Golf — all-time peak ratings

Each player’s peak rating is based on the average standard deviation of his or her performance in his or her 10 best performances from 20 consecutive major tournaments. Major tournaments are as identified by the PGA and LPGA with the following additions: For the pre-1958 era, the Western Open is included. For pre-World War II amateurs, performances in major amateur competitions are included at a value of one-half the player’s actual score.

Listed below are the 200 best players based on their peak Z Score. Updated ratings are as of the conclusion of the 2018 season, and will include several dozen newly researched players not previously included.

For each player, heading information includes their rank, (their previous year’s rank, if any, in parenthesis), their peak Z Score, and the seasons represented by that score.

Players are posted at the rate of four per week through the calendar year.

 

 

T-169 (T-142). Padraig Harrington, -1.13, 2004-2008

For a 13-month period from July 2007 through August 2008, Padraig Harrington was about as good a golfer as there was in the world. In that 13-month period, Harrington won three majors, finished fifth in another, earned more than $5 million and climbed to third in the World Golf Rankings.

His sudden leap to dominance appeared to be directly linked to Harrington’s improved facility with the putter. During the 2006 PGA Tour season, Harrington ranked only 73rd in putts per round, requiring 29.04. In 2007, he improved to 7th, requiring just 28.32. In 2008 those numbers improved again, to 2nd overall and just 28.04 putts per round. In short, Harrington took a full stroke off his putting game in just two seasons.

That improvement directly correlated with his stroke average, which dropped from 70.33 (26th) in 2006 to 69.28 (3rd) in 2008.

Harrington was a threat even before July of 2007. Graduating from Dublin Business College in his native Ireland, Harrington played on Europe’s triumphant 1995 Walker Cup team and then completed his accountancy exams, giving him a career in hand before turning pro. He didn’t need the backup plan. In only his 10th professional start on the European tour, Harrington won the 1996 Peugeot Spanish Open.

Then reality set in, and Harrington found his niche close to, but not among, the game’s greats. During one stretch in 1999, he played five European tour events, finishing second in four of them. That gave him seventh place on the Order of Merit, a position he matched in 2000 before moving to the top of the list in 2001.

Through June of 2007, Harington accumulated 10 European Tour victories, and added two PGA tour titles. His record in the majors, though, was a succession of credible misses, with eight top 10s, but nothing better than fifth, to his name. That all changed at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, when Harrington survived a 72nd hole collapse leading to a playoff showdown with another player famous for his close misses, Sergio Garcia.

For most of the tournament, Garcia appeared on his way to his first major. His opening 65 gave him a four-shot lead, and it grew to six over Harrington, Ernie Els and Stewart Cink by the start of the final round. Then stuff happened. Garcia shot 38 on the front nine. Andres Romero, who began the day seven behind Garcia, carded seven birdies and briefly shot into the lead. Harrington, meanwhile, produced four birdies, and his eagle on 14 kicked him into the lead, which he retained coming to the 18th hole.

Standing on that tee, Harrington allowed thoughts of Jean Van de Velde’s epic 1999 collapse to enter his mind. Sure enough, his own second shot also found the Barry Burn in front of the green. Harrington walked off that final green with a six, one stroke behind Garcia, who thus needed a par to win.

Perhaps because it was all he had to cling to, Harrington immediately prepared for the notion that Garcia would bogey. “I never let it cross my mind that I’d just thrown away the Open,” Harrington said. That mental preparation paid off when Garcia did bogey the final hole, sending the tournament into a playoff. Harrington birdied the first extra hole – Garcia made bogey – and he hung on to win by a stroke. He was the first British Open champion from Ireland in six decades.

Harrington finished in a tie for fifth at the Masters, and came to the 2008 British Open with a chance to become the first European since James Braid more than a century earlier to successfully defend his Open championship. He also benefitted from the absence of Tiger Woods, the U.S. Open champion who was recuperating from a fractured leg. But Harrington had his own health problem; eight days earlier he had injured his wrist in practice. Playing with that injured wrist, Harrington shot an opening 74 that left him trailing 36 other players. He steadied, however, and in the challenging conditions at Royal Birkdale entered the final round trailing only one player, Greg Norman by four shots.

Sunday was a back-and-forth competition. Norman opened poorly, allowing Harrington to jump in front, but his lead was also undermined by three consecutive bogeys, pushing Norman back in front. But Norman staggered again down the stretch to a 77, and when Harrington drilled a five wood to within three feet for an eagle at the 17th, to cement a back nine 32, the tournament was effectively over. “I had a great year as Open champion so I didn’t want to give it back,” Harrington told the crowd at the trophy presentation.

Just three weeks later, Harrington entered the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills for the first time as a favorite. A third round 66 shot him into contention, three behind surprise leader Ben Curtis. Garcia, who entered Sunday tied with Harrington for third, birdied the first hole and opened the second to move in front. But a shot into the water that led to a bogey on the 16th hole cost him that lead, and Harrington – who had already fashioned three birdies in a four-hole stretch, was positioned to take advantage. Carrying a one-stroke lead over Garcia to the final hole, Harrington drained an 18-foot par putt to seal the victory. It was his third in 13 months, Garcia twice finishing as runner-up.

And then … nothing much. In his next dozen major tournament appearances, Harrington never challenged, missed six cuts and only once finished higher than 22nd. He rallied his game long enough to tie for eighth at the 2012 Masters and for fourth at the 2012 U.S. Open, but managed only a tie for 39th at the British Open, his best finish at that event since the 2008 victory.

Harrington at his peak

Tournament           Finish       Score         Z Score

2004 Masters            T-13           288               -0.52

2004 U.S. Open         T-31           295                0.14

2004 PGA                  T-45            289                0.18

2006 U.S. Open         5th             287               -1.46

2007 Masters            T-7             293               -1.31

2007 British Open  1st              277              -1.77

2008 Masters            T-5             286              -1.08

2008 U.S. Open         T-36          293               -0.03

2008 British Open   1st            283              -3.09

2008 PGA                   1st             277              -2.37

Average Z-Score: -1.13

 

T-169 (T-142). Larry Nelson, -1.13, 1979-1983

Few players have taken as atypical a path to golf success as Larry Nelson.

Most future pros start playing as children. Larry Nelson didn’t.

Most build their resumes through junior and amateur tournaments. Larry Nelson didn’t.

Most hone their games to professional level in college. Larry Nelson didn’t.

Few see combat duty. Larry Nelson did.

In 1966, Nelson was a 19-year-old newlywed college dropout with a penchant for baseball and basketball but not much direction. At that time, 19-year-old dropouts, even newlywed ones, could count on one job opportunity. It involved being drafted and going to Vietnam. Nelson was, and he went.

