The death of Ben Hogan provided an opportunity to kick around the irresolvable argument: Who was the greatest golfer ever?

While it is difficult to compare athletes of different generations, five golfers jump out as the best of their eras.

Young Tom Morris won four consecutive British Opens beginning in 1868 and at Prestwick in 1870 turned in one of the greatest tournament performances ever.

His 149 broke his own record by five strokes and held up as long as the British Open remained a 36-hole tournament _ 21 more years. And when the tournament went to 72 holes, it wasn't until 1904 _ when a much better ball was being used _ that anyone broke 300.

Doubling Morris' 36-hole score of 149 to 298 for 72 holes would mean his 1870 effort lasted 34 years.

And consider what might have been if Morris had not died when he was 24 years old, not long after his wife and child died during childbirth.

Harry Vardon came next. He won a record six British Opens and one U.S. Open between 1896 and 1914, after which he missed five years because of World War I.

The three golfers who lend the best comparisons are Bobby Jones, Hogan and Nicklaus because all can be judged against the standard of the Grand Slam events, although Jones gets a bit of a break because two of his four majors were against amateurs.

In any case, Jones played in 31 majors before his retirement in 1930 and won 13, or 42 percent. Strangely, he did his best work against the pros, winning the U.S. Open and British Open seven times in 15 tries.

The biggest surprise comes in the comparison between Hogan and Nicklaus.

Nicklaus won 18 professional major championships to Hogan's nine. But from the time of Nicklaus' first major as a professional (1962) through the year of his last major victory (1986), he played in 100 majors _ a winning rate of 18 percent.

From the time of Hogan's first major as a pro (1934) through the year of his last major victory (1953), he played in 33 majors. His nine victories in that time period was a victory rate was 27 percent.

Remember, Hogan played only in one British Open and had to skip the PGA during 10 peak years (1949-58) because his legs couldn't handle the double rounds match play required.

Most remarkable, beginning with his victory in the 1946 PGA Championship _ his first major victory _ Hogan won nine of the next 16 majors in which he played, 56 percent.

Young Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Not a bad starting point in arguing who the greatest golfer ever was.


ASIA BOUND: Ernie Els, Nick Faldo, Jesper Parnevik and Ian Woosnam will compete this December in the second annual version of an event in which golfers play in four Asian nations in six days.

Els won the inaugural Johnnie Walker Super Tour last year in a sudden-death playoff with Wosnam.

The quartet, all ranked in the top 20 worldwide, will be joined by one player from each of the host nations. They are Thailand's Boonchu Ruangkit, Taiwan's Hong Chia-yuh, Felix Casas of the Philippines and Maan Nasim of Indonesia.

The $412,000 tournament will start at the Emeralda Golf and Country Club in Jakarta on Dec. 9. The second round will be at Bangkok's Panya Indira Golf Club on Dec. 11 and the third round at the Fairways and Bluewater Resort Golf and Country Club in Boracay, the Philippines on December 13.

The final round will take place a day later at the Ta Shee Golf and Country Club near Taipei.


WORLD CUP: South African Ernie Els will defend his individual title and Els and Wayne Westner will try to keep the team championship when the World Cup of Golf is played Nov. 20-23 on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina.

Last year, Els and Westner, who have committed to the event, finished a record 18 strokes ahead of the runner-up U.S. team of Tom Lehman and Steve Jones.

The two-man team from the United States, which has won 21 of the 42 World Cups, has yet to be determined.

The United States and South Africa are among the 22 nations exempted from qualifying. Forty-four nations will compete in a qualifier in Jamaica Oct. 1-4 for the final 10 spots.


SELLING TIGER: More than 10,000 people jammed Ocean Drive in the trendy South Beach section of Miami on Monday night to catch a glimpse of Tiger Woods and the other celebrity owners of the newest branch of the Official All Star Cafe.

Woods, who earlier in the day gave golf tips to Sugar Ray Leonard, was spotted later that night rocking out on the dance floor. The inside word is that Woods' moves on the dance floor aren't as elegant as his swing.


DIVOTS: Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, Calif., was selected by the USGA as site of the 2000 U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur. ... Forty-three percent of the players in the British Open used Ping putters, according to the Darrell Survey. ... Former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem, will receive the National Golf Foundation's Graffis Award on Dec. 15 at the LPGA award luncheon in New York City. The award goes to an individual who has worked to promote the ideals and growth of golf. ... Callaway purchased the makers of Odyssey putters for $130 million. ... Top-Flite says its new ball, the Top-Flite Aero, goes farther because of its noncircular dimple design. ... Callaway says its second-quarter net sales were up 20 percent over the same quarter last year. The Great Big Bertha and the Biggest Big Bertha led the way. ... Softspikes, Inc. has filed a patent infringement suit against Etonic Worldwide Corp. over the Etonic Difference shoe. Etonic denied the charge and challenged the validity of the patents in question. ... The Golf Channel won the right to gain a foothold among the 8 million cable households in Canada. The 24-hour golf network is now seen in more than 10 million homes in the United States.