With Tiger Woods running away with the PGA championship yesterday, he's now won 12 major titles in his 10th year as a pro golfer, and four of the past eight contested. He's the best player of his generation, and although it's always hazardous to go here, I'd call him the best ever, as many others are. Certainly, this kind of a career, at age 30, is unprecedented.
|Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press|
|Tiger Woods: A rare moment of losing his grip.|
Then there's Roger Federer, the Swiss tennis artiste who recently tuned up for the upcoming U.S. Open with a win at last week's Rogers Cup here in Toronto. David Foster Wallace wrote in the New York Times of "Federer as Religious Experience" in the context of following the 25-year-old at this summer's Wimbledon tournament:
. . . Federer, through the semifinals, has provided no surprise or competitive drama at all. He’s outplayed each opponent so completely that the TV and print press are worried his matches are dull and can’t compete effectively with the nationalist fervor of the World Cup.
The metaphysical explanation is that Roger Federer is one of those rare, preternatural athletes who appear to be exempt, at least in part, from certain physical laws. Good analogues here include Michael Jordan, who could not only jump inhumanly high but actually hang there a beat or two longer than gravity allows, and Muhammad Ali, who really could “float” across the canvas and land two or three jabs in the clock-time required for one. There are probably a half-dozen other examples since 1960. And Federer is of this type — a type that one could call genius, or mutant, or avatar. He is never hurried or off-balance. The approaching ball hangs, for him, a split-second longer than it ought to. His movements are lithe rather than athletic. Like Ali, Jordan, Maradona, and Gretzky, he seems both less and more substantial than the men he faces.
I don't follow tennis closely enough to appreciate much of what Wallace writes, but Federer's record -- eight Grand Slam titles at age 25 puts him on the same pace as Pete Sampras, whose 14 Slam wins tops the list -- while nowhere near as eloquent as the author's descriptions, make a strong argument for best-ever status.
|Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press|
|Roger Federer: No surprise.|
As for lack of surprise and competitive drama, that fits Woods so well. His game is one of nuances as he enters into his prime years, adaptable to the British links as easily as a North American major-title final-round setup. Starting yesterday he was tied, but made birdie on the first hole. Right then, you knew it was over, if you didn't know already. More importantly, I suspect that Woods, and everyone else among the logo'd pros knew it was over as well.
Like Wallace, Michael Wilbon on Tiger writes this morning of small moments in the context of sports history:
So, we've come now to Tiger Woods, who is all these things we've come over the decades to value, including some ingredients we've never seen in the pot until now. Tiger striding up the 18th fairway in that red shirt on Sunday might as well be Ali's red tassels popping in the ring or Jordan's tongue wagging in the fourth quarter. He swings with the prodigious physicality of Ruth, while maintaining the precision of Joe Montana. He controls a golf ball the way Pete Maravich did a basketball, thinks his way around a golf course with the depth of intelligence that Ted Williams thought about hitting, and goes about the mission of winning with the same ferocious will that characterized Jordan.
Related: Chris Zelkovich rips CBS's coverage for not showing enough of Mike Weir (having nipped in and out of the day's TV broadcast once Woods opened up a lead and any drama disappeared -- there was a family barbecue to attend to -- I didn't take note of this one way or another. But it's not like this is a new refrain, is it?)
UPDATE: On the subject of the best of the best, Martina Navratilova won her 176th doubles title this morning in Montreal.