“When I got there, I found out our regiment had lost close to 300 people, killed or wounded, in the previous 90 days,” he later told Golf Digest. “It was a tough time to be in Vietnam.”

He served there as an infantry team leader, taking his squad out on periodic ambush patrols. One member of his unit began talking the game up to Nelson. “Up to that point I thought it was a sissy sport,” he recalled. “But the guy hadn’t shaved for about two weeks and hadn’t bathed in longer and he had an M-16 and I didn’t want to tell him what I thought about golf.”

Returning stateside when his enlistment expired, Nelson initially tried baseball, only to have an arm injury sideline that notion. So he went to a nearby driving range and picked up an old steel-headed club. “My only goal was to try to hit the ball over the fence,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing because I’d never played a round of golf in my life.” Through long sessions at that range, Nelson taught himself to become a long-straight driver before he ever played a single round.  Eventually he joined a country club, landed a job as an assistant pro, and found himself on the Florida mini tour. In 1973 at age 29, Nelson qualified for his first PGA tour event.

As much a breakthrough as it was, that debut only marked the beginning of an arduous apprenticeship. For the next five seasons, encompassing more than 130 tour starts, Nelson managed just four seconds, two thirds and 20 top 10s, while missing 23 cuts. His big weakness was putting.  “When you take up the game as an adult there’s a tendency to be mechanical” on the greens, he explained. “I really fought to overcome that.”

Nelson followed that first victory – at Inverrary in March of 1979 – with a second at the prestigious Western Open. Through his first six seasons on tour, Nelson had averaged about $50,000 annually in winnings; in 1979 he won $281,000. He was an established figure, if not a star, when the 1981 PGA Championship opened in Atlanta. He was also widely viewed as a colorless, mechanical figure, traits he turned to his advantage there. Nelson steadily built a four-stroke lead over the first three days of play, rarely making mistakes and even more rarely giving his fellow competitors a chance to gain ground on him. His reaction was typically stoic. “I’m going home to take a hot bath,” he told reporters of his plans for a victory celebration.

The U.S. Open came to Oakmont in 1973, and Nelson’s initial response was fear. “I got on the first tee of the opening round, looked down the fairway, and all I saw was thick rough and skinny fairways…it just looked impossible,” he said. Nelson shot 75. The next day he adopted a new approach: he ignored the fairways, focusing instead about eight inches in front of his ball. “That took some of the pressure off,” he said. Rounds of 73 and 65 followed. “Now I had my confidence back, and I did look down the fairways the last round,” he said. Still Nelson came to the tournament’s 70th hole, a long par three, only tied with Tom Watson for the lead. Worse, he faced a winding 62-foot putt in a circumstance where a bad miss could easily cost him the championship. Given his reputation as a poor putter by tour standards, bogey was a distinct possibility. “I thought … I could get within four feet of the hole,” he told reporters after the round. “But as soon as the ball was halfway there, I knew it was the right speed.” The putt dropped in for a stunning birdie that gave Nelson a lead he held on to.

Nelson’s third major victory, at the 1987 PGA at PGA National, came via a playoff with Lanny Wadkins. He sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole to slip into a tie. Both men missed the green on the first playoff hole, Nelson chipping to within six feet and Wadkins within four. The competition then became a case of “first in wins.” Nelson made his putt, then Wadkins lipped his out.

Nelson continued to play regularly on the PGA Tour into the mid 1990s, transferring to the Champions Tour in 1997 and winning 19 tournaments there. Through the end of the 2015 season, he had amassed more than $19 million in career winnings. Not bad for somebody who never touched a club until he was in his 20s.

Nelson at his peak

Tournament          Finish      Score           Z Score

1979 U.S. Open        T-4             288              -1.64

1979 PGA                  T-28          285              -0.26

1980 Masters            T-6            283             -1.00

1980 British Open    T-12         284             -0.83

1981 U.S. Open        T-20          284             -0.54

1981 PGA                 1st             273             -2.37

1982 Masters            T-7            287             -1.18

1982 U.S. Open        T-19          291              -0.56

1983 U.S. Open       1st             280             -2.69

1983 PGA                 T-36           288             -0.19

Score: -1.13

 

T-169 (NR). Bill Rogers, -1.13, 1979-1983

Rogers’ career is a superb illustration of the difference between peak value and career value. He only toured for a dozen years, and only really starred for a handful of those. But between 1980 and 1982, Rogers was a consistent front-line contender.

When Rogers stopped playing in 1988, he left of his own accord. The travel, the commitments, the time away from family; Rogers found it all too imposing. So he stopped….happily.

“I outsmarted the whole deal,” he said some years later.

Rogers played college golf at Houston before turning pro in the mid 1970s. He won for the first time at the 1978 Bob Hope Desert Classic, but hit the public consciousness during the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness. Hale Irwin won but Rogers, playing consistently, tied for fourth.

Two years later, at Merion, Rogers battled eventual champion David Graham and third round leader George Burns. One behind Graham through 13 holes, Rogers finished three back in a tie with Burns for second

The near-miss prompted him to do something he rarely enjoyed; travel all the way to England to play in the British Open championship at St. George’s. He had made a similar voyage two years earlier, or the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, and won. But while he liked the golf, the hassle bothered him.

It took a pep talk from fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw to persuade him to give Royal St. George’s, the  tournament site, a look. “I thought the course fit me,” he explained. He was right.

Through two rounds, Rogers held a one-stroke lead – over Crenshaw, of all people. On Saturday he shot 67 while Crenshaw fell out of contention, giving Rogers a five-stroke advantage over Bernhard Langer and Mark James.

Langer moved within one midway through the final round, but Rogers held him off with birdies at 9, 10 and 12, winning by four.

In 1982, Rogers posted his third top 5 finish at the U.S. Open, tying for third in the memorable Watson-Nicklaus battle at Pebble Beach.

He tied for 22nd in his 1982 defense of his British Open win, and in 1983 he returned to tie for eighth. In his heart, though, Rogers was through. In the 10 major tournament appearances remaining to him, he would make only one cut.

He left in 1988 to take a club pro’s job, dropping in only occasionally on the Champion’s Tour.

Rogers at his peak

Tournament                         Finish           Score               Z-score

1979 U.S. Open                      T-4                   288                  -1.64

1980 Masters                         T-33                 291                   0.52

1980 U.S. Open                      T-16                 284                  -0.57

1980 British Open                T-19                 286                  -0.45

1980 PGA                               T-8                   286                  -1.29

1981 U.S. Open                     T-2                   276                  -2.06

1981 British Open              1st                    276                  -2.99

1981 PGA                               T-27                 285                  -0.34

1982 U.S. Open                     T-3                   286                  -1.33

1983 British Open               T-8                   280                  -1.10

Average score: -1.13

 

 

T. 172 (T.144). Doug Sanders, -1.12, 1966-1970

Doug Sanders’ showmanship tended to overshadow his resume. On tour, he was known more for his colorful wardrobe and dashing personality than for his game, a shame because Sanders was for several years a force.

