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Tiger Woods: Where Would He Rank on Golf's All-Time Greatest List

Karla Villegas GamaFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2011

Tiger Woods: Where Would He Rank on Golf's All-Time Greatest List

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    It's been 23 months since Tiger Woods' last victory, back in November 2009, when he won the JBWere Masters in Australia. It was just another win for the best golfer in the world. He defeated Greg Chalmers by two strokes.

    But after his affairs hit the news, it hasn't been easy for him; while scrutiny and lack of consistency haven't made it any easier.

    He's four majors short from Nicklaus' record, has set new standards in the sport but is going through the worst slump in his 15-year career.

    No one would predicted this could happen.

    If retirement was under the table, and he decided to leave, where would he stand among the greatest golfers in history?

20. Cary Middlecoff

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    Doc showed his talents as an amateur, after winning the 1945 North and South Open, but he turned pro two years later.

    In his 14 years as a PGA member, Middlecoff went to win three major championships: U.S. Open (1949 and 1956) and The Masters (1955), as well as another 37 titles at least once every season. He was part of the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team three times (1953, 1955 and 1959).

    He was one of the best putters of his time, which led him to win the Vardon Trophy in 1956 for the lowest score of the season.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, at age 65.

19. Jimmy Demaret

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    This Texan golfer turned pro at age 17, and proved his abilities quickly.

    He won his first of 35 titles back in 1938 at the San Francisco Match Play. It was two years later when he grabbed everybody's attention. He captured six victories that season, including his first major championship, The Masters.

    Demaret became the first player to win three editions of The Masters (1940, 1947 and 1950) and in the late 40s he reached the prime of his career.

    In the 1947 season he won six events, secured the Vardon Trophy and was named PGA money leader. He played for the U.S. Ryder Cup Team that won the 1947, 1949 and 1951 editions, posting a 6-0-0 record.

18. Young Tom Morris

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    Born in the home of golf, he is the youngest major champion. He won his first Open Championship at age 17.

    Young Tom played The Open for the first time at age 14, but it was until two years later that he won his first event at Carnoustie.

    He also became the youngest player in history to win four major championships. He accomplished the feat by grabbing The Open in consecutive opportunities (1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872; it wasn't played in 1871).

    When he wasn't in competition he used to travel all over Scotland playing in exhibition matches. Young Tom died at age 24 from a heart attack.

17. Greg Norman

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    The Shark has been a member of the PGA of Australia, European Tour, PGA Tour and Champions Tour. He has won 88 titles around the world, including two Open Championships (1986 and 1993) since he turned pro in 1976.

    Norman secured his first victory in his rookie season, at the West Lakes Classic of the PGA of Australia. A year later he became a member of the European Tour and repeated the feat by winning the Martini International.

    He managed to win nine times in both tours before becoming a PGA member in 1981, but different from his previous experiences he didn't win in his rookie season, instead he had to wait three years to accomplish the feat. 

    Greg led the European Tour Order of Merit (1982), the PGA of Australia Order of Merit (1978, 1980, 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1988) and the PGA Money List (1986, 1990 and 1995); he was named PGA Player of the Year in 1995.

    He's one of the most awarded golfers, having won the Vardon Trophy (1989, 1990 and 1994), the Byron Nelson Award (1988, 1990, 1993, 1994 and 1995), Old Tom Morris Award (2008) and Charlie Bartlett Award (2008).

    He spent 331 weeks atop the Official World Golf Rankings and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.

16. Seve Ballesteros

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    He's one of the best Spanish athletes in history and one of the promoters of European golf. Seve won 91 times around the world, 50 of them in the European Tour, where he's the all-time winner.

    Ballesteros was named European Tour Player of the Year three times (1986, 1988 and 1991), he also led the Order of Merit in six occasions (1976, 1977, 1978, 1986, 1988 and 1991).

    In the major championships department, he won The Masters (1980 and 1983) and The Open (1979, 1984 and 1988). 

    It was at Augusta where he became the first European to wear the green jacket and the youngest to win that event (Tiger Woods broke the record 17 years later).

