Mickelson’s final-round charge that led to his win at The Open Championship, as well as another runner-up finish at the U.S. Open in June and his win at the Scottish Open in early July have a lot of folks talking about Lefty’s place in golf history.

Just a decade ago, Mickelson was viewed as an underachiever whose potential for major championship dominance never materialized for one of two reasons:

  1. Tiger Woods’ domination of major championships from 1997 to 2008.
  2. Mickelson’s aggressive style of play.

Five major championship victories later, no less of an authority than Jack Nicklaus has said that Mickelson will go down as one of the greatest players ever. With over 40 PGA Tour wins, and victories at the Masters (three times), PGA Championship and Open Championship, it is not too soon to discuss where Phil stands in the pantheon of great players — especially considering his six second-place finishes at the U.S. Open, which would be a great career in itself for many long-time Tour players.

When we compile any list of the “best ever,” era comparisons invariably rear their head. It is difficult if not impossible to compare Old Tom Morris and Tiger Woods, so perhaps some criteria are in order. To be fair, we needs an apples-to-apples basis for our list and I think we have to consider some of the following:

Dominance: Was the golfer the dominant player of his/her era? Did he/she beat the others often enough to be the best player of that time? This is tricky, because in golf we’ve had “waves” of great players who often stood in the way of one another.

  1. The “Great Triumvirate” of Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and J.H. Taylor, to the early American supremacy of Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen.
  2. The war years of Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
  3. The modern era of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
  4. The “Tiger” era.

In the first three eras, there always seem to be three players that stood out among the rest. So if a player didn’t win every time (in golf, they don’t), the greats were often in contention. For example, there’s no doubt that Palmer and Player took potential titles away from Nicklaus, but even when Nicklaus lost he was often in close pursuit.

Only Tiger Woods has stood head and shoulders above the rest in his era. The late 1990s to 2008-2009 is really the only time we’ve had one player completely dominate an era, with the possible exception of Bobby Jones from 1923 to 1930.

Some may argue that Tiger dominated the golf world because their was no other “great” player at the time. Tom Watson was past his prime, and Nick Faldo was slowly exiting the scene as well. Mickelson was still learning to win the big ones, and not the player he is now. Others like to argue that Tiger dominated because he was playing the best golf the world had ever seen, which I’ll touch on more later in the story.

Major championships: While it difficult to say where the cut off line would be, I will arbitrarily select five (5) as the number of majors a player had to win to be considered on our greatest-of-all-time category. Here, too, we are on a slippery slope, because majors have changed.

The U.S. Amateur is a great example: In Bobby Jones’ era, surely it was a major. In Jack’s era, it may have been marginally a major, and today is clearly is not. The Masters, a modern day major, was not played until 1934, and the PGA Championship not until 1916. So we have to be careful when comparing on this basis alone. But majors are how we define good from great in our game, and, in some form, we have to consider their records in them.

Longevity: Again, using this as one of our criteria can get confusing, as golf is a game where most players do NOT stay at their peak for very long. Nicklaus, Snead and Player are notable exceptions, but many of the game’s greats have had short reigns at the top.

Jones was at his best from 1923 to 1930, while Nelson was in his prime from 1937 to 1945. Even in the modern era, all of Palmer’s majors came in an 8-to-9-year period. And often the flame burns brightest before it burns out: Nelson, 18 wins in 1945, gone two years later; Jones won the grand slam in 1930, retired the next year. A player named Ralph Guldahl, one of the premiere players in the 1930s, won back to back U.S. Opens and nothing after really — so did Curtis Strange.

On the other hand, Snead won events over a 30-year period as did Gary Player, and Jack over 25 years. So we still have to give longevity a place on the list.

Total Wins: There’s no denying that great golfers are able amass their share of total tournaments won around the world, not just the PGA Tour. Gary Player, for example, won only 24 events on the PGA Tour, but over 150 worldwide. Tiger is rapidly approaching Sam Snead’s all-time record of 83 PGA Tour wins, but of course he also has 14 majors victories. Considering all that, here is my vote for the top 10 players ever:

No. 1: Jack Nicklaus

With 18 professional majors, 2 U.S. Amateur titles and 73 PGA Tour wins over 25 years, Jack’s record speaks for itself. Tiger has won three more times on the PGA Tour than Nicklaus, but until him or someone else tops his record 18 major championships, there is no question that “The Golden Bear” is the greatest golfer of all time.