His reputation also suffered by his failure to actually win a major, a shortcoming that was never more exemplified than at the 1970 British Open. Sanders was by then an established pro well into his 30s, at precisely the stage of his career when people were prone to ask, “yeah, but can he win the big one?” He had been close, with runner-up finishes already at the PGA, U.S. Open and British Open. Now, needing only a par at the easy final hole at St Andrews, Sanders pitched on indifferently, lagged his birdie putt three feet away, and missed the knee-knocker, sending him into a playoff the next day — with, of all people, Jack Nicklaus — which Sanders lost. British TV commentator Henry Longhurst summed it up: “There but for the grace of God…”

That was Sanders’ golfing career in a nutshell, a recurring ability to threaten yet not close the deal. That’s not entirely fair to Sanders, who did, after all, win 20 PGA Tour events between 1956 and 1972. It was the big ones that kept getting away.

That tendency first showed itself at the 1959 PGA Championship, Sanders’ first and only the second contested at medal play. A second round 66 shot him into contention, and he trailed leader Jerry Barber by just one shot entering play Sunday. Sanders’ final 72 caught Barber … but Bob Rosburg came from back in the pack to shoot 66 and beat both of them by a stroke.

At the 1961 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, Sanders held the third round lead only to watch Gene Littler tour the front nine Sunday in 34 and beat him by a stroke. Sanders might easily have gotten his major at the 1966 British Open at Muirfield, but he was done in by a six at the 11th hole and finished one stroke behind Nicklaus.

In sum, between 1958 and 1970 Sanders lost four major championships, all of those losses coming either by one stroke or in a playoff.

 

Sanders at his peak

Tournament            Finish        Score        Z Score

1966 Masters             T-4           290                 -1.60

1966 U.S. Open          T-8           290                 -0.88

1966 British Open    T-2           283                 -1.87

1966 PGA                   T-6           287                 -1.42

1967 Masters            T-16         292                 -0.42

1967 British Open   T-18         290                 -0.55

1967 PGA                  T-28         292                 -0.17

1968 Masters           T-12         283                 -0.94

1968 PGA                  T-8           285                 -1.08

1970 British Open   2nd         283                 -2.24

Average Score: -1.12

 

T-173 (T.144). Bruce Devlin, -1.12, 1965-1969

Modern fans largely know Bruce Devlin as a golf course designer. Often working in collaboration with Robert Von Hagge, he has designed or redesigned more than 80 courses in the United States alone, and more than 150 around the world.

To an earlier generation, however, Devlin is recalled as among the most persistent foreign challengers to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, especially during their 1960s heydays. Although he never won a major championship, Devlin was a regular contender, finishing among the top 10 a dozen times between 1964 and 1969, and 16 times over the course of his career. In fact, one good measure of Devlin’s career is the list of men he chased to the finish in majors. Palmer is on that list; Devlin finished fourth behind him at the 1964 Masters. Nicklaus is on it twice; Devlin tied for fourth when Nicklaus won the 1966 British Open, and tied for fifth when Jack won the 1972 U.S. Open. Gary Player is also on the list twice; Devlin tied for sixth when Player won the 1965 U.S. Open, and tied for 10th in Player’s 1968 British Open victory. Lee Trevino won the 1968 U.S Open…but not before Devlin made a run, eventually finishing ninth. When Tom Watson won at Pebble Beach in 1982, the 45-year-old Devlin was still good for a top 10 finish.

Devlin learned golf as a child in Australia, quickly rising to prominence as a national champion there. He turned pro in 1961 and began playing on the U.S. tour in 1962. But he truly established himself by winning the St. Petersburg Open in March of 1964. He would eventually win eight PG Tour championships among his 28 worldwide, most of those coming on the Australasian tour.

Probably his best chance to actually win one of those elusive major titles came at the 1968 Masters, the year of the imbroglio over Robert deVicenzo’s incorrectly signed scorecard. Devlin stood in a five-way tie for second with, among others, eventual winner Bob Goalby, just one shot behind Gary Player, entering Sunday’s play. He managed his third 69 in four days, good enough to pass Player but not good enough to stay with either Goalby’s closing 66 or with deVicenzo’s 65…which was officially recorded as a 66.

In later years, Devlin interspersed his golf course design work with occasional appearances on the senior tour. There, too, he generally led a “just missed” existence, winning one event. His closest brush with senor major glory came at the 1988 Senior PGA when he finished seventh … behind Player.

 

Devlin at his peak

Tournament          Finish   Score    Z Score

1965 U.S. Open          T-6        288        -1.24

1965 British Open     T-8        290        -1.24

1965 PGA                    T-6        285        -1.49

1966 British Open     T-4        286        -1.49

1967 Masters             T-10       290        -0.74

1967 British Open     T-8        287        -1.03

1968 Masters              4th        280        -1.50

1968 U.S. Open           T-9        286        -0.87

1968 British Open     T-10       297        -0.65

1969 U.S. Open          T-10       286        -0.91

Average Score: -1.12

 

T-173 (NR). Lew Worsham, -1.12, 1947-1951

Worsham was a journeyman of little national reputation when he won the 1947 U.S. Open. To that point he had been a pro for a dozen years, but his success had been confined to picking up a few regional titles against fields thinned out by World War II.

Because he denied Sam Snead his best chance to win an Open, and because the outcome appeared to involve gamesmanship on Worsham’s part, the outcome has always carried a bit of controversy with it.

Snead battled his way into a playoff by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole. In the Monday playoff, Snead carried a two-stroke lead onto the 16th  tee, but his bogey there followed by Worsham’s birdie on 17 tied the contest moving to 18.

With Snead 20-feet away in two, Worsham chipped his third within two and one-half feet. Snead rolled his approach putt cautiously, and it, to, stopped about two and one-half feet from the cup.

Then as Snead lined up his par tap-in, Worsham stepped in, claiming that he actually was away. A USGA official was summoned, and determined that Snead’s ball was actually one inch outside Worsham’s.

Snead resumed his putting stance, but missed. Worsham then tapped in his winning putt.

While Snead never accused Worsham of improper motives in interrupting his preparations, he acknowledged that it distracted him.

It was the highlight of Worsham’s career. He reached the quarter-finals of that year’s PGA and tied for third in the 1951 Masters.   His final victory, at the 1953 $100,000 World Championship of Golf at Tam O’ Shanter outside Chicago, was also his most famous, and only partly because it was the first telecast nationally. Needing a birdie on the final hole to tie Chandler Harper for the title, Worsham holed out a 104-yard wedge shot to win. He led the tour in money winnings that season … with $34,002.

