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’s and Top-10’s at the majors also receive strong consideration, along with wins on the DP World Tour and to a lesser degree, wins on other recognized Tours (Japan 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 Snead and Hogan, because fields were limited–but this is offset by the fact that each lost prime years in their career due to WWII (they were both 29 in 1941).
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 is not included below.
Number 1: Jack Nicklaus (361)
In addition to his 18 major championship wins, Jack recorded 55 Top-10 finishes at the majors (19 runner-up’s, 19 Top-5’s and 17 Top-10’s)–by far the most of any player in history. The Golden Bear also recorded 55 Tour wins along with his major championships for a total of 73, and he had the highest Top-10 percentage (60.2%) and cut percentage (93.6%) of any modern-day player.
Number 2: Tiger Woods (346)
Tiger is second to Jack with 15 major championship wins, a close second in Top-10 percentage (91%) and just behind Nicklaus in cut percentage as well at 54.9%. With his 67 Tour wins, Tiger is tied with Sam Snead for the most wins in history (82), and also added 8 wins on the DP world Tour. At 46 years old, Tiger still has a number of years with which to add additional wins and Top-10 finishes—so Jack’s position at No. 1 is by no means a certainty when all is said and done.
Number 3: Sam Snead (335)
Sam Snead recorded 7 major championship victories along with 75 wins on Tour, setting the mark of 82 total wins (tied by Tiger.) Snead made the cut in 391 of the 394 tournaments he entered (99%), and recorded Top 10 finishes in 75% of those events. When you include 8 runner-up finishes, 15 Top-5’s and 18 Top-10’s at the major championships, Snead comes up at No. 3—just behind Tiger.
Number 4: Ben Hogan (281)
Ben Hogan won 9 major championships along with 55 PGA events. He made the cut in 97.8% of the tournaments he played, and finished in the top 10 close to 80% of the time. After his near fatal auto accident in 1949 at age 36, Hogan never played more than 6 tournaments in any year—yet won 6 more major champions and recorded an additional 15 top 10’s at the majors (including 4 runner-up’s).
Number 5: Arnold Palmer (265)
Arnie’s career spanned 55 years from 1949 through his last appearance at The Masters in 2004, and while Tiger has had a huge impact on the popularity of golf in the last 25 years, Palmer brought the game to prime-time—and set the stage for the global appeal that golf currently enjoys. And he was perfect for the role. Photogenic with a big personality, tremendous power and ability combined with a go-for-broke style of play that endeared him to millions—commonly known as “Arnie’s Army.”
Throughout the course of his career, Arnie won 7 major championships and recorded 55 wins on tour. When Jack burst onto the PGA Tour in 1962, Palmer was still in his prime at 32 years and had just won The Masters and The Open Championship—and while Arnie added only one more major win (1964 Masters), he recorded an additional 7 major runner-up’s and 7 Top-10’s through 1970.
Palmer also made the cut in 90% of the tournaments he entered, with a Top-10 percentage of 43.5%.
Keep an eye out for Greats of the Game Volume II, where we will take a look at Gary Player (No. 6), Byron Nelson (No. 7), Walter Hagan (No. 8), Phil Mickelson (No. 9) and Tom Watson at No. 10.