The best golf that has even been played was from Woods from 2000 to 2008, but he still has work to do to catch Jack in longevity (Nicklaus won his last major at the age of 46) and majors.

No. 2: Tiger Woods

In his prime, Tiger was the best golfer the world has ever seen. Winning the U.S. Open Championship by 15 shots, the British Open by 11, the Masters by 12 and the “Tiger Slam” are just a few of the things that separate him from the others.

Consider this statistic: Tiger has won 25 percent of the professional tournaments he has played. The next best on that list is Phil at 8 percent! And I, for one, believe his comeback is almost complete and inevitable. But until then he remains firmly in second place, four majors away from the No. 1 spot.

No. 3: Ben Hogan

ben-hogan-06

Hogan was the consummate ball striker, winning three consecutive majors in 1953 — The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open (he didn’t play in the PGA Championship).

The “Wee Ice man,” as the Scots affectionately named him, was one of the best ever. His nine major championships in a five year stretch is the stuff of legends, and it seems that his legend is improving as the years go by.

Remember this: Hogan basically only played the majors after his near-fatal car accident.

No. 4: Walter Hagen

Hagen

With the possible exception of Gary Player, Hagen was the best match play player ever, and maybe as good a putter who has ever lived as well.

Hagen taught golfers that confidence is a MUST in championship golf, personifying his self belief with his lavish dress and habits. He won four consecutive PGA Championships (1924-1927), five British Opens and 2 U.S. Opens.

Once, needing to hole out from the fairway from 155 yards to force a playoff, Hagen had his caddie remove the flagstick! That’s confidence.

No. 5: Bobby Jones

Photograph_15

The best amateur golfer of all time, and his No. 5 ranking here could easily be higher — Jones quit tournament golf at the unthinkable age of 28! In 1930, his grand slam year, he only played in two other events.

Remember this: Jones averaged one round a week during his playing days, and he put the clubs away most of the winter! He was an amazing talent that may never be duplicated. In his last 12 national championships (U.S. and British), he was first or second a staggering 11 times.

No. 6: Gary Player

With nine majors and over 100 victories worldwide, Gary Player brought physical and mental fitness to the world of professional golf. He was also the first to play the game internationally at the highest level.

Player is one of only five players to win the modern grand slam, and he also won the World Match Play Championship an unprecedented five times! But because he played in the same era as Nicklaus, Player’s place in history is sometimes greatly underrated.

No. 7: Sam Snead

Sam Snead is still the winningest player ever on the PGA Tour, with one of the sweetest swings anyone has ever seen. He amassed 81 wins on the PGA Tour, all while while playing in the era of Hogan and Nelson.

He won the West Virginia Open 17 times, often playing in bare feet in the early days. A natural athlete who took great care of his body, Snead could kick the top of a door frame with his other foot on the ground!

No. 8: Arnold Palmer

Every young player who collects a big, fat paycheck today should quietly thank Arnold palmer. “The King” popularized the game and brought it to the masses like no player before him.

Loved and adored by fans for his go-for-broke style, Palmer saved a moribund game and Tour after the Hogan era. Consider this: from 1960 to 1966, Palmer won the U.S. Open once (Cherry Hills, 1960), and played off for the title in 1962, 1963 and and 1966. Although he lost all those playoffs, that is first or tied for first for four out of six years!

No. 9: Byron Nelson

His 18 wins (19 if you count the New Jersey Open) in 1945 puts him automatically on my top-10 list. A quiet man, who eschewed the spotlight, his ball striking has become the stuff of legends.

Byron was alleged to hit a golf ball straighter than anyone before or since him. But he disliked tournament golf, often to the point of nausea before big matches.

Once Ben Hogan, who saw Nelson with his head in the toilet before the 1942 playoff for the Masters, actually offered to delay the start of the match! They didn’t and Nelson won. After his record-breaking 1945 season, he retired two years later.

No. 10: Harry Vardon and Tom Watson

6ede753a49cbee314c0befe6fd19c282

I’m copping out a bit here because although the two played some 75 years apart, the single dominance of the British Open alone (six wins for Vardon and five for Watson) make it very difficult to choose.

