Major championship performance and PGA Tour wins are the biggest factors in determining where players stand in the history of golf, but making cuts and Top-10 finishes are also important for identifying excellence and consistency.
In deriving our ratings, major championship wins carry the most weight, followed by major runner-up finishes and Tour wins. Top-5 and Top-10 finishes at the majors are also given strong consideration, along with wins on the DP World Tour and to a lesser degree, wins on other recognized Tours (Japan Tour, Sunshine Tour, Asian Tour, etc.).
Making cuts and Top-10 finishes are calculated on the basis of percentage in relation to total starts at PGA Tour sanctioned events through age 49 (when players become eligible for the Champions Tour). Top 10 percentage is given considerable weight, and cut percentage is also a factor in the rating a player receives.
Cuts and Top-10 percentage are overstated as a measure for Byron Nelson and Walter Hagan because fields were limited when they were playing–but this is offset by the fact that Nelson lost prime years in his career due to WWII (Nelson was 29 in 1941), and Hagan had fewer major championship opportunities because he was 42 years old when the first Masters was played in 1934.
While Bobby Jones is certainly among the top 5 players in history with 4 U.S. Open and 3 Open Championship titles, he chose to remain an amateur and therefore has no PGA record for reference–and has not been included in our player ratings. Harry Vardon is also among the greats of the game, with 6 Open Championship titles and a win at the US Open in 1900 (plus his famous runner-up to Francis Ouimet in 1913)—but like Jones, he has no professional record for reference and has not been included in our ratings.
The Top 5 in Volume I included Nicklaus (361), Woods (346), Snead (335), Hogan (281) and Palmer (265).
In Volume II we’ll take a look at the next five on the list of all-time greatest players to round out the Top 10.
Number 6: Gary Player (236)
On top of his 9 major championship wins, Gary Player recorded 35 major Top-10’s (6 runner-up’s, 8 Top-5’s and 21 Top-10’s). The Black Knight also won 15 PGA Tournaments and had 95 additional world-wide wins. Player made the cut in close to 90% of his starts and finished in the top ten over 45% of the time. He competed with Jack and Arnie head-to-head throughout his prime between 1961 and 1971—playing a substantial role in building the PGA Tour, while elevating the global popularity of the game.
Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus serve as the honorary starters at The Masters each year, and they were joined by Lee Elder in 2022.
Number 7: Byron Nelson (227)
Byron Nelson won 5 major championships and 47 PGA tournaments. He also recorded 6 major runner-up’s and finished in the top 5 another 10 times. In 1945 Nelson set the record for wins in a season with 18, including 11 in a row. After the 1946 season, at 34 years old, Nelson retired from the regular tour playing only The Masters (where he finished in the top 10 every year from 1947-1951), as well as a limited number of additional Tour events (including The Colonial in Ft. Worth).
In 1968 The Byron Nelson Classic was launched in Dallas Texas, and it continues to be one of the most popular venues on the PGA Tour.
Number 8: Walter Hagan (223)
Walter Hagan is the only player to make the cut in every tournament he played through the entirety of his career, and he finished among the top 10 in three out of every four events he entered. Hagan won 11 major championships (third behind Jack and Tiger) with 22 additional top 10 finishes, and he recorded 34 PGA tournament wins.
Hagan is considered the first American professional golfer. In the first half of the twentieth century, he and Bobby Jones were the towering figures of U.S. golf, forming the foundation for the game as we know it today.
Number 9: Phil Mickelson (216)
Phil the thrill won 6 major championships, most recently at Kiawah in 2021 for his second PGA Championship at age 50 (the oldest player in history to win a major championship). Mickelson also recorded 11 runner-up finishes at the majors, second only to Jack, along with 11 Top-5’s and 11 Top-10’s.
In addition to his record at the majors, Phil won 39 PGA Tour events, making the cut in 82.3% of the tournaments he entered with a top 10 percentage of 31.5%.
Phil went up against with Tiger throughout his prime between 1996 and 2006, as well going to head-head with Ernie Els and Vijay Singh (each among the top 15 all-time).
Number 10: Tom Watson (211)
Tom Watson nearly did the impossible in 2009, when he came inches from recording his 6th Open Championship at Turnberry at the age of 58. Perhaps it should not have been such a surprise, however, when you consider Watson’s record of excellence and consistency throughout his career.
From his second full year on Tour in 1974 at age 23, through 1998 at age 48 (a quarter of a century), Watson recorded at least 4 top 10 finishes every year.
In total, Watson won 8 major championships with an additional 38 major top 10’s (including 8 runner-up and 10 top 5’s), along with 31 PGA Tour wins.
Tom made the cut in 83.9% of the tournaments he entered, and recorded top 10 finishes in just under 40% of his starts.
Keep an eye out for Greats of the Game Volume III, where we will take a look at Gene Sarazen (No. 11), Billy Casper (No. 12, Ernie Els (No. 13), Greg Norman (No. 14) and Vijay Sing (No. 15).