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Monson: Tiger is the best athlete in history
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tiger Woods will end up being the greatest athlete ever.

Better than Babe. Better than Jim Brown. Better than Secretariat. Better than Jordan.

Whoooooaa, some are going to say. What in the name of John Daly and Craig Stadler kind of sport is golf? It's not a sport, it's a good walk spoiled. It's not athletic, it's a game to be played for kicks. Jimmy Demaret said, after all, that "golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them."

On the other hand, Hank Aaron said: "It took me 17 years to get 3,000 hits. I did it in one afternoon on the golf course."

And, during a debate over which was harder to do, hit a moving baseball or a stationary golf ball, Sam Snead told Ted Williams: "But you don't have to go up in the stands and play your foul balls. I do."

Whoever argued - or argues still - that golf isn't a sport never played it. Never tried to play it well.

It is, indeed, a physical, mental, emotional challenge.

It is about coordinating hand and eye, and holding on for dear life. There's no throwing, running, jumping, or dunking, but is that the only way to define athletics?

Look up in the dictionary the word athlete, and here's what it says: "a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina."

Try hacking your way through 91 holes of golf at Torrey Pines, on 20-yard-wide fairways lined with rough as thick as redwood bushes, swinging like a lowland gorilla off the tee into 612-yard par 5s and 501-yard par 4s, and finishing them off on undulating greens requiring more touch than any Kobe jumper, and tell me filling that measure isn't athletic.

Ask pro athletes from other sports who play recreational golf and they'll tell you, golf is every bit the sport their own discipline is, and more.

"My best score ever is 103," Alex Karras once said. "But I've only been playing 15 years."

It may not be a decathlon, but I didn't say Tiger was the most athletic athlete of all time. I said he would be the greatest.

Why?

Because of the way he dominates his realm.

Not even Jordan did that the way Tiger does. Watching what he pulled off at the U.S. Open this past week is just the latest reminder. Limping around the course, grimacing with the tremendous force put upon his left knee off the tee, after surgery on that knee just two months ago, hitting ridiculous putts he had to hit in order to win, it was remarkable to watch.

Tiger is a lot like Jordan in that he has the best physical tools and the most mental toughness, a combination that makes him beyond formidable. We all saw the eye-popping eagle putts, the putts on 18 that on Sunday forced an 18-hole playoff and on Monday pushed that playoff to an extra hole.

Woods didn't have his top game going at Torrey Pines; he was spraying the ball all over. But, in a way, that framed his greatness even more, highlighting the clutch shots he had to execute in order to win. He did and he did, the bum knee notwithstanding.

The 12-footer he rolled in at the end on Sunday exemplified Tiger as much as any shot in his still burgeoning career. He had to make it just for the right to fight - and hurt - another day, to hobble around for five more hours. So he did.

How many athletes have had that kind of skill, drive, fortitude?

His performance at the toughest challenge in all of golf lifted his major win total to 14, now just four behind Jack Nicklaus. He's already won 65 times on Tour, behind Snead and Nicklaus.

I told my kids on Monday maybe the same thing you told yours: "Remember what you're seeing today. You're watching the greatest golfer of all time do what he does better than anyone - win."

They'll get other days to watch and remember, too.

It has nothing to do with worshipping a hero or looking for a role model. Tiger is no hero, and he should be no one's role model. But it is about appreciating an athlete's extraordinary abilities and accomplishments on the field of competition, about witnessing sports history made.

If Tiger, who is just 32, doesn't shred his knee on account of the torque his swing puts on it, he'll blow past Jack, and elevate himself among all athletes of this generation and all others. And sports fans everywhere, including those who might be just a little Tiger'd out, will count themselves as blessed to have had such good fortune to see it happen.

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* GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM The Zone. He can be reached at gmonson@sltrib.com.

Who is the best athlete of all time?

Tell us at sportseditor@sltrib.com

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