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Woods & Phelps: The Dominators

August 19, 2008

Most of the talk centers on; Is Phelps as dominating as Woods, not the other way around.

The Tiger Woods-Michael Phelps comparison was the buzz of the sports world last week, and continues to be a talking point well into the second week of the Summer Olympics. Whether it was "Pardon the Interruption," or WFAN radio in New York, China or the United States, golfer and swimmer shared the same pedestal and were subjects of a grandiose worldwide debate. What they share in common is easier to define than who dominates their sports more -- Woods or Phelps?

Like Woods, Phelps is the product of a brilliant man who served as a dominant, at times militaristic, authority figure. In Tiger's case, it was his father Earl, who used to drop his golf bag or unzip his Velcro in the middle of his son's backswings.

In Phelps' case, it was his coach, Bob Bowman. In training, Bowman once stepped on Phelps' goggles during a meet, telling the prodigal son, "Go deal with it." So when they got to the 200 meter butterfly last week in Beijing and Phelps' goggles cracked and he could no longer see the wall, the swimmer reverted to counting his strokes to know where he was in the pool. Any other swimmer would have folded, but Phelps won the fifth of his record eight gold medals.

Both are superhuman athletes who have totally honed their bodies and minds for greatness. But most importantly, both possess a magical, even mystical quality that only a few athletes and performers in our lifetime find attainable. How did Woods make all those unmakable putts at the U.S. Open? How did Phelps out-touch Milorad Cavic in the 100 butterfly when he was seemingly beaten?

Both Woods and Phelps also use perceived slights to fuel their fire. With Woods, it could be Rory Sabbatini or Stephen Ames, however shallow the cut. Several months ago, Ian Thorpe, Australia's greatest swimmer, told a reporters there was no way Phelps could win even seven gold medals, let alone eight. That article went up in Phelps' locker and he read it every day. In Beijing the French said they were going to bash the U.S. in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay; Phelps seethed over that one. And in the 100 meter butterfly the first words out of his mouth when interviewed by NBC's Andrea Kraemer were regarding Cavic's quote to the press that "it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost," and how that made him want to win even more.

Finally, both Tiger and Phelps were picked on quite a bit as kids. Woods has talked about being tied to a tree as a young boy by schoolmates in Orange County, Calif. Phelps told NBC that as a kid he looked geeky and kids used to flick his ears, or throw his hat out the window of the school bus. Most kids when bullied lose their self-esteem. Phelps used it as a driving force to greatness. So did Woods.

And now there's news that Phelps would be worth $50 million to Nike -- not that Phil Knight would ever forget Woods.

As far as which athlete is more dominant, Phelps may have a better winning percentage, but until he comes back in four years and wins on one leg, then I'd have to say they're in a dead heat -- or all square. Woods has 14 majors. Phelps has 14 golds.

And if golf ever became an Olympic sport, and Woods decided he wanted to add a gold medal to his trophy case, is there any doubt who would be on the top step of the platform?

I haven't heard anybody calling him the Michael Phelps of golf.