Who's best of the best?

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

Who's the greatest of all time? That question is the basis of many heated sports debates -- in pubs, on sports radio call-in shows, even in locker-rooms. All this week, Sun columnist Eric Francis talks to athletes, refs, analysts and other assorted experts to gauge who are the greatest players in five sports: Golf, baseball, soccer, football and hockey. Francis might even throw in his two cents' worth, too. We also want your opinions all this week -- log onto www.calgarysun.com to have your say.

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Scotty Bowman likes to tell a story about the focus that has made Tiger Woods the greatest golfer of all time.

As a volunteer scorer walking alongside Woods during the youngster's record-setting U.S. Open win at Pebble Beach in 2000, Bowman was recognized by Woods midway through their second round together.

"How long have you been here?" asked Woods.

"Almost two days," answered Bowman, who insists he's never seen an athlete so fixated on a game.

It's such legendary dedication that has many believing Woods has surpassed Jack Nicklaus in every way outside of the Golden Bear's 18 majors.

"Look how short a time it has taken him to beat some of Jack's records," said retired NHLer Dennis Polonich, whose daughter Jade attended Ole Miss on a golf scholarship.

"Look at the distractions and competition -- his mental makeup just seems to be unmatched. There's a lot of good young guys out there and he dominates them."

Indeed, while Woods' brilliance over the first 10 years of his pro career has many believing he may just be the greatest athlete of our time, the question isn't so much is he better than Nicklaus but when did he surpass Jack as the sport's best.

For many, that moment came this summer when he bounced back from his father's death to win the last two majors and his last five tourneys in a row.

"This was the year I realized he's the greatest," said B.C. Lions quarterback Dave Dickenson, a five handicapper who grew up idolizing Nicklaus and Greg Norman.

"He's unbelievable right now -- it's almost not fair. The players are way better these days yet guys tank around him. You never see guys take a run at him."

As was the case with Nicklaus in his prime, opponents are certainly intimidated by Woods, who has essentially proven to be infallible in majors when leading on Sunday. And while the casual observer might suggest it has more to do with the lack of talent around him, the truth is the world has never seen so many superb golfers than now, thanks in part to both greats making the game international.

But don't tell that to NHL linesman Mike Cvik.

"Jack's the greatest only because, from my perspective, the field he always played against was more competitive than the one Tiger plays against," said Cvik, citing names such as Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Gary Player and Lee Trevino, who all won a bunch of majors.

"That said, if Tiger wins another two or three in a row now who can argue against him?"

In a two-man debate, no one would be silly enough to add the likes of pioneers Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead or Byron Nelson.

Yet Stamps legend John Helton thinks one factor needs to be weighed -- the fact Nicklaus was a hero at home as a dad while Woods has been 'single'-minded in his approach to the sport.

"What Jack did with a family is more significant," said Helton. "Tiger is in line for making his mark but Jack won the Masters at age 46 -- Tiger may never do that."

Given his 53 tour wins (in just 213 outings) and 12 majors, few dare suggest there's anything Woods can't do.

Said TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire, a nine handicap: "How many other golfers have they tried to change courses for? I've never heard of Jack-proofing or Arnold-proofing, just Tiger-proofing."


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