July 19, 2010
Your Lying Eyes quantifies an issue that a lot of sports fans have felt about golf since the emergence of Tiger Woods in 1997: that golf would be more fun if he had more superstar rivals besides Phil Mickelson, the way Jack Nicklaus had lots of worthy foes such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Johnnie Miller, Tom Weiskopf and Tom Watson. Here's his graph showing the number of career major championship victories by each year's major champions (excluding Nicklaus' 18 over 1962-1986 Woods's 14 over 1997-)
For example, in 1974 (the second highest point on the graph), the major championship winners were Gary Player (9 career majors), Hale Irwin (3), Gary Player (9) and Lee Trevino (6) for a total of 27. That year, Nicklaus finished T4, T10, 3, 2, so he had strong competition.
Your Lying Eyes argues that Woods's best competitors haven't been as formidable. He is aware of the alternative explanation, however, that maybe there are just more formidable competitors in golf today than in Nicklaus's day and they just cancel each other out.
My heretical view, as detailed in the Your Lying Eyes comments, is that Nicklaus tended to outsmart himself by trying to play smart (i.e., conservative, as he viewed it, like Ben Hogan). He could have won more major championships if he'd been a little dumber. On the other hand, Nicklaus's super-cerebral approach tended to intimidate his rivals such as Arnold Palmer (although not Lee Trevino). So, even though Nicklaus's tactics weren't as effective at winning as he thought they would be, his rivals, with the exception of Trevino (a former driving range hustler who wasn't impressed by anything), tended to agree with Nicklaus that he would beat them because of his brainpower.