MIAMI—PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem believes Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer ever to play the sport, ranking his achievements ahead of Jack Nicklaus despite winning fewer majors than “The Golden Bear.”
Finchem, who is preparing to head into retirement, said former world number one Woods had played a transformative role in the history of the sport similar to the effect Michael Jordan had in the NBA.
“He’s the only living player to win 79 times, and only one player has ever won more,” Finchem said of Woods.
“He’s the only active player to have won 14 majors, and only one player has won more,” he added.
“I love Jack Nicklaus beyond belief, but I have to put Tiger down as probably the greatest player to ever play, and the way he did it and his domination at a time when you’re bringing more and more good players along, is incredible.
“It lifted all boats. I always refer to it as kind of like Michael Jordan in the NBA. He just lifted boats and brought in so many new fans to the game and changed it.”
Woods is preparing to make his comeback in California next month after missing the past year with a niggling back injury.
The 40-year-old trails Nicklaus’s haul of 18 majors by four and is widely seen as a longshot to surpass the 76-year-old’s tally.
Meanwhile, Finchem, who is stepping down at the end of the year after 22 years as PGA Tour Commissioner, said he is optimistic about the global health of his sport.
“It’s a really, really exciting time for the sport. There’s so much potential out there, more than ever. The global nature of the sport that we just saw manifested in the Olympics is out there in front of us to take advantage of,” said Finchem, speaking ahead of this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta.
“The quality of the young players coming up today is so much different than 20 years ago in terms of, not just their capability of playing, but their unbelievable focus on reaching fans, communicating. They handle themselves so well. The next 25 years are going to be awesome.”
Finchem said he believed golf’s return to the Olympics—which was marred by withdrawals of several top male players—could also help grow the game.
“You have about 85 countries where the governments invest money in sports but only in sports that are on the Olympic program,” Finchem said.
“Those are 85 countries that haven’t had government funding before, and now they’re getting it. How are we leveraging that to help grow the game globally?”
Finchem suggested he believed some of the players who withdrew from the Olympics citing fears over the Zika virus later rued their decision.
“Based on the reaction of some of those players after, having not gone, and learning about the difference between negative commentary ahead of an Olympics and reality,” Finchem said,
“Just ask the players who did go. It was a game-changer in their minds.”