Commentary

Comparing Roger and Tiger

Updated: July 11, 2012, 10:27 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Federer-WoodsGetty ImagesTiger Woods and Roger Federer have dominated their sports in the past decade. But which is greater?

In my mission to make everybody in every bar hate one another, I ask you, "Who's greater: Roger Federer or Tiger Woods?"

And don't say, "Apples and oranges." These two are oranges and oranges.

Described to Ray Charles, they'd sound like twins. They're the same height and weight. Federer has 75 tour wins. Woods has 74. Woods is six years older, but he's been a pro only two years longer.

Federer was conscripted into the Swiss army but never served. Woods craved to be a Navy SEAL, but never tried. Each is as uncrackable as an Israeli spy.

Federer married a Swiss tennis player. Woods married a Swedish nanny. Each has two kids. Each has the slickest bag of tricks his sport has ever seen. Federer has the feet of a matador. Woods has the hands of a sculptor.

Both were left for dead only last year, yet both have fought back to be the No. 1 player in the world. (Yes, yes, I know: The World Golf Ranking has Woods fourth, but only because the formula was devised by Jethro of "The Beverly Hillbillies.")

Federer, after his seventh Wimbledon win Sunday, is the greatest player in his sport's history. Woods, with the British Open coming up next week, is second-best in his, but time is on his side.

So how do you decide?

You get out your scorecard and follow along.

Majors: Federer 17, Woods 14.

All-time rank in majors: Federer No. 1, Woods No. 2.

Win percentage in majors: Federer 32, Woods 24.

Advantage -- Federer.

Then again ...

All-time rank in tour wins: Federer No. 4, Woods No. 2.

Years left to win more majors: Federer -- two or three. Woods -- 10?

Degree of difficulty in majors: Federer must go 7-0 over two weeks to win a major. He can't have a bad day. Woods can be 43rd after Thursday and first on Sunday and he's fine.

On the other hand, Woods must go 143-0. He must beat everybody in the field, even people he'll never meet. He must be better than the Trevor Immelmans and the Bob Mays, guys who suddenly are putting into holes the size of kiddie pools. Woods can't hit these guys' nasty forehand drops or blistering backhand winners the way Federer can. There's nothing he can do to stop them, short of poisoning their room-service trays. This is why 15 men have won the past 15 golf majors and four men have won the past 15 tennis majors.

Advantage -- Woods.

Weeks as No. 1: Federer has had 286 now, tying Pete Sampras. But what he has done isn't nuts in tennis. Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors have nearly that many. Woods spent 623 weeks at No. 1, and that's certifiable. Second place is nearly half of that -- Greg Norman's 331. So, Woods has been far greater over his rivals than Federer has.

Then again: Woods' rivals have been water soup compared with Federer's. Phil Mickelson -- four majors. Ernie Els -- three. Padraig Harrington -- three. Rory McIlroy? One. Federer's competition? Rafael Nadal -- 11. Andre Agassi -- eight. Novak Djokovic -- five.

Advantage -- Federer.

Comebacks: What Federer did by winning this Wimbledon was the equivalent of holding the flipped car up with one hand and saving the baby with the other. He'd gone 29 months without a major. They were already penciling him in on the hit-and-giggle tours. When can you play McEnroe? He was coming up on his 31st birthday. In tennis, that's the start of the Early Bird Dinner years. No man other than Agassi has won a major past his 32nd birthday in 40 years.

To make it all the way back in the greatest era in tennis history? That's breathtaking. Woods hasn't done that yet, and he lives in the So What? era of golf history. He has convinced a bunch of us he's back, but not everybody. He needs a major title to do that, and he hasn't won one in four years. Remember when Woods and Federer would text each other about who was ahead in majors? They don't anymore.

Advantage -- Federer.

Life: The question was "Who's greater?" Greatness is more than what happens on stage. Both men are great athletes, but greatness is as greatness does. Greatness is also in the way you carry it, the way you treat fans and colleagues and waiters. I've never met anybody in tennis more polite and giving and generous than Federer. He treats the woman who cleans the hotel the same as the guy who owns it. I remember once when Federer and I were escorted into a room for my 15 minutes with him. He'd just finished his match, and he was drained. There was a leather recliner and a stool. He took the stool. And nothing I could say would talk him off it.

At the same time, I've never met anybody in golf less interested in others than Woods. If Federer acts like a reluctant god, Woods acts like a hand-picked one. There's a reason that, when Woods is done with people, they tend to rat him out. The Coach. The Caddie. The Girlfriends. You get treated like a beer can somebody's kicking along the road, you want to kick back. Is it just a coincidence that the Federers are still seen socializing with Woods' ex but not with Woods himself?

Tiger Woods still has 9½ years to rise to the place Federer is now. I hope he does.

Maybe his golf will get there, too.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com