Roger vs. Tiger: Is one better than the other?

Macky Michael plays golf. He started when he was eight years old at the Cebu Country Club. On his very first tournament, at 10 years of age, he won it! That was back in 1982.

Fast forward to six months ago, an uncle of mine from Laguna arrived and I invited Macky to join us for 18 holes. His score that afternoon? A gross 71. Even par. Wow. Today, he owns an 8-handicap that would be much lower if he played more than once a week. He’s Class-A in golf.

Macky Michael plays tennis. Like golf, he started at eight years of age. Same place, the Country Club. Now, he owns a Western-grip forehand that propels the ball forward. He can slice or topspin that backhand cross-court and his serve resembles that of John McEnroe’s. He’s Class-A at tennis.

And so I asked Macky, a close friend whom I’ve played singles tennis with the past 15 years, and one of the rare few in Cebu today who play golf and tennis each week—and who’s Class-A at both—the question, “Who’s better? Tiger or Roger?”

Just by their first names, you know them.

“Tiger Woods,” says Macky, “is no doubt the greatest-ever golfer. Jack Nicklaus may have more majors (he has 18), but it’s only a question of time before Tiger wins more than 20.”

“Roger Federer,” adds Macky, “is, to me, the best tennis player ever.” Macky’s previous “best-ever” was Pete Sampras. But in head-to-head combat, Roger has more artillery. His backhand is better, he’s quicker around the court, and has a stronger baseline game.

Golf or tennis? Which is more difficult, I asked Macky.

“With tennis, you have to be very fit. If you’re playing singles and you’re Class-A, you have to be in great shape. Not so in golf. You can be out of shape but still be good in golf. Between the ages of 13 and 21, I stopped playing golf. But when I came back—and that’s eight years of not having hit a ball–it wasn’t hard at all. As long as you have the golf swing, it’s fast. With tennis, if you’re unfit, you can’t play at a high level.”

“What makes golf difficult,” Macky says, “are the obstacles. Lakes. Sand traps. You can drive the ball 300 yards but if it lands on a bad lie, then it’s bad. Tennis is easier because it’s the same court all the time. Although Wimbledon may be on grass and the French Open may be on clay, it’s still the same dimensions, the same court.”

Tiger or Roger?

“Achievement-wise,” he said, “I’d say it’s a tie. Both are the same. What Roger did last year (winning three of four Grand Slam titles and carrying a 92-5 win-loss record) can be matched by what Tiger did back in 2000 when he made the Tiger Slam. In total number of majors, they’re not so far apart. Roger has 10 Grand Slam titles while Tiger has 12.”

But herein lies the difference, said Macky: Tiger will surely win many, many more Grand Slam titles than Roger. Why? Because even if Tiger is older (he’s 31 years old versus 25 for Roger), in golf there is longevity. “Look at Vijay Singh. Two years ago, he was world no.1. He’s 43 years old today. That’s impossible for tennis. With golf, it’s very possible that 10 years from now, Tiger is still winning slams and is the world no.1. With Roger, three years from now he’ll no longer be world no.1. In golf, at 40 years old, you’re still peaking. In tennis, once you’ve reached 30 years old, you’re old. It’s the nature of golf and tennis.”

The physical aspect. The athleticism. That’s what separates tennis from golf, Macky adds. “Charles Barkley once said in an interview with Bob Costas, ‘The last guy in the worst NBA team who just sits on the bench is a far better athlete than Tiger Woods.’ And it’s true. From an athletic standpoint, you can’t compare Tiger to a very athletic Roger. The definition of an athlete is one who has superior physical skills (strength, agility, endurance). Unfortunately, golf doesn’t allow you to showcase your endurance or stamina. On athleticism, Roger definitely beats Tiger. On the physical side of sports, I’d rather compare Roger with Michael Jordan.”

“That’s why,” Macky explains, “as much as I enjoy golf, but purely on the exercise point-of-view, one hour of tennis is better than five hours of golf.”

The Masters or Wimbledon? A golf major or a tennis Grand Slam title? Which is harder to win?

“A golf major,” says Macky. “With tennis, you win seven matches to win a Grand Slam title. In golf, you have to shoot the best score for the whole event for four days! Against everybody else! That’s much tougher. Also, in tennis, you can play bad, for example, in one match but still barely escape with a five-set victory. The good thing is, you’re still in contention. Your previous day score gets erased. Not in golf. At the pro level, you can’t have a bad day. Tiger rarely has a bad day. If one shoots 8-over for the day, you can’t erase that score. It’s added up. Not like tennis.”

Conclusion? The winner?

Why don’t we just let them play chess.

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