Vardon actually invented the more modern golf swing, and left us with the famous “Vardon Grip,” the overlapping grip as we know it, and dominated golf just as it was coming to America.

Watson won 39 PGA Tour events, eight of them majors, and of course came within a whisker of winning the British Open at the age of 59 in 2009. He may be best known for his memorable battles (and victories) with Jack Nicklaus when Jack was in his prime.

I would love to hear from anyone who would adjust my list. Please remember, this my the list as it stands today. My list does not include Mickelson yet, but he is surely a bullet!

How can my list NOT include Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Billy Casper et al? Well, again it is my list, and I was asked to write the piece. Again, era comparisons are difficult at best, but it makes for great 19th hole conversation.

Fianlly, I think Phil is a long way from through, and at some he will be on that list. His talent is that good.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

Your Reaction?
  • 184
  • LEGIT70
  • WOW14
  • LOL20
  • IDHT14
  • FLOP23
  • OB11
  • SHANK49

Previous articleTiger Woods and Oak Hill's Greens, The Saga Continues
Next articleTiger shoots 61, takes 7 shot lead
Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. This summer, he's teaching out of Southpointe Golf Club in Pittsburgh

Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions:

-- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA
-- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal
-- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine
-- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest
-- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf
-- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members)
-- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA
-- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA
-- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf
-- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA
-- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors

Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf
Academy
at the Marco Island Marriott in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

50 COMMENTS

Not seeing your comment? Read our rules and regulations. Click "Report comment" to alert GolfWRX moderators to offensive or inappropriate comments.
  1. Have to place Tiger in the No. 1 spot based on something Jack Nicklaus said when asked about Tiger’s ability and record: Jack replied, when I played competitively, each tournament I played against (the same) 5 or 6 players. Tiger plays against the entire field in each tournament
    That’s about 124 golfers who enter each tourney.

  2. Nice list, but your mistake is trying to rank these players within the top 10.
    Best pure golfer: Jones
    Player who dominated his era best: Woods
    Most impressive career: Nicklaus
    Most competitive Golfer: Snead
    etc

    This is similar in every sport. In hockey, you can’t rank Richard, Howe, Gretzky, and Lemieux.

    One thing you can say, is 5 Bobby Orrs would have beat 5 anybody elses, in their prime. Not sure if golf has an analogy.

    What if you took them all in their prime, with magically equal equipment, and it came down to 18 holes.

    Who would win?

  3. Good list. Tough to compare eras, but I have to go with the best player of each era to start the list because they dominated everyone they played against.
    I personally would rank Bobby Jones and Harry Vardon higher on the list, they were both the dominant players of their era and were not only great players but moved the needle in terms of popularizing the sport.

    Gary Player was great, but like Phil was never considered the best player in the world at any point in time, he always seemed to be playing 2nd fiddle to Jack or Arnie.

  4. Good list. I would look at it slightly different though, I view the GOAT as the players who dominated their era, the ones who where without a doubt the GOAT when they retired, or quit playing at a high level.

    Vardon
    Jones
    Hogan/Nelson/Sneed
    Nicklaus
    Tiger.

    Being that Hogan/Nelson/Sneed are 3 players, born the same year and all dominated for short periods during the same era and can’t rate any of them higher than 5.

    So I would go:
    1. Jack-Most majors, played at a high level for 20 years.
    2. Tiger-blah blah blah, we know what he has done, but unless he kicks it in gear for a 2nd run at greatness Jack wins.
    3. Jones-dominated the sport as much as anyone ever, if he could have sustained it past the age of 28 he could be higher.
    4. Vardon-The first truly great international player. Greatest of all time without question before Jones came along.
    5. Hogan-maybe the best ball striker ever, just doesn’t have enough career wins or majors to be any higher, although if it werent for the Grayhound bus……
    Sneed-dominated his era for 20 plus years, but played 2nd fiddle to Hogan and Nelson for 5 year stretches.
    Nelson-Played the best golf of all time for about 2 years.

    After this I would take any listed by the author, however you could add names like Locke, Seve, Thompson, Casper, Trevino, Floyd, Norman, Faldo, Young Tom Morris, or even Ray.