    He played regularly on the PGA Tour and the Japan Golf Tour, securing nine and six titles, respectively. The Spaniard has a stellar record in the Ryder Cup, having scored 22.5 points in 37 matches (eight appearances).

    During his career, he spent 61 weeks atop the Official World Golf Rankings. In 2009 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He died from brain cancer on May 7, 2011. 

15. Nick Faldo

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    Sir Nick Faldo is the all-time Ryder Cup scorer (25 points) and the player with most appearances (11). His professional career started in 1977 in the European Tour, when he was named Rookie of the Year.

    Faldo won his first title in his second season, at the Skol Lager Individual, by defeating Craig Defoy and Chris Witcher in a playoff.

    He won the European Tour Order of Merit in 1983, and one year later he grabbed his first PGA title, which fueled his career.

    In 1987 he secured The Open, which he would eventually win two more times (1990 and 1992). His success in major championships extended to the Masters (1989, 1990 and 1996).

    He has 40 titles overall, named European Player of the Year three times (1989, 1990 and 1992) and PGA Player of the Year once (1990). He's a Member of the Order of the British Empire since 1988 and Hall of Fame Member since 1997. 

14. Lee Trevino

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    The Mexican American hero has 89 titles in the PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour and Champions Tour, where he currently plays.

    He turned pro in 1960 at age 21, but success didn't come right away, Lee started to play on the PGA Tour in 1967 but the wait worth it. His first title was at the 1968 U.S. Open, when he defeated Jack Nicklaus by four shots.

    From 1968 to 1981 he won at least once in each season, becoming one of golf's key figures. He would also win four more majors in that period.

    Lee's career was recognized in 1971, after winning seven tournaments around the world including the U.S. Open and The Open, by the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated, that named him Male Athlete of the Year and Sportsman of the Year, respectively.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

13. Billy Casper

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    The prime of his career was from 1964 to 1970, when he secured 27 titles, including the Masters.

    Billy turned pro at age 23 and two years later he won his first title, out of 51, in the PGA Tour. He hoisted one trophy in the European Tour, nine in the Senior PGA and six more in other tours.

    He grabbed his first major championship in 1959, at the U.S. Open, and repeated the feat seven years later. Casper was not finished yet and in 1970 he claimed the Masters.

    His successful career was accompanied by eight Ryder Cup appearances, all won by Team USA, and in which he grabbed 23.5 points, seven of them in singles matches, becoming one of the five all-time scorers in that instance.

12. Gene Sarazen

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    Eugenio is one of just five golfers to have won the Career Grand Slam, after claiming the Masters (1935), The U.S. Open 1922 and 1932), The Open (1932) and the PGA Championship (1922, 1923 and 1933).

    He was 22 years old when he turned pro and went to win 43 times in his career, 39 of them in the PGA Tour.

    He's the author of one the most memorable golf shots in history, having sunk his approach for a double eagle, on the par-5 15th hole of Augusta National Golf Club.

    In 1932 he was named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year; even when didn't win anymore awards in his active years, his success guaranteed him a place in the Hall of Fame, which he was inducted into in 1974.

    Sarazen received the Bob Jones Award in 1992, 70 years after his first major championship victory.

11. Harry Vardon

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    He set the record of most wins at The Open Championship, which still stands. Vardon was 26 years old when he claimed his first title at that major championship and 44 when he grabbed his last one.

    He became a world-class golfer when he left Jersey and started playing in the United States, where he hoisted the U.S. Open trophy in 1900.

    The Vardon Trophy, awarded by the PGA Tour to the player with the lowest scoring average of the season, is a tribute to Harry, who died in 1937 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.

10. Tom Watson

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    Tom joined the PGA Tour in 1972 and grabbed his first professional title two years later at the Western Open, defeating J.C. Snead and Tom Wesikopf by two strokes.

    It was the beginning of a legendary career.

    Watson showed the world his potential in 1977, when he won five PGA events, including the Masters and The Open. It was from that season and until 1984 that he won at least once on the tour.

    He has hoisted 70 trophies as professional while playing on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour, European Seniors Tour and Japan Golf Tour.

    Watson has won eight major titles, although he never claimed the PGA Championship: He was runner-up in 1978, his best finish.