Worsham at his peak

Tournament                  Finish                  Score                           Z Score

1947 U.S. Open                    1st                           282                         -2.31

1947 PGA                      qtr finals               match play                   -2.67

1947 Western Open            T-28                       283                         -0.35

1948 Masters                       T-30                       299                           0.01

1948 U.S. Open                    6th                          285                         -1.16

1948 PGA                      4th round               match play                  -0.96

1949 Masters                       6th                          289                         -1.25

1949 Western Open            T-20                       284                         -0.29

1951 Masters                       T-3                          286                         -1.53

1951 U.S. Open                    T-14                       296                         -0.82

 

T-175 (T. 146). Sandy Lyle, -1.11, 1985-1989

There was, of course, a time when Scotland ruled the world of major tournament golf. The first 29 winners of the British Open championship – all of them until 1890 – claimed Scotland as their home. Even today, Scotland has still produced far more major champions – 55 of them – than any other country except the United States.

Yet the ranks of champion Scottish golfers have obviously thinned since the era of the Morrises and the Parks. Following Tommy Armour’s victory at the 1931 British Open, more than a half century elapsed before another Scot triumphed in a major. The man who did so, Sandy Lyle, captured the 1985 British Open and followed that with a green jacket at the 1988 Masters.

Lyle remains today one of the least known of the game’s greats, at least in America, because he played so infrequently here. Largely resisting the lure of big money and big fame that drew foreign contemporaries of the stripe of Ballesteros, Langer, Faldo, Norman and Olazabal to the PGA Tour, Lyle maintained his focus on the European Tour, where he won 18 times between 1979 and 1992. His trophies include the 1984 Italian Open, the 1984 Lancome Trophy, the 1987 German Masters, the 1988 Dunhill British Masters, and the 1992 Volvo Masters.

Only four times in a career that has to date spanned 40 years did Lyle make more starts in the U.S. than in Europe, the exceptions being from 1987 through 1990.  And even then, the difference was hardly substantial, an average of 16 U.S. starts measured against 11.25 on the European tour.

Born in 1958 in Shrewsbury, Lyle debuted at the British Open as a 16-year-old amateur in 1974. He missed the cut. Turning pro in 1977, his first win came a year later in a small event in Africa. Returning to the Open in 1979, he managed a tie for 19th position, good enough to win an invitation to the following year’s Masters, where he finished 48th. By then Lyle was an established figure on the European circuit with three victories, including the 1979 European Open by seven strokes.

Unlike most of his front-rank European contemporaries, Lyle more or less eschewed pursuit of major titles unless they came naturally to his radar screen. He tried the U.S. Open in 1980 and 1981, failed to make the cut either time, and did not show up again until 1986. Also in 1981, he made his only appearance in the PGA prior to 1991, again missing the cut. In 1982 Lyle bothered with only one major event, the British Open, where he finished eighth. Although a pro for eight years by the time of the 1985 British Open, he had teed it up in just seven U.S.–based majors to that point.

If lightly regarded in the U.S., Lyle was by then a highly respected figure in Europe, and particularly in England. Powerfully built and –at age 27 – in his athletic prime, Lyle fired an opening 68 at Royal St. George’s, but started the final day three strokes behind co-leaders David Graham and Masters champion Bernhard Langer. His fortunes turned on the back nine. At the famous par 5 14th, Lyle stood 200 yards out in two, whistled a two-iron onto the green and sank a 20-foot putt for a birdie. On the next hole, he sank a 12-footer for another birdie. Missing the green at 18, he took bogey and posted a two-over par 282, then sat back to wait on Langer and Graham. Fate was with him: Graham bogeyed three of the four incoming holes, and Langer bogeyed two of the final three, leaving Lyle with a one-stroke edge over American Payne Stewart.

It was a career highlight, but not a breakthrough performance. Lyle won the Benson & Hedges International that August, then stumbled through a 1986 season that saw just one victory, at Greensboro on the U.S. tour. Continuing to switch between tours in 1987, he beat Jeff Sluman in three extra holes to claim the TPC in March, and in October beat Langer in a playoff at the German Masters. The majors were another story, Lyle managing nothing more glorious than a tie for 11th at Augusta in 1986.  He did play on the victorious European Ryder Cup teams in both 1985 and 1987, and those showings, coupled with early 1988 victories at Phoenix and Greensboro, made him a plausible candidate to become the first Britisher to win the Masters.

The tournament boiled down to a contest between Lyle and American Mark Calcavecchia. Lyle led by two strokes after 54 holes, and widened that advantage to four over the Sunday front nine. But Calcavecchia, playing ahead of Lyle, picked up five shots through Amen Corner. The first and second came when Calcavecchia birdied and Lyle three-putted at 11, the third and fourth when Lyle drowned his tee shot in Rae’s Creek at 12. The fifth, a Calcavecchia birdie at No. 13, gave him a one-stroke lead, although Lyle re-forged the tie with a birdie of his own on 16.

With Calcavecchia in the clubhouse, Lyle drove into a fairway bunker at 18. “I personally thought it was over,” he said later. “The front bunker had a steep face on it … I didn’t think I had a chance of getting it out and getting it on the green.”

He was wrong. Lyle blasted a seven-iron to 10 feet above the cup and rolled the downhill birdie putt smack into the center of the hole for the victory. Not since Arnold Palmer 28 years earlier had anybody birdied 18 to win the tournament.

The victory was Lyle’s last on the U.S. Tour, although he added four more on the European Tour over the next five seasons.  Paring back his playing commitments, he moved to the Senior European and U.S. Tours in 2008, and was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame four years later.

Lyle at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1985 Masters               T-25       292        -0.11

1985 British Open     1st          282        -1.80

1986 Masters               T-11       285        -0.71

1986 British Open      T-30       295        -0.19

1987 Masters              T-17       291        -0.58

1987 U.S. Open           T-36       289        -0.06

1987 British Open     T-17       286        -0.84

1988 Masters             1st        281        -1.93

1988 U.S. Open           T-25      287        -0.22

1988 British Open     T-7        283        -1.17

Average Score: -1.11

 

T-175 (T. 146). Tom Kite, -1.09, 1981-1985

For most of his lengthy playing career, Tom Kite held one informal title: best player who never won a major.

The news media bestowed it on him some time in the mid 1980s. By then Kite already had more than a half dozen Tour championships, plus 10 top-five finishes in majors. In 1978 he was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at the British Open. In 1983 and again in 1986 he was runner-up at the Masters, first to Seve Ballesteros and then to Jack Nicklaus. In that 1986 tournament, Kite came from off the pace with a closing 68 to overtake third round leader Greg Norman. But Nicklaus closed with a 65 to overtake them both. It marked Kite’s ninth finish among the top six at Augusta.