    • Sorry, but Jones is #1, Jack #2
      Jones won 13 Majors between 1923-1930 in a seven year consecutive period. That is almost two majors per those consecutive years. Jack did not even come close to this in Jack’s first seven years on tour. Jack won his last major (18) at 46 yrs old at the Masters. Jones won the ONLY grand slam in Golf in 1930. Jones played only part-time and always as an amateur. Being an amateur, he was disqualified from the PGA tournament and since he had not yet created the Masters Tournament, he only played that once he had retired.

  5. Tom Watson is grossly underrated. 8 majors in really 2 different eras that featured Jack, Lee, Player, Faldo, Norman and even in his old age is still competing in majors, most notably the playoff at the Open in 2009. Should be top 5 imo.

    As for Tiger v Jack, no player has ever dominated like Tiger nor had a bigger impact on the games popularity, fitness, and earnings as he. Tiger also plays far fewer events each yr than most tour pros and has had several swing overhauls due to injury.

  6. This is a very American biased top ten list. I would agree historically the US has produced the better golfers, but certainly you would have to recognise the achievements of Ballesteros, who elevated the status of European golf and levelled the playing field in the Ryder cup, which up to then was essentially dominated by the US team.

  7. Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer of all time, and it’s not even that close. Palmer is the most important player of all time for bringing the game to the masses with his dramatic flair at the dawn of the golf on television era. I do think Gene Sarazen should have finished higher because he won all 4 majors, hit the most famous shot in golf history, and at the same time was instrumental in the development of the sand wedge. And yes, I do think women should be included. The golf world should know of Patti Shook Boice of Michigan. She never turned pro because she didn’t play for money and certainly not for fame. She won the National Collegiate Championship in 1964 though her college, Valparaiso, didn’t even have a team, and won her state’s women’s open a record number of times and was named the Michigan Female Golfer of the Century. If you ever met her you’d never know…genuinely humble, sweet and polite…she’s the female version of Bobby Jones.

  8. Isn’t about time you update this article? Tiger has won 79 official PGA Tour events. The field Jack player against was never as deep as todays field! They players come all over the world not just Europe. I strongly suggest you read this article ( http://golf.about.com/cs/historyofgolf/a/top5men.htm )on why Tiger is the best even if he never breaks Jacks record! At age 37 if he plays to only age 48 he’ll have 44 chances to best Jack. That in its-self says he is far better at this age than Jack. Miguel Jimenez is only down by 2 strokes in this latest Majors. Far too much importance given to Majors. All one needs to do is stay on the fairway & two putt. A few birdies on the par 5’s and you’ve got a win! This new 20 year old is showing as Tiger did any golfer having a good weekend can win a Major. Where are all the recent Pat Major winners? Oh, you say they got cut? What does that say about them??? No Tiger to inspire them, they might as well have stayed home, they are certainly past their prime!

  9. To all the readers of this article…the idea of it was to stimulate discussion. There are no right or wrong lists, and a “best ever” selection is very subjective. But it does refresh some peoples interest in golf history, an area I feel has been lost in modern golf. The lore of this great game has always been a part of its many charms, and I, for one, like to keep it alive. Thx, DC

  10. If ‘Majors Won’ is part of the criteria – then you have to include those events which were regarded as the majors in their day. So for example – The North & South or The Western would count and Hagen’s total, for one, would be much higher.

    Also consider that outside the USA, The Masters is not considered a major – it’s an Invitational on a very much ‘made for TV’ course – not a championship.

    Tiger Woods’ ten year dominance has certainly saved the PGA Tour and televised golf but it has come at a price. Huge weekly pay cheques with scores near to twenty under isn’t fooling anyone and wasn’t that proved this year at Merion & MuIrfield, when you had to play ‘proper golf’ on real golf courses?

    Tiger will be admired but never loved the way Jack & Arnie were and are. The Tour and the young fellows appearing now, inspired by his exploits, will be forever thankful to him for helping grow The Tour to where it is today. But they want his scalp before he’s past his best. They are not intimidated by him the way the competition was at his peak – so it’s going to be very hard for Tiger to win any more majors.

    Another criteria you might want to consider – although somewhat subjective – is how did the players of the various eras rate their fellow competitors. In this way you would be including Trevino and Faldo.