    He was named PGA Player of the Year six times (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1984), won the money list in five occasions (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1984) and received the Vardon Trophy three times (1977, 1978 and 1979).

9. Byron Nelson

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    He's the proof that a brief career can be very successful.

    Byron joined the PGA Tour in 1935 and retired 11 years later, but his achievements are second to none.

    Byron won the Masters (1937 and 1942), the U.S. Open (1939) and the PGA Championship (1940 and 1945).

    It was in the mid '40s when he reached his peak. He was named Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press and was the PGA top earner, both in 1944 and 1945.

    In the 1945 season he won 18 titles on the PGA tour, 11 of them in a row, which became a record yet to be broken.

    He also holds the record for finishing in the top 20, 113 consecutive times, the same number of cuts he made in a row.

    In 1968 the Byron Nelson Golf Classic, nowadays the HP Byron Nelson Championship, was set as an official tournament, he became the first PGA Tour member to have a tournament named after him.

    In 1974 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and received the Bob Jones Award.

8. Sam Snead

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    No one has won more PGA events than Sam Snead. From 1936 to 1965 he claimed 82 titles, including seven majors, although he never won the U.S. Open.

    Overall, Snead managed to win 165 times as a professional golfer, and receive the Vardon Trophy four times (1938, 1949, 1950 and 1955).

    In 1950 he savored his most successful season, having won 11 times and leading the money list. He was a cornerstone of Team USA in seven Ryder Cups, all won by the stars and stripes squad (1937, 1947, 1949, 1951, 1953, 1955, and 1959).

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 and received the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

7. Walter Hagen

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    With 45 PGA titles in is career, he may not be the golfer with most wins on tour, but having conquered 11 major championships he is one of the very best of all time.

    Sir Walter hoisted the PGA Championship's trophy five times; he's the only one to have won four of them in a row (1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927). He posted 33 top 10 finishes in 54 starts.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 and was one of the first professional golfers in history.

6. Gary Player

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    He turned pro at age 18 and three years later he grabbed his first title, the South African Open, which he has won a record 13 times. He's also the most successful golfer of the Australian Open, having won it seven times. 

    Player won all the major championships at least once, becoming the only South African to accomplish the feat and one of the five players in history to complete the Career Grand Slam, which he did at age 29.

    The Black Knight grabbed 165 wins all over the world, 45 of them in the PGA Tour, becoming one of the most traveled athletes.

    He was one of the most dominant player in the '60s, becoming part of the Big Three, along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

    Until 1991 he held the record for most victories in the World Match Play Championship: Seve Ballesteros ousted him.

    In 1962 he was the PGA money leading winner and 12 years later he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Players has also received two of the most prestigious golf Awards: Bob Jones (1966) and Payne Stewart (2006).

5. Bobby Jones

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    When the United States Golf Association was looking for a player to honor by lending his name to the highest honor given, they decided that Bobby Jones was the one.

    He won nine times in the PGA, but seven of those were major championships: U.S. Open (1923, 1926, 1929 and 1930), The Open Championship (1926, 1927 and 1930). He's the only golfer in history to have won all the majors of a single season (1930).

    Bobby was a true sportsman and he even called a penalty on himself in the 1925 U.S. Open after moving his ball with his club accidentally.

    As one of America's most prolific athletes, he was recognized with the James E. Sullivan Award at age 28, when he retired from golf. Nonetheless, he founded the Masters, first played in 1934 under the name: Augusta National Invitational.

    In 1974 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

4. Arnold Palmer

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    The King turned professional in 1954 at age 25. It was a year later that he grabbed his first title at the Canadian Open during his rookie season.

    Palmer is part of the Big Three and there are plenty of reasons for that. He won his first major championship in 1958 at the Masters and became one of the few Americans that traveled to England to dispute The Open Championship.

    He won a total of 95 titles, including seven major championships.

    Arnold won 62 times in a 19-year span and ranks fifth in the all-time list; he grabbed 29 of those titles from 1960 to 1963, becoming one of the most consistent golfers in the world.

    His success was also rewarded with the Vardon Trophy (1961, 1962, 1964, and 1967), was named PGA Player of the Year twice (1960 and 1962) and was the top earner four times (1958, 1960, 1962 and 1963).

