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Tiger Woods vs. Arnold Palmer: Who Would Win the Masters?

Despite playing in entirely different eras, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer are often compared to one another thanks to their elite golf abilities. While their styles of play aren’t comparable, the pair filled similar spaces in golf as far as international appeal.

With Palmer no longer with us and Woods on the downslope of his career, it’s time to ask who would win in a Masters matchup between the two titans. 

Tiger Woods reflects on Arnold Palmer 

Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer laugh during the ceremony following the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational
Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer laugh during a 2013 ceremony | Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Woods and Palmer’s connection isn’t just hypothetical, reports the PGA Tour. Although Palmer was nearly 50 years Woods’ senior, his place as golf royalty made him a mainstay at events, especially the invitational named after him. The two first crossed paths when Woods was only 15 years old. 

“He was handing out some medals to guys that have played in three Juniors and there are only a handful of guys that had done that,” Woods said about meeting one of his heroes. “[Palmer] was giving those guys medals and I said, ‘I’d like to one day play in as many Juniors as that.”

In 2019, Woods reflected on Palmer’s impact on the sport during the leadup to what would’ve been his 90th birthday. Hearing Woods discuss Palmer, one understands why the two were kindred spirits. 

“Arnold meant everything to golf,” Woods said of Palmer’s stature. “… Without his charisma, without his personality in conjunction with TV, it was just the perfect symbiotic growth. You finally had someone who had this charisma and they’re capturing it on TV for the very first time.”

Tiger Woods vs. Arnold Palmer

The two met throughout the rest of Palmer’s life, both on the golf course and at events. The mutual respect was clear from the get-go. Palmer won 80 PGA tournaments and an additional 12 Seniors. Seven of those victories came in majors. Currently, Woods sits at 82 career victories and 15 major championships — more than double Palmer’s output. 

Without seeing the two compete in the same era, however, it’s hard to say Woods is better just because he won more. It’s also difficult to assert that Palmer had a chance against one of the few with as many accolades as he does. Both have been vital to their eras; comparing them is complicated. 

Although Woods has struggled in recent years, his victory at 2019’s Masters showed he still has what it takes to win. He’s shown a return to form in other ways, too. This is because Woods plays a conservative style that, while not always successful, means that he is not going to beat himself. Others will have to beat him by playing their best (unless Woods is struggling). 

Compare this to Palmer, who was never afraid to take risks on the course, and it makes for an interesting dynamic. Woods’ calculated method of play was a direct contrast. But on a wrong day, it could mean Palmer’s gambles paid off greatly. Conversely, if Palmer’s gambles failed to make Woods squirm, it could be a long day for him. 

Who would win? 

One has to side with Woods in a hypothetical Masters matchup. If both players were competing at their peaks, Woods has had a peak unlike any other in history, including Palmer.

However, if Woods came up in a world where he had to forge a path like Palmer, as FiveThirtyEight asserts, his results might’ve been similar. As such, Woods might not have experienced the same success playing against the field Palmer had in the ’60s. 

In the end, these are two of the greatest golfers ever. Woods’ conservative approach would mean Palmer would have to hit the jackpot multiple times to have a chance. However, if he did hit on those gambles, even Woods would have to take chances to bypass him. In the end, more would have to go right for Palmer. Woods would likely run away with the Masters win.