Associated Press
Tiger Woods
"Maybe we should end the debate right now ... maybe what Tiger Woods did ... makes him the greatest athlete in sports." — Jim Souhan, Star Tribune

"Tiger Woods is the greatest individual athlete ever." — Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN Sports.

"It's time to contemplate that we're not talking about the greatest athlete in the history of golf. We're talking about the greatest athlete, period." — Chicago Tribune editorial.

Now that everybody has rushed for the hyperbole in the wake of Tiger Woods' latest greatest feat, could they please take a deep breath and calm down.

Woods' heroic U.S. Open win incited an old debate and a hasty rush to crown him World's Greatest Athlete (WGA). Bloggers, editorial writers, columnists and reporters have been hyperventilating to make the claim.

Let's get this piece of business out of the way first. What Woods has done is incredible and probably even more difficult than what Michael Jordan accomplished. Think about it: One man against hundreds in a game that requires a perfect storm of events to come together at precisely the point of impact, with the tiniest variation resulting in water and woods.

Woods is perhaps the greatest athletic performer ever. Who can argue his ability to perform under pressure? Michael Donaldson of the Star Times tap-danced around the WGA question by writing, "Tiger Woods is the greatest sportsperson to walk the planet."

But World's Greatest Athlete? No.

Even if Woods is a great athlete, we'll never know how great.

Because he plays golf.

You knew that's where this was going, didn't you?

The problem with including a golfer in any argument about athleticism is where do you draw the line?

If a golfer is to be considered WGA material simply because he dominates a sport or a game, then it follows that performers in bowling, darts, sailing, bass fishing and billiards could be considered, and does anyone really want that?

Athleticism should include all or most of the following: running, jumping, speed, quickness, coordination, endurance, reflexes, strength, exertion.

Does that sound like a golfer?

Golf is about skill, not athleticism. It is more game than sport. People note that golf is a difficult "sport" to support their claim that it is an athletic event (which would make Woods the WGA). No one who has ever tried to hit a ball with a club will argue that it's difficult, but difficulty by itself does not make it athletic. Laying tile is difficult.

Woods doesn't run, doesn't jump, doesn't use quickness. He walks. He swings a club. He doesn't even carry his own equipment. If you want to see how much athleticism golf demands, look at his opponents — portly Craig Stadler and beer-gutted, chain-smoking John Daly. Rocco Mediate, who took the gimpy Woods into a playoff at the Open, is 45 years old.

Athletes: football players, basketball players, track athletes, hockey players, soccer players.

Not athletes: Golfers, auto racers, jockeys, curlers.

Woods' U.S. Open victory restarted the old argument about World's Greatest Athlete in media around the world. Even the Wall Street Journal weighed in. The Journal retained five sports scientists and exercise physiologists and asked them to choose the World's Greatest Athlete from a list of 79 male athletes who are still active in their sport and rated among the best at what they do. They weighed statistics, made "subjective judgments" about the relative difficulty of each sport and graded the athletes on speed, reflexes, stamina, coordination, power, strength and size.

Their rankings: 1. Roman Sebrie, Czech decathlete; 2. LeBron James, American basketball star; 3. Floyd Mayweather, American boxer; 4. LaDanian Tomlinson, American football running back; 5. Roger Federer, Swiss tennis player; 6. Sidney Crosby, Canadian hockey player; 7. Liu Xiang, Chinese hurdler; 8. Jeremy Wariner, American sprinter; 9. Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, Brazilian soccer player; 10. Alex Rodriguez, American baseball star.

Sebrie, the defending Olympic champion and world record holder, can throw a 16-foot steel ball 53 feet, leap over a 7-foot bar, run a mile in 4 minutes, 21 seconds, sprint 100 meters in 10 seconds, long jump 26 feet and pole vault nearly 17 feet.

There was no mention of Woods by the panel.

Any discussion of World's Greatest Athlete Ever must include some or all of the following: Jim Thorpe, Carl Lewis, Jim Brown, Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Pele, Babe Didrikson and many more. But not Woods.

You could even make the argument that Woods isn't even the greatest golfer yet — Didrikson, who by the way won an Olympic gold medal in track and was an All-American basketball player, won 17 straight amateur golf tournaments, and Jack Nicklaus has still won more majors than Woods, and Ben Hogan's record must be considered.

Woods is gaining ground on all of them at a stunning rate, but he's not there yet.

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