    He was part of the USA Ryder Cup Team six times, winning all of them, including the 1963 edition when he was a playing captain. Palmer won seven points in singles matches, becoming one of five players to have accomplished the feat.

    In 1971 the USGA acknowledged him with the Bob Jones Award; the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America gave him the Old Tom Morris Award in 1983, while the PGA Tour recognized him with the Lifetime Achievement Award (1998) and the Payne Stewart Award (2000).

3. Ben Hogan

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    He was the second golfer to claim the Career Grand Slam, after winning The Open Championship in 1953.

    It was that same season that he won all the majors he played: the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open. He didn't make it to the PGA Championship because it overlapped, precisely, with The Open.

    The Hawk grabbed 68 titles all over the world, 64 of them in the PGA Tour. His most successful season came in 1948, when he managed to win 10 times.

    The Riviera Country Club and the Colonial Country Club are known as Hogan's Alley, due to the mastery he showed when he played in them; the sixth hole of Carnoustie also carries the nickname.

    Hogan had a car accident in the prime of his career (1949), but managed to come back; the USGA created an award in his honor, given to a golfer who has stayed active despite a physical handicap or illness.

    During his 41-year career, he won the Vardon Trophy three times (1940, 1941, and 1948), was named Player of the Year four times (1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953), as well as Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year once (1953).

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 and two years later received the Bob Jones Award.

2. Tiger Woods

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    Tiger would be the runner-up in this ranking. He's won each major championship at least three times, completing the Career Grand Slam in 2000 at age 24, after he grabbed The Open Championship held at The Old Course in St. Andrews, becoming the youngest to achieve the feat.

    He took golf to a whole new level and has set and broken almost every record in the PGA Tour. For starters, he's been named Player of the Year 10 times (1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009), has led the money list nine occasions and has received eight Vardon Trophies.

    Woods set the largest margin of victory record at the 2000 U.S. Open; that same year he won The Open with an overall 19-under par for the lowest 72-hole score in relation to par, both records still stand as the all-time mark of all majors.

    Tiger has played 56 major championships, registering 35 top-10 finishes (62 percent), he's the third most winning golfer in the PGA, with 71 victories, and also third in the European Tour, with 38. He has won 97 times around the world.

    One of the most remarkable achievements of his career was the Tiger Slam. In 2000 he finished fifth at the Masters, but won the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship; next season he grabbed the Masters, making it four majors in a row.

    According to Forbes, Woods became the first athlete in history to earn one billion dollars, before taxes in 2009. That same year the magazine put him as the highest-paid athlete in the world.

    He led the Official Golf World Rankings for 281 consecutive weeks and 623 overall. He hasn't been inducted into the Hall of Fame because he hasn't met the minimum age requirement (40 years old).

1. Jack Nicklaus

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    The Golden Bear turned pro in 1961 at age 21, but joined the PGA Tour next year. From his rookie season he showed the world that a legend was in the making.

    He defeated Arnold Palmer in the 1962 U.S. Open held in Oakmont, it would be his first of 18 major championship titles.

    Nicklaus has hoisted 73 PGA trophies which puts him as the second most winner golfer in tour's history. To those victories, he added 42 more for a 115 total.

    He holds the record for most wins at the Masters, with six; in that same tournament he became the first golfer to successfully defend his title.

    At The Open Championship he made 32 consecutive cuts, from 1964 to 1984, winning three times (1966, 1970 and 1978); in the other three majors he holds the record for most cuts made. Nicklaus finished 73 times in the top 10 of major championships, a record that still stands.

    He's played the Ryder Cup six times (1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1981) with a 17-8-3 record (18.5 points).

    Jack has received numerous awards and recognitions, such as PGA Player of the Year (1967, 1972, 1973, 1975 and 1976), Bob Jones Award (1975), Payne Stewart Award (2000), PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award (2008).

    He became the first golfer to receive the Vince Lombardi Award of Excellence (2001), was named Golfer of the Century/Millenium by more than 10 media outlets, including Golf Digest Magazine, Golfweek and Associated Press

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.

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