In 1981 and again in 1982 Kite led the entire Tour in scoring average. In 1989 he won four tournaments and earned nearly $1.4 million. There was no tournament, it seemed, that Tom Kite couldn’t contend in. There were only four he couldn’t win…the four biggest.

By 1990, the “best non-major champion” label appeared to have epoxied itself to Kite’s bag. He was in his 40s by then, possessed of 19 major top 10s, but sliding inexorably downhill. At the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill, he had led by three strokes after 54 holes, but made seven on the par four fifth on Sunday and finished with a 78. “By far my worst round I’ve had in five or six years,” he said of what was his seventh round of 75 or worse on the final day of an Open. He managed only a tie for 14th at the 1990 Masters, and failed to make the top 40 in any of the other three big events that year. In 1991 his best was merely a tie for 37th at the U.S. Open. For the first time since 1974, he failed to qualify for the 1992 Masters, and came to that summer’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as an afterthought.

Windy conditions, even by the standards of Pebble Beach, threw the competition up for grabs. Nicklaus, seeking his fifth title, shot rounds of 74-77 and went home early. So did 1982 champion Tom Watson. Unheralded Gil Morgan managed to get through the first 36 holes in 135 strokes and hold a three stroke lead. Eventually, though, the conditions did Morgan in as well; he followed those two masterful scores with rounds of 77-81 and fell into a tie for 13th.

Amid the carnage, Kite saw opportunity. Eight strokes behind after two rounds, he fired a Saturday 70 to move within one, and closed on Sunday with an even par 72. In victory, Kite admitted the win came as a huge relief.

“It bugged the living daylights out of me,” he admitted of his annual major misses. “It was all people wanted to talk about…it was like the other things didn’t matter.”

Freed of his baggage, elder tour statesman Kite demonstrated he still had the game to contend. Through 1997, he racked up his ninth and 10th tournament championships along with six more top 10s in majors. When Tiger Woods decimated the field by 12 strokes at the 1997 Masters, it was Kite who won what came to be called the “non-Tiger flight” with a six-under par 282. He moved from the regular Tour to the Champions Tour after the 1999 season, having won more than $11 million, and has since added $16 million on the Champions Tour.

Kite at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1981 Masters            T-5            284         -1.08

1981 U.S. Open         T-20         284          -0.54

1981 PGA                   T-4           279          -1.36

1982 Masters            T-5           287          -1.23

1982 PGA                   T-9          280          -1.11

1983 Masters            T-2          284          -1.53

1984 Masters            T-6          282          -1.11

1985 U.S. Open        13th         284          -0.89

1985 British Open    T-8          285          -1.11

1985 PGA                   T-12        285         -0.92

Score: -1.09

 

T-177 (NR) Ed Furgol, -1.09, 1953-1957

Furgol is best recalled today for two distinctions.

The first is a childhood playground accident that left him with one arm several inches shorter than the other. That injury made him ineligible to serve in World War II; instead, Furgol worked as a golf professional, having been encouraged to take up the game following his injury.

The second distinction was his victory in the 1954 U.S. Open when Furgol held off Gene Littler’s late charge to win by one stroke. He was by far the steadiest of the contenders, shooting 71-70-71-72 at Baltusrol. Littler’s chances were damaged by a third round 76, while Dick Mayer, who finished third, came to the final hole with a chance to win but had to take an unplayable lie that led to a closing 73. Littler finished one stroke behind Furgol; Mayer tied Lloyd Mangrum two back.

Furgol’s first tour victory came at the 1947 Bing Crosby pro-am. A win in Phoenix preceded his Open title, and led to his being named tour player of the year that season.

Aside from the Open win, Furgol’s best major performance came at the 1956 PGA, when he finished third. He twice finished sixth at the Masters, in 1948 and again in 1957. Furgol competed only once at the British Open, that coming in 1955, when he tied for 19th.

Furgol died in 1997.

Furgol at his peak

Tournament                     Finish           Score              Z Score

1953 Western Open           T-2                   282                  -1.48

1954 U.S. Open                  1st                    284                  -1.79

1954 PGA                        2nd round        match play       -1.16

1955 Masters                     T-24                 299                  -0.48

1955 British Open             T-19                 292                  -0.18

1956 Masters                      T-24                 303                  -0.47

1956 U.S. Open                   T-4                   285                  -1.60

1956 Western Open          T-18                 290                  -0.68

1956 PGA                       semi-final      match play            -1.92

1957 Masters                      6th                    290                  -1.11

Average Z Score: -1.09

 

T-177 (NR), Charles Coody, -1.09, 1968-1972

A college player at Abilene Christian and TCU, Coody joined the tour in the mid 1960s. He won the 1964 Dallas Open, but then struggled for five seasons before managing a second title, in Cleveland in 1969.

Although he had finished fifth two seasons earlier, few gave Coody much of a thought when the 1971 Masters teed off. Rather, the focus was on the usual favorites: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer.  Coody’s Thursday 66, good for a three-stroke advantage over five players, was viewed as a wonderful performance, but hardly indicative of a trend.

That perception appeared to be ratified when he followed with a 73, falling back to second behind Don January. On Saturday, however, Coody shot 70, emerging in a tie for the lead with Nicklaus. That made Sunday’s final round a showdown between the two.

Nicklaus took the early advantage with a birdie at the first hole. But Coody birdied the second, and they were still tied going to the 15th. Coody managed a birdie there, added another at 16, and came home two strokes ahead of both Nicklaus and Johnny Miller for the victory.

He was unapologetic about defeating the game’s best player. The best players, he said, “shouldn’t mind letting us poor boys have something now and then.”

It was Coody’s only major championship and his last tour victory. He did go on to tie for fifth later that summer at the only British Open he ever played in..

Coody at his peak

Tournament               Finish           Score              Z Score

1968 U.S. Open             T-16                 288                  -0.55

1968 PGA                       T-8                   285                  -1.08

1969 Masters                 T-5                   283                  -1.34

1969 U.S. Open             T-13                 287                  -0.75

1969 PGA                       T-7                   281                  -1.42

1970 Masters                 T-12                 288                  -0.52

1971 Masters                1st                   279                  -2.00

1971 British Open        T-5                   283                  -1.55

1972 Masters                T-12                 292                  -0.78

1972 PGA                               15th                 288                  -0.92

Average Z Score: -1.09

 

T-179 (148), Betty Jameson, -1.07, 1952-1956

A founding member of the LPGA, Jameson was one of the foundational figures of women’s golf at both the amateur and professional levels. Born in 1919 in Oklahoma, she was introduced to the game as a child, was the state publinx champion by 13, and debuted in the U.S. Amateur as a 15-year-old, winning one match.