    Thought provoking article though – but there can never be a best of all time only the best in their time.

    • Mark,

      Good points. I don’t thing the Western or North South ever held the “majors” tag even though they were HUGE tour events. They may be like the WGCs of their day. I disagree about the Masters, as just about every non-American who has won it, said they had dreamed of winning it all their lives. It is clearly a major. To your point about being the best of their time, I totally agree. Sports change so much that a “best ever” is all but impossible to determine. In their times, players like Young Tom Morris and Willie Anderson (3 consecutive US Opens) would be on any list. But thx for the good comments and interest

  11. In 1925, the two greats of the game played a 36 hole exhibition match; Hagen won 12 and 11. The consummate amateur and the consummate pro…Hagen was a genius at simply getting the ball in the hole. But I see your point, it could easily have gone the other way. Just my opinion.

    • Jones was not prepared for the match. He was being pressured to turn pro and the loss helped him realize that staying amateur was the best thing for him and his family.

      Jones was 5-0 in majors with Hagen in the field.

      None of Hagen’s major titles had Jones in the field.

  12. It’s a shame for many reasons the car accident that nearly killed Ben Hogan, but I honestly can’t imagine how many majors he would have won if that never happened. He won with legs he had no business walking a golf course on and a left eye that couldn’t focus on the golf ball when putting. It’s hypothetical, but I feel pretty certain he’d have won 15 or more. Similar thing with Byron Nelson. He’s a man who dominated the game and then retired in his 20’s at his peak because he was more interested in buying and running a ranch than playing golf.

    I’d consider putting Sam Snead higher than 7, and dropping Walter Hagen. I’d put Bobby Jones at 4, Snead at 5 and Hagen at 6. If the ratings were on potential of what they could have done, I’d put Tiger at 1 and Hogan at 2.

    Lastly, I don’t think Tiger passing Jack in majors, if it happens, makes it a done deal that Tiger is the best. Jack finished 2nd in majors 19 times. I don’t know how many times Tiger has finished 2nd, but its nowhere close to Jack. Tiger may be a better closer with a lead, but Jack competed nearly every time he stepped foot on the course, even more than Tiger, which seems impossible.

    • No question Nelson retired in his prime but he was 35. Jones was 28. But as you point out Nelson wanted a ranch and Jones was a lawyer. With purses as they were then, it was very difficult to make a living at playing golf.

    • True, we will never know whether Hogan would have won more majors without the accident and I would put him slightly in front of Player just because of this.
      But we can be even more sure that Hagen would have improved on his count of 11 majors if he could have contested in 4 of them every year instead of in only 3- as the Masters did not exist during his time yet!
      Due to this fact, and due to Jeff’s above mentioned lack of THE major component in a true golfer’s game with Tiger, I would not only not drop Hagen but rank him at No2 above Tiger, followed by Hogan and Player- and treat Jones as a special case within those six greatest.

  13. Yeah, the only thing that argues Tiger for #1 over Jack is he held all 4 major trophies AND the scoring record relative to par in all of them simultaneously. Good luck topping that, anybody ever.

    I gotta go Byron Nelson #4 or even #3 IF you put Mr. Hogan in the top 5 (which you have to obviously) because Hogan never beat Byron head-up. Not once.

    • But…Nelson was gone before Hogan really broke through. Post accident Hogan was a superior player. Starting in 1948 he won 4 out of the next 5 US Opens, Nelson was incredible no question, but 5 majors keeps him down on my list; that’s his only “weak stat”. And because of his hemophilia, he played a LOT of golf in the war years. Great man, too one of the real gentlemen of the game!

  14. Bill Russel has 11 nba championships, but certainly is no Jordan even with 6 rings. Jack may have 18 majors, but he’s certainly no Tiger. I think it’s an insult to even compare him to Tiger (GOAT). In the end, what does it matter?

    • well not to change the topic, but I might think of Russell as above Jordan to be honest…In addition to the 11 rings, 55 straight and two national championships at San Francisco; he was the best defensive player who ever lived and defense wins championships. Overlooked because his paucity of scoring, which gets all the glory…

      • Russell played in a league with less teams and a game that had less young people pursuing the game, not to mention his obvious height and athleticism advantage. He also had a supporting cast of players that was far superior to any other teams. With confidence, I can say Russell would not average 30 rebounds per game in today’s game and obviously would not have the same height advantage (he’d actually be undersized as a centre).

