Improved technology, fitness benefit Tiger

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

Long before being anointed the Golden Bear for his aggressive play and yellow locks, Jack Nicklaus was known simply as Fat Jack.

A pudgy sort whose early weight problems and sheer brilliance made him an endearing sort in a game largely ignored by mainstream media, Nicklaus overcame his heftiness to dominate like never before.

Fast forward more than 40 years and the man who has taken over as golf's greatest carries less fat on his chiselled frame than Nicklaus wore under his chin.

Leading the charge in an era that has made tubby competitors as obsolete as checkered pants, Tiger Woods introduced what has become an important element to the game: Fitness.

Physically stronger than almost all his challengers, Woods has combined his brawn with his superior mental makeup to triumph over formidable stars from around the world like Nicklaus never had to.

However, a much bigger change in the game of golf has come courtesy of the advances in equipment that have made Nicklaus' old irons and woods as outdated as his bell bottoms.

Yet, despite the possibility no sport has undergone as many technological changes the last 20 years as golf, improvements in equipment, fitness levels and course design have had little impact on the debate over the game's greatest.

Yes, courses are being stretched to accommodate juiced-up balls flying off of jacked-up clubfaces.

And yes, technology has ensured golf course maintenance has never been better.

But the truth is, the technology has been available to all of Woods' competitors as well, leaving him with no technological advantage over the field. And while the elements and equipment are the same for everybody competing in a tourney, Heritage Pointe Director of Golf John Wilson is convinced what are left of Nicklaus' scoring records are a testament to his unparalleled brilliance.

"He had so many scoring records for so long despite the fact in a lot of cases he was hitting in longer irons than today's players," said Wilson, a staunch Nicklaus supporter in the greatest player debate, based largely on his Ryder Cup record.

"Technology on the conditioning side of the course has changed, too. Look at the conditions they play on now. You get great lies in bunkers and the fairways, which wasn't the case back then. If you miss a putt, it's not the greens, you mis-hit the putt."

Very little is left to chance anymore, opening the door for the best player ever to stay on top.

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LEGENDS ON OUR BALLOT

You've read what our experts have said. But we want your opinions, too. Log onto calgarysun.com where you can vote for the greatest of the great athletes listed below and leave us a few comments, as well.

Jack Nicklaus

Tiger Woods

Bobby Jones

Walter Hagen

Arnold Palmer

Byron Nelson

Ben Hogan

Sam Snead

Tom Watson

Gary Player

Joe Montana

Jerry Rice

John Elway

Jim Brown

Walter Payton

Dick Butkus

Lawrence Taylor

Johnny Unitas

Barry Sanders

Joe Greene

F. Beckenbauer

Diego Maradona

Pele

Ronaldo

Bobby Charlton

Luis Figo

Marco van Basten

George Best

David Beckham

Zidine Zinedane

Willie Mays

Ted Williams

Barry Bonds

Joe DiMaggio

Babe Ruth

Lou Gehrig

Hank Aaron

Ty Cobb

Mickey Mantle

Roger Clemens

Mario Lemieux

Wayne Gretzky

Gordie Howe

Bobby Orr

Bobby Hull

Guy Lafleur

Maurice Richard

Ray Bourque

Jacques Plante

Phil Esposito


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