Her education at the amateur level was not immediate, but by 1938 she advanced to the quarter-finals, and in 1939 Jameson came to the 43rd annual event as a confident 20-year-old. Women’s amateur golf in those days was a strange mixture of society ladies whose excellence stopped at the borders of their home clubs plus a handful of serious players. The latter category included Glenna Collett Vare and Helen Hicks, who between them owned eight Amateur championship trophies. The biggest name in the women’s game, however, missed that tournament; Patty Berg, the defending champion, was recovering from an appendectomy.

Berg’s absence threw the tournament wide open, and Jameson stepped into the breach. She advanced easily into the semi-finals, where Hicks awaited. Betty beat her 3 & 1. The final pitted Jameson against Dorothy Kirby, an even younger, less experienced and more audacious player than Jameson. Betty claimed the final 4 & 3. She repeated in 1940, this time breezing through the final 6 & 5 over Jane Cothran.

World War II interrupted the support money for most sporting activities in the United States, and that certainly included women’s golf. Against a depleted field, Jameson breezed through one of the few events that survived – the 1942 Women’s Western Open. But with the war’s end, a push arose – spurred largely by Berg and Babe Zaharias – for the creation of a professional golf circuit. That desire brought together 13 of the best women players – Jameson among them – to form what would eventually become the LPGA. As a newly minted pro, Jameson placed second behind Berg at the inaugural Women’s Open, then lost to Zaharias in the quarter-finals of the 1946 event. At the 1947 Open, Jameson rolled through a field that included Berg and Louse Suggs, winning by six strokes. She would add a third professional major – her second Women’s Western – in 1954, defeating Betsy Rawls (6 & 5), Berg (2 & 1) and Suggs (6 & 5) in the final three matches.

For her seminal role in the creation of the women’s tour, Jameson was an inaugural inductee of the new LPGA Hall of Fame in 1967.

 

Jameson at her peak

Tournament              Finish       Score     Z Score

1952 U.S. Open            2nd            291            -1.17

1952 Western Open   2nd        match play   -2.02

1953 Titleholders       T-6             312             -0.53

1953 U.S. Open           4th             312             -0.84

1954 U.S. Open           T-14           316             -0.58

1954 Western Open 1st    match play       -1.80

1955 U.S. Open           T-9              312            -0.78

1956 Titleholders       5th             309            -0.81

1956 U.S. Open            T-7             307            -1.02

1956 LPGA                   3rd            296            -1.14

Average Z Score: -1.07

 

T-179 (NR). Willie Fernie, -1.07. 1882-1891

Young Tom Morris is the only person to have won four consecutive British Open championships. Beyond his own obvious role in that achievement, he owes that distinction in part to Willie Fernie.

Between 1879 and 1881, Bob Ferguson rolled through the Open championship, winning annually. In 1882, playing at his home Musselburgh course, Ferguson shot 159 for the one-day, 36-hole competition. The score would have been good enough to win either of the two most recent Opens played at Musselburgh, but this time Fernie matched him.

The following day, Ferguson carried a one-stroke lead onto the final hole of the 36-hole playoff. But Fernie drove the green while Ferguson missed, then after the defending champion played up Fernie dropped his putt for a two. Needing to hole his own putt for a tie, Ferguson lipped it out to give Fernie his championship.

It was the only Open title of Fernie’s lengthy career, but had fate been kinder he might have won several more. Across more than a quarter century’s worth of appearances, Fernie four times finished runner-up, He also finished third, fourth and fifth once each.

Fernie was the long-time professional at Troon, having moved there from Dumfries, where he had established his golfing roots. Following his retirement, he also made a name for himself in golf course architecture. He never competed in the United States.

He died in June of 1924 at age 69.

Fernie at his peak

Tournament                           Finish           Score              Z Score

1882 British Open                   2nd                  171                  -1.35

1883 British Open                 1st                   158                  -1.60

1884 British Open                   T-2                   164                  -1.50

1885 British Open                   T-4                   174                  -1.38

1886 British Open                   T-8                   162                  -0.87

1887 British Open                   T-7                   173                  -0.43

1888 British Open                   14th                 183                  -0.14

1889 British Open                   6th                   164                  0.09

1890 British Open                   T-2                   167                  -1.40

1891 British Open                   T-2                   168                  -2.11

 

T-181 (T-149) Chick Evans, -1.06, 1914-1920

You can read the Chick Evans biography in “The Hole Truth,” available now in bookstores or at amazon.com

 

Evans at his peak

Tournament               Finish         Score        Z Score

1914 U.S. Open            2nd             291           -1.94

1914 British Amat.  4th round     match play   -0.02

1915 U.S. Open            18th           307            -0.59

1915 Western Open     T-22          324            -0.42

1916 U.S. Open          1st              286            -2.50

1916 U.S. Amateur    1st         match play    -0.97

1919 U.S. Amateur2nd round  match play     -0.64

1919 U.S. Open          T-9            313            -0.95

1920 U.S. Open          T-6            298            -1.46

1920 U.S. Amateur   1st        match play     -1.06

Average Z Score: -1.06

 

T-181 (T-149) Fay Crocker, -1.06, 1954-1958

Largely anonymous today, Fay Crocker deserves to be remembered for this reason if no other: She was the first non-American female to win a major championship. Nor was she the product of the only other recognized golfing hotbed of the time, the British empire, a fact that makes her accomplishment even more unlikely.

Crocker emerged out of Montevideo, Uruguay in the early 1950s to mix it up – often successfully – with Patty Berg and Louise Suggs on the proto-version of the women’s tour.

The son of accomplished golf parents, Crocker came to the U.S. as a 25-year-old in 1939 to try her hand in the U.S. Amateur. She learned that she had a lot to learn. Qualifying for the 64-player match play competition with a round of 79, she advanced with 5 & 3 and 2 & 1 victories before veteran Helen Hicks took her out 1 up on the 20th hole of their third round match. Crocker returned to Uruguay, not taking on the Amateur again until 1950. Then in 1954 she turned pro. Crocker was 40 at the time.

If Crocker’s career was late in starting, she made up for the delay with intensity. She finished ninth in her first U.S. Open – that was the one made famous by Babe Zaharias, who won while undergoing treatments for the cancer that would soon take her life. In 1955 Crocker was probably the dominant force on the LPGA tour. At the Titleholders in Augusta, Ga., she tied for seventh. The U.S. Women’s Open was held at Wichita Country Club in June, featuring a field that included Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Betsy Rawls and Betty Jameson, all former champions still in their competitive primes. None were a match that week for Crocker, who seized a three-stroke lead with an opening 74, followed that with 72 that extended her lead to eight, and breezed home four strokes ahead of Suggs and Mary Lena Faulk. Two weeks later at the LPGA, Crocker tied for third, four strokes behind Beverly Hanson. Finally at the Women’s Western, she tied Suggs for second, a stroke off Berg’s winning pace.