        Jordan played against the best and dominated the best. His teams competed against some of the greatest players of all time. If he didn’t needlessly retire all those times, its possible the Bulls would have won 8 championships in a row or more. He took two years to play baseball in between their 3-peats and retired after the 98 season while still playing great basketball and eventually came back anyways in 2001 to play with the worlds worst basketball team, the Washington Wizards, and still almost took that team to the playoffs at 40 years of age. I also believe Jordan to be a much smarter defender than Russell.

        The best can’t simply be evaluated based on championships. One must take into account eras and competition. Basketball can’t be fairly compared, but golf can. Look at who Jack competed against (Palmer, Player, Watson, etc). Tiger? Els, Mickelson, Harrington.. This is also just my opinion, but golf will always remain a finesse game that relies on shot-making and making putts, whereas basketball is a game that will see players get better and better as players keep getting bigger and faster (LeBron James). You take a guy with athleticism and make him shoot 1,000 jump shots a day and he’ll likely figure out how to shoot. Last I checked, Jamie Sadlowski and Jason Zuback aren’t making headlines on the PGA Tour even though I’m sure they’ve put in hours on the putting green (having hit balls next to Zuback on the range a couple times, I can assure you that he does spend time practicing with clubs other than drivers, even though he did have at least a dozen drivers in his bag).

    • This is a very flawed comment. First of all, basketball is much different in comparing generations. 50, 60, and 70 year old basketball players don’t come back to the NBA to play with the young guys every now and then. Their basis for comparison among generations is very hypothetical. Older golfers do get the chance to play against the young guys. A few years ago, we even had a 59 year old golfer by the name of Tom Watson nearly win the Open championship. Tom has played a lot with Tiger and Jack, and he consistently says that Jack is the best. Bill Russell played against shorter opponents than he would see in today’s game. Tom Watson consistently beats the players of todays game and he’s in his 60’s.

  15. How can anyone take this seriously when the writer thinks Ted Ray was part of the Great Triumvirate of early British golf? The Great Triumvirate was Vardon, Taylor and Braid, who won 6, 5, and 5, British Opens, respectively, while Ted Ray won only one.

    The starting point of an opinion piece should be to at least get the FACTS right.

  16. We will always debate these greats,but there is one thing separates Jack from Tiger. Jack like Phil of this generation understood what it means to respect the game and handle yourself with grace in defeat. If you use that as part of how you determine who was the best,we might not have Tiger in the top 5. Also when looking at their records Jacks top 5s in majors is just too much to overcome.

  17. Hi Dennis,

    I’m curious to hear by what rationale you put Jack ahead of Tiger and then Byron Nelson ahead of Tom Watson. Watson won 8 majors to Nelson’s 5 and quite clearly has the longevity thing by almost winning the Open at 59, while Nelson retired at 34 I think. Sure Nelson won 11 in a row and 18 in a season, but that was in 1945 and the fields had been severely weakened by WWII. Either way, apparently non-major achievements are sufficient to bring someone above someone else who has more majors. So to that end, what about these:

    Total dominance for an extended period. A 15 shot win in the US Open, a 12 shot win in the Masters. An 8 shot win in the PGA. Winning four majors in a row. 142 consecutive cuts. A 7 tournament win streak, a 6 tournament win streak, a 5 tournament win streak and 2 further instances of a 3 tournament win streak vs one streak of 3. 78 tournament wins vs 73. Youngest player to win the career slam, youngest player to win a second career slam, youngest player to win a third career slam. All of that is insufficient to bring Tiger up above Jack? How do you get there?

    • Mike,

      Good points and as I said anyone has their list just as I have mine. But since you’ve asked: The Nelson vs. weak fields is mostly a myth. Both Snead and Hogan won several events and played a full or very part time schedule in 1945. 1945 cannot be diminished in any way. Tiger called it “one of the greatest feats in SPORTS”, not just golf. He also won 51 PGA Tour events in a very short time, playing against two of the best ever. As for Tiger vs jack, you are preaching to the choir. I mentioned in the article that I think 2000-2008 was the greatest golf ever played, but I cannot put those 8-9 dominant years ahead of 18 majors and 47 1st, 2nds, or 3rds in majors, just can’t do it right now. If we have this discussion in 5 years, and I have no doubt, TW will be on top of that list. Thx for your input, enjoyed your comments

  18. I generally agree with the list, I think the extra 4 majors and the 15 or so seconds in Majors define Jack as #1. Tiger’s record when he didn’t win isn’t even close and as the list says, Jack played against Trevino, Player, Casper Palmer and Miller.

