After Jordan Spieth won his third career major championship on Sunday, four days before his 24th birthday, pundits and fans alike inevitably compared the talented Texan to Tiger Woods.
While Spieth’s career is off to an outstanding start, much like Woods two decades ago, he is not “the next Tiger Woods.”
He’s the first Jordan Spieth.
I not trying to be a smart-aleck, because the fact is that Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods have fewer similarities than some may think.
There are certainly comparisons between the two. Both won their first three majors at a very young age—Spieth is actually about six months younger than Woods was at the time of his third major.
Both have shown mental strength to be a major key to their success, and both have an innate ability to make big putts from anywhere when needed down the stretch.
Woods used countless Houdini-like shots to escape trouble in many of his major triumphs, and Spieth used a similar shot Sunday on his 3-wood recovery from the practice area 50 yards right of the 13th fairway, turning a near-certain “big number” into a bogey that kept him in contention, which he followed with a 5-under stretch over the next four holes.
But on and off the course, there are major differences between Woods and Spieth.
On the course, Tiger’s first three major wins were more dominant than Spieth’s. Woods’ first three major wins came by a combined 28 shots, including victories by 12 at the 1997 Masters and 15 at the 2000 U.S. Open.
The combined eight-shot margin of Spieth’s first three majors is still quite impressive, yet is nothing compared to the utter dominance of Woods. And while Spieth’s 2015 Masters win at 18-under 270 matched Woods’ record for low score in the event, his 18-under came on an Augusta track softened by rain, where 11 players finished 7-under or better; in 1997, Woods was the only player 7-under or better.
After Woods’ third major, he promptly won the next three majors, the 2000 Open and PGA and 2001 Masters, a feat that will be difficult for Spieth to duplicate. That said, Spieth will have one chance to win the career grand slam at a younger age than Tiger, when he competes in the PGA Championship next month in Charlotte.
Off the course, Woods can be cocky while holding things close to the vest, bluntly answering questions about his golf career and life. Spieth is one of the humblest professional athletes in recent memory, and is very candid, honest and open.
Woods, the Buddhist son of a middle-class Green Beret, grew up playing the municipal courses of southern California. Spieth, a Catholic son of a web CEO, grew up on country clubs of suburban Dallas.
Woods, who has a fascination with the Navy SEALs, worked out obsessively in his prime and built a massive muscular physique, using his strength to pull off some of his incredible shots on the course.
While Spieth has shown some strength at times, he is less of a “bomber” of the golf ball, and physically looks more like someone I might have competed against in collegiate intramurals than one of the best athletes in the world.
From a cultural impact level, Spieth has no chance to equal the magnitude of Woods’ career. The emergence of a black star who also has Asian heritage in a sport historically dominated by white men brought golf to an entire new audience.
While Spieth has throngs of fans he has, more or less, excited existing golf fans with the emergence of a new star more than he has taken the game to new audiences.
These two stars are quite different, so instead of pinning the weight of the “the next Tiger Woods” label on a player—which is quite unfair to anyone, considering there will likely never be another player to match the talent, domination and impact of Woods—let’s simply sit back and watch what someone with the talent of Jordan Spieth can do next.
No, Jordan Spieth is not “the next Tiger Woods.”
He’s the first Jordan Spieth, and that alone is exciting for the game of golf.
The 146th Open Championship
1. Jordan Spieth, U.S., -12 (65-69-65-69–268), becomes second youngest player to win three legs of the career grand slam (behind Jack Nicklaus)
2. Matt Kuchar, U.S., -9 (65-71-66-69–271)
3. Haotong Li, China, -6 (69-73-69-63–274)
t4. Rory McIlroy, N. Ireland, -5 (71-68-69-67–275)
t4. Rafa Cabrera Bello, Spain, -5 (67-73-67-68–275)
t6. Matthew Southgate, England, -4 (72-72-67-65–276)
t6. Marc Leishman, New Zealand, -4 (69-76-66-65–276)
t6. Alex Noren, Sweden, -4 (68-72-69-67–276)
t6. Branden Grace, S. Africa, -4 (70-74-62-70–276), in third round became the first player in major championship history to shoot 62
t6. Brooks Koepka, U.S., -4 (65-72-68-71–276)
t11. Henrik Stenson, Sweden, -3 (69-73-65-70–277), defending champion
t14. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan, -2 (68-72-66-72–278)
t22. Rickie Fowler, U.S., E (71-71-67-71–280)
t27. Jason Day, Australia, +1 (69-76-65-71–281)
t37. Sergio Garcia, Spain, +2 (73-69-68-72–282)
t54. Justin Rose, England, +4 (71-74-69-70–284)
t54. Dustin Johnson, U.S., +4 (71-72-64-77–284)
t62. Alfie Plant, England, +6 (71-73-69-73–286), low amateur
Phil Mickelson (+10) missed the cut; Tiger Woods did not play.
Open Champions, since 2000
2000 Tiger Woods
2001 David Duval
2002 Ernie Els
2003 Ben Curtis
2004 Todd Hamilton
2005 Tiger Woods
2006 Tiger Woods
2007 Padraig Harrington
2008 Padraig Harrington
2009 Stewart Cink
2010 Louis Oosthuizen
2011 Darren Clarke
2012 Ernie Els
2013 Phil Mickelson
2014 Rory McIlroy
2015 Zach Johnson
2016 Henrik Stenson
2017 Jordan Spieth