We're a Couple Cents Short of a Dollar 

Tiger Woods versus Roger Federer - 5 Cents
Posted by: Paul Nichols

16 Apr 2007

Tiger Woods versus Roger Federer


Alright, I know I'm waaaay behind on this whole discussion, which was booming in late January and February, but my mind wandered back to it the other day.


These guys are the pinnacle of greatness in their respective sport (Woods plays golf and Federer plays tennis). And it's tough to compare them because of this - they never can or will play each other. Just the same, millions of people were trying to figure out which was the greater athlete. And you know who I'm going with? Michael Phelps? No. We don't pay attention to swimming. I'm taking Federer and I'll tell you why.


First of all let's look at their accomplishments. This tells us why everyone knows them to be so dominant. I won't bore you with tons of stats; let's just look at majors and something close to win-loss records in those majors.


Woods has played in 47 majors and won 12 of them, just about 1 in every 4 that he has entered. He has 3 2nd place finishes, 3 3rd place finishes, 2 4th place finishes, a 5th place finish, and 4 6-10th place finishes.


Federer has played in 31 majors (Grand Slams) and won 11 of them, more than 1 in every 3 that he has entered. He has 1 2nd place finish. There is no easy way to track 3rd place and under finishes.


So we know they are great. Understood. But how do we figure out which is greater? Many of the arguments are familiar. Some people say that Woods is greater because he's playing against an entire field of golfers all at once, whereas Federer only has to play one person at a time. The argument goes, "Woods is greater because if he has a bad day, surely someone from the field of anywhere from 50 to 150 golfers can beat him. Federer only has to play better than however good his one opponent that day is playing." Others say Federer is better, noting that compared to his peers and the past he has won more tournaments in a more dominating fashion than anyone ever. Of course, the same can be said of Woods. That's the point. Which is more dominating?


Well, we have to try and figure out how their sports are similar. As far as I can tell, the best way to do this is to look at a golf tournament that is set up like a tennis tournament. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship gives us some measure of comparison. This match play (where each hole is worth a point) event is a knockout event with a 64-person bracket (think NCAA basketball tournaments). So a golfer needs to win 6 rounds to win the championship. A tennis Grand Slam event consists of 7 rounds. (Complaint: Why does "match play" not mean a match - c'mon golfing community!!! Match is one player versus one player in my mind and should not be related to scoring. And how come the PGA website is so poor? Good luck finding out the field in a tournament or how they're keeping score.)


In a knockout tournament, a poor performance one day can nullify several great performances over the previous days. Thus consistent greatness is necessary. Over a four-day stroke play tournament, for example, Tiger Woods can have a bad day and still win. Federer must always be dominant in his knockout tournaments. Sure, he's only playing one person at a time, but have a bad day, and he's out. So let's see how Tiger has done at this tournament." As far as I can tell, he's entered the tournament 8 times and won it twice. He's had 6 other top 10 finishes. So Tiger's wins have come at the same rate as stroke play events, but he seems to do better overall at the knockout tournament, at least in relation to top 10 finishes.


Federer's 1-in-3 victories versus Woods' 1-in-4 victories to me is the best indicator that Federer is the greater athlete.


Of course, it's too bad there are not more data to add to this analysis. The other argument one could make is that the field in golf is generally more difficult to play against than the field in tennis. This is a strong argument. However, I'd say that the top players in tennis are at least as good as the top players in golf, and these top players are the ones likely to derail Federer in the final rounds of a Grand Slam.

© 2007 Dime Brothers
Category: Sports    

Reader Comments:

Thought of something else
The sample size isn't that large for Woods in match play... but at least that's where someone else can affect his play. Otherwise, he's all on his lonesome, for the most part, playing against himself, with someone who may be "on" that day not affecting him at all.
20 Apr 2007
Woods vs. Federer Revived
Rick Reilly just published an article on this. I think he drew the right conclusion.
10 Jul 2012

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