That season was the high point of Crocker’s career, although not the only highlight. In 1958 she placed third in the Open behind Mickey Wright and Suggs, then second in the LPGA behind Wright. Two seasons later Crocker — at the advanced age for a female golfer of 46 – seized the Titleholders and ran away with it by seven shots. More than a half century later, she remains the oldest major champion in LPGA history.

Crocker essentially left the tour after the 1961 season, meaning that the essence of her pro career was limited to just eight seasons. Even so she could count seven official tour championships, two of them majors. Returning to South America, she lived as a distinguished golf elder of that continent until her death in 1983.

 

Crocker at her peak

Tournament               Finish           Score              Z Score

1954 Western Open  qtr final          match play    -1.48

1955 Titleholders      T-7                   306                  -0.19

1955 U.S. Open          1st                   299                 -1.75

1955 LPGA                  T-3                   224                  -1.00

1955 Western Open   T-2                  294                  -1.51

1956 U.S. Open           10th                309                  -0.80

1957 U.S. Open           T-9                   312                 -0.81

1958 Titleholders       5th                  312                 -0.59

1958 U.S. Open           3rd                  297                 -1.42

1958 LPGA                  2nd                 294                  -1.00

Average Z Score: -1.06

 

T-181 (T-149) Gay Brewer, -1.06, 1964-1968

Gay Brewer may have had the least classical swing of any highly successful player: a looping, wandering swing that seemed never to have been coached. “It was a buggy whip from the get-go,” Hale Irwin once told Golf Digest of Brewer’s swing. But, Irwin quickly added, “he got the club back to the ball the same way every time.”

Brewer generally traced the looping swing back to a childhood elbow injury that made it difficult to take a more standard swing path. He overcame the flaw with practice and determination, winning a national junior championship and starring at the University of Kentucky, but floundering initially on the pro tour. Five seasons into his pro career, Brewer remained winless and missing five consecutive cuts at the U.S. Open, the only major he qualified to enter.

Gradually, though, Brewer found his way. His first of an eventual 10 PGA tour wins came in August of 1961 when he was 29. He won twice more that season and qualified for the 1962 Masters, where he barely missed the top 10. He was fifth at the 1962 U.S. Open.

At that time, the Masters was generally viewed as the exclusive province of the golf world’s power trio, Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. One of those men won all but one of the Masters played between 1958 and 1965. Palmer won the 1964 tournament by six strokes, then Nicklaus won by nine a year later. So when the field convened for the 1966 event, nobody gave Brewer a second thought as a contender.

That changed when Brewer plowed through the first three rounds at two over par, hanging within two shots of Nicklaus and co-leader Tommy Jacobs. On Sunday, he toured the front nine in 33 strokes to seize the lead, and came to the final hole needing only a par for the victory. But he left his approach 70 feet from the hole, left his first putt seven feet away and missed the winner to set up a three-way playoff, which Nicklaus won. “When I three-putted the second hole I became scared of my putter,” he told reporters, adding, “if you can’t putt you can’t play.”

The playoff outcome made Nicklaus the first person to win back-to-back Masters. Nobody knew it at the time, but it also prevented Brewer from claiming that same honor. One year later, he returned to Augusta, shrugging off intimations that his close miss might scar his future play. “I blew it and forgot it,” he said. An opening 73, six strokes worse than leader Bert Yancey, suggested otherwise, but Brewer followed with a 68 and stood fourth, three strokes behind three leaders entering Sunday play. The four were tied with nine holes remaining, but Brewer birdied the 13th, 14th and 15th to seize command, fashioning that into a one-stroke lead over Bobby Nichols. As in 1966, he came to the final hole needing par for victory, and this time he sank the putt. “I guess I’m the happiest person in history to win here,” Brewer said at the presentation ceremony.

The win was the ninth of Brewer’s career, and clearly his high point. He continued to play regularly on tour into the 1970s, then joined the Champions tour when it was founded.

 

Brewer at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1964 U.S. Open           T-5            286         -1.35

1964 PGA                     8th            281         -1.16

1965 U.S. Open           16th          293         -0.44

1965 PGA                     T-28         293         -0.31

1966 Masters              T-2           288         -1.93

1966 PGA                     27            293         -0.35

1967 Masters             1st           280         -2.35

1968 U.S. Open           T-9          286         -0.87

1968 British Open      T-6         295         -1.01

1968 PGA                     T-20        287         -0.78

Average Z Score: -1.06

 

 

T-181 (NR) Arnaud Massy -1.06 (1905-1914)

An argument could be made that Arnaud Massy is the best golfer in the history of France. Although largely forgotten today, he was a front-line force in the European game during the first decade of the twentieth century

Massy learned the game as a caddie at Biarritz shortly after that prototype resort course opened late in the 19th Century. Encouraged, he emigrated to Scotland, where the development of his game continued.

Massy won the inaugural French Open in 1906, repeated in 1907, then broke through the Vardon-Taylor-Braid hegemony at the British Open, beating Taylor by two strokes. It was the first Open victory ever by a player from continental Europe. Not until Seve Ballesteros’ 1979 victory would another do so.

Having picked up his third French Open title, he finished second at the Open in 1911, famously losing to Vardon in a playoff which Massy walked out of with his opponent holding an insurmountable lead in the final holes. A fourth French Open victory would follow in 1925.

He was 37 when World War  II broke out, so while that conflict shortened his career it probably did not influence his peak rating. He did return to play in the 1920 and 1921 Opens, tying for 6th in 1921, and made several other cursory appearances in the 1920s.

Massy died in 1950.

 

Massy at his peak

Tournament                        Finish              Score              Z Score

1905 British Open                   6th                    325                  -1.26

1906 British Open                   6th                    310                  -1.38

1907 British Open                 1st                    312                  -2.15

1908 British Open                   T-9                   308                  -0.98

1909 British Open                   T-35                 319                  0.36

1910 British Open                   T-22                 315                  -0.21

1911 British Open                   2nd                    303                  -1.98

1912 British Open                   10th                    311                  -0.98

1913 British Open                   T-7                   317                  -0.92

1914 British Open                   T-10                 316                  -1.24

Average Z Score: -1.06

 

T-185 (T-152). Judy Rankin, -1.05, 1975-1979

Known today for her television work, Judy Rankin’s reputation on the course probably recedes with the passage of time. That may be natural – hardly anybody under age 50 saw her play – but it’s still unfortunate. In her prime, the mid 1970s, Rankin was a consistent force on the LPGA tour.