    Most of those guys I never followed and the only guy I would be tempted to bump to #10 would be Seve. In Tournament golf he was a terribly flawed savant with the greatest imagination and fire maybe the game has ever seen. His revolutionalization of the Ryder Cup was transformational to modern golf and doesn’t get the recognition in North America it deserves. To many euro’s it’s THE competition.

  19. I don’t really want to argue with Dennis, because he has awesome posts….but…but…Tiger plays in a juiced up modern era (did I say that?) and the only thing separating people is mental. Can you imagine that? You take the best golfer the world has ever seen, and a mind of a person going for 1st and then a ball is introduced that changes the landscape, R&D depts at major mfg’s go crazy in pursuit of distance, and all of a sudden a guy that had a clear advantage making a mockery of par 5’s and courses (Augusta, anyone?) in general has the playing field leveled.

    Just think about it. I’m not a guy that’s going to be like “Tiger, tiger, tiger!!!”, because Jack does have 4 more trophy’s and thats the goal post, here. However, you have to understand that Tiger beat everyone’s a$$ on average without all the crazy equipment and juiced up balls, or UFC regimen workouts. He calculated everything, great course management, and had the raw natural power (like Daly did) to boom drives and stay a step ahead when he wanted to find 7th gear.

    He needs more credit for that, whether he stays in #2 or not.

    • Here’s two points about equipment.

      When square grooves were legal I only remember Tiger and Phil employing a full swing flop shot when just off the green. If those grooves benefitted the field more than the best, there would have been more than just two golfers using that shot. When they made square grooves illegal, both Woods and Mickelson stopped using that shot. So who did square grooves benefit most?

      The ball flies further and straighter now than prior to Tiger’s career. He benefits from the straighter ball more than an accurate driver like Vijay or Jack who was a very straight driver.

      • Good points; I also believe that the 60 degree wedge changed the short game forever. Short siding is no longer a problem, fire at any pin, no worries. # 10 Augusta is a classic example. Left there with left pin was DEATH, now they go at it with less fear.

  20. I can’t blame someone if they want to pick Jack as #1 over Tiger, but to do so with the simplistic reason being that 18>14, well that’s kind of silly to me. You have to look at all factors: Majors, regular tourney wins, domination factor, longevity, strength of field, and a few others. With ALL of those factored in, I have Tiger at #1 (and yes, I’m old enough to have watched Jack in his prime, but not Hogan).

    Tiger at #4??? I just don’t see any way to put him at 4 unless you’re related to Elin.

    • Remember Jack was 1st, 2nd or 3rd in a major championship 47 TIMES!!! He once went 16 straight years in the British with his lowest finish 6! And he won majors 24 years apart. Tiger will catch Jack IMO, and break every record out there, just not yet.

  21. No argument from me on Nicklaus at number 1 . But Jones down at 5 ? As you said he retired at 28 and there was no PGA major available to him. Also in an era where transatlantic travel was by ocean liner completing the old ” grand slam ” was a phenominal achievement . He was essentially a lawyer who played quite a bit of golf so his record must take into account these factors . Number 2 for Bobby , Hogan 3 , Woods 4 and Palmer ( just because he is Arnie ) at 5.

    Oh and I might rate Peter Thomson and Bobby Locke above Player

  22. I am okay with your list. Jack and Tiger are clearly well removed from the rest of the field. I also tend to go with Jack based not only on the factors you listed but also the number of seconds and thirds at the big events. I have no problem with those that place Tiger at the top for the utter dominance of his prime alone and he is still young enough to remove all doubt over the coming years. I’m not sure I’d place Mickelson above Faldo or Ballesteros yet and he has a long way to go to surpass Watson.

Leave a Reply to Mark Stephens Cancel reply