Tiger is almost nothing like Nicklaus, on or off the golf course. One is a happily married family man with a stable home life; the other probably should never have gotten married. One dominated with relentless good play and little interaction with the crowd; the other more recently dominated with masterful shots while playing up to the audience.
In this respect, Tiger is the modern-day version of Seve Ballesteros. Like Tiger, Seve was an imposing force, intimidating with his ability to make magic on a golf course. Like Tiger, a showman who didn't hide his emotions. And, like Tiger, prone to bouts of wildness off the tee, with an ad-libber's talent to recover spectacularly.
Until fairly recently, Tiger was thought of as intimidating on a golf course. Seve was no less fearsome. In Ryder Cup play, his record was 20-12-5. Backing down from a challenge was not in his DNA. An oft-repeated quote of his: "I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, 'I am going to bury you.'"
Seve could - to some extent, Tiger still can - do things beyond the skill of other players. Two examples of their genius: En route to winning the British Open in 1979, then 22-year-old Seve, trying to maintain a two-shot cushion, drove into a parking lot on the next-to-last hole, somehow found the green with his next shot and holed the putt for birdie when bogey, or worse, seemed likely. In his 2005 Masters win, Tiger faced a tricky chip from the back of the green at the par-3 16th. Analyzing the surface as if it were a billiard table, he hit a delicate attempt that initially went away from the hole, then tracked slowly downhill, hung on the lip of the cup for what seemed an eternity, then fell into the hole for birdie.
Seve Ballesteros, now only 53 but retired and long-removed from his prime, even bettered Tiger in some respects. He turned pro at 16 in 1974, was second at the British Open in 1976 at just 19, won his first PGA Tour event (Greater Greensboro Open) at 20 in 1978 and his first major, the 1979 British Open, at 22. He won a total of five majors, but he's almost as well known for the tournament he never won: the U.S. Open.
Ballesteros probably knew he was never going to win the U.S. Open when he finished his final round of the 1987 Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Ballesteros, the dashing Spaniard who by the age of 27 had already won the Masters (1980, 1983) and British Open (1979, 1984) twice each, came to San Francisco as a 30-year-old with plenty of game, but no answer for the riddle that is the U.S. Open. The tournament set up by the United States Golf Association has always rewarded patient, almost plodding play, putting a premium on accuracy and making those who stray pay dearly.
Not exactly Seve's strengths. His magician's ability to recover from strange places worked perfectly in the British Open, where creativity is always a valuable skill. His deft touch with a putter fit the Masters and Augusta National's wickedly slick putting surfaces.
At a U.S. Open venue, though, even Houdini couldn't escape from the arm-wrenching rough. Somehow, Seve always found himself in trouble. He would go on to win the British Open a third time, in 1988, and had a total of seven top-10 finishes in that event, along with eight top-10s at the Masters. In 18 tries at the U.S. Open, he had no wins, missed the cut five times, was disqualified once, and finished in the top 10 just three times.
At the Olympic Club in 1987, he wound up third, five shots behind winner Scott Simpson. Not bad, but, unlike most players touring the ridiculously short, brutally penalizing course, he gave away too many shots in the trees and thick rough.
He even offered some sarcastic advice for the sadists at the USGA. "I'd like to see the fairways more narrow. Then everyone would have to play from the rough, not just me."