players on the Tiger list are "nobodies," but DiMarco lost consecutive majors in playoffs. Micheel had won a major when Woods defeated him. Jimenez finished second to Woods, as did Bjorn. The latter two have had successful careers on the European Tour -- a circuit with no prominence during Nicklaus' prime.

May never did anything before or after taking Woods to a playoff in 2000 at the PGA, but it again points to the "taking-shots-from-all-corners" aspect of Woods' career. He had to shoot 18 under par in that PGA Championship against May at Valhalla before winning a playoff. Mediate? Woods had no business playing in that 2008 U.S. Open, let alone winning it, given the well-documented injury issues.

And what about Mickelson, Els, Goosen, Montgomerie and Garcia? All have been major players during the Woods' tenure.

It is always difficult to compare eras, and this type of debate makes for great fodder.

But for every Woody Austin that Woods dispatched, there was a Ragan or Thomas or Aoki or Mitchell for Nicklaus.

The argument also leaves out the fact that Woods won five of his majors by 5 strokes or more, including one by 12 and another by 15. Nicklaus had just two such blowouts, by nine and seven strokes. And, of course, winning a major, any major, is not easy, regardless. Consider that Nicklaus, Woods and Hagen are the only players to get to double digits in total major wins.

The bottom line is Nicklaus has 18 majors, and a remarkable 19 runner-ups compared to Woods' 14 and five.

But was Tiger's path to those totals easier? No way. Winning majors is difficult, regardless.