Technically, Rankin is without a major championship. That is, however, a technicality born of bad timing rather than performance. In 1976, Rankin won the Colgate Dinah Shore by three strokes; it was declared a major seven years later. In 1977 she won the Peter Jackson Classic, again by three strokes. It was declared a major two years later. Were we to retroactively adjudge her performance in those pre-major tournaments eligible for consideration in our ranking of her, her score would improve by about one-half of a standard deviation, a gain of about 30 spots.

As it is, Rankin’s rating is handicapped by the fact that her prime coincided with a period when the LPGA generally conducted only two major events, the Open and the LPGA. As a practical matter, it means that Rankin only has 11 major events between 1975 and 1979 from which to select her best 10. Her male contemporaries, for example, could select their best 10 from among 20 major tournaments.

Rankin was a child golf prodigy, a St. Louis native who dominated girls golf in that area and winner of the Missouri Amateur in 1959, when she was just 14. Her finish as low amateur at the 1960 Women’s Open – she was 24th overall — earned her a cover photo on Sports Illustrated when the magazine decided to preview the 1961 event. She turned pro in 1962, but did not win her first tour event until 1968.

The 1970s were Rankin’s decade. Of her 26 tour championships, all but that 1968 victory at Corpus Christi came between 1970 and 1979. In 1972 she tied for second at both the Open and the Titleholders; she finished second at the 1976 LPGA and tied for that spot in 1977. She won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average in 1973, 1976 and 1977, was named Player of the year in 1976 and 1977. In 1976 alone, she won six tournaments and took home more than $150,000 in earnings, the first LPGA player to top $100,000. She added five more championships in 1977.

Her 1976 LPGA loss to Betty Burfeindt was as close as Rankin would ever come to actually winning a title recognized at the time as a major. The two women were tied and playing together on Sunday when they came to the 16th, a 301 yard par four that Rankin had birdied the two previous days. This time her 18-foot birdie putt for the lead barely rimmed out. Burfeindt then sank her own birdie putt. “We were both going along even and we knew one of us had to make a birdie,” Rankin said afterward. “She made it’ I didn’t.”

Chronic back problems hampered Rankin’s performance, eventually ending her career in 1983, when she was just 39. “I would play a month and be a cripple a month,” she said of the problem. “My goal was to stay on my feet.” A two-time Solheim Cup captain she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000.

Rankin at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1975 U.S. Open          T-9         304         -0.87

1975 LPGA                T-20        298         -0.30

1976 U.S. Open          T-17        307         -0.21

1976 LPGA                2nd         288         -2.07

1977 U.S. Open          T-10        302         -0.81

1977 LPGA                T-2         282         -1.78

1978 LPGA                3rd         283         -1.79

1979 U.S. Open          T-26        296         -0.26

1979 LPGA                T-10        289         -1.10

1979 duMaurier       T-5         291         -1.34

Average Z Score: -1.05

 

T-185 (T-152). Graeme McDowell, -1.05, 2008-2012

McDowell is one of the current group who are inheritors of a lineage of successful Irish golfers dating back to Fred Daly and the O’Connors. Although he lacks the obvious raw skills of Rory McIlroy, the major tournament resume of Padraig Harrington or the panache of Darren Clarke, McDowell has held his own with the world’s elite pros, winning one major and nearly winning a second.

McDowell came out of Portrush in Northern Ireland, played golf as a collegian in the United States, and turning pro following graduation in 2002. He was not an immediate sensation here, making only two cuts in his first two seasons. In Europe it was another story. McDowell finished sixth in the European Order of Merit in 2004, and cracked the world’s top 50. Playing selectively in the United States, he tied for second at Bay Hill, for sixth at the American Express Championship, and for 11th at the British Open, earning $814,000.

McDowell came to the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in a period when Irish players– McDowell, McIlroy, Harrington and Clarke — had all risen to prominence. Playing steadily, McDowell found himself in second place three strokes behind Dustin Johnson after three rounds. Johnson blew to an 82 on Sunday, a score that might have opened the door for Tiger Woods in third place. But Woods managed only a 75, leaving the door open for McDowell, whose closing 74 was good enough to outlast France’s Gregory Havret by a shot. He became the first European to win the Open in 40 years.

The outcome turned out to be more of an event than a movement, McDowell missing the cut in four of his next five majors. In 2012 he made a hard run at a second U.S. Open title at Olympic, co-leading (with Jim Furyk) heading into Sunday play. But four bogeys on the front nine cost him the lead, and McDowell also bogeyed the 13th and 14th holes. When McDowell missed a slick 25-foot downhill birdie putt at 18, Webb Simpson emerged as the victor. A month later at the British Open, McDowell stood second four strokes behind Adam Scott entering Sunday play, but never ignited a run and finished in a tie for fifth.

McDowell at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

2008 British Open     T-19       294        -0.49

2008 PGA              T-15       287       -0.74

2009 U.S. Open        T-18       284        -0.50

2009 PGA              T-10       288        -1.05

2010 U.S. Open        1st        284        -2.20

2011 U.S. Open        T-14       282        -0.78

2012 Masters          T-12       286        -0.74

2012 U.S. Open        T-2        282        -1.63

2012 British Open     T-5        278        -1.43

2012 PGA              T-11       286        -0.91

Average Z Score: -1.05

 

T-185 (T-152). Al Geiberger, -1.05, 1965-1969

On the PGA Tour, Al Geiberger was known for three things: Winning the 1966 PGA championship, becoming the first person to break 60 in a recognized tour event, and eating peanut butter sandwiches.

Chronologically the sandwiches came first, debuting in Geiberger’s bag during the 1965 PGA at Laurel Valley Country Club. Geiberger had been paired with local hero Arnold Palmer, and he figured it wise to fortify himself against the prospect of an especially long, draining day.

“I knew I’d never be able to get to the concession stands with Palmer’s gallery surrounding us,” he explained. The one-time deal quickly became a thing. But why peanut butter, he was asked. “Can you imagine tuna fish in your bag if you forgot to eat it,” he responded. The sandwiches didn’t help much – he managed just a 19th place finish, 11 strokes behind champion Dave Marr – but they at least got him in three strokes ahead of Palmer.

Geiberger arrived at the following year’s PGA at Firestone Country Club in Akron as a lightly regarded member of the field. Most of the attention logically focused on Palmer – still seeking the PGA title he needed to complete the career grand slam – and Jack Nicklaus. Several of the portents, however, pointed to Geiberger, not least of which being his victory at the 1965 American Golf Classic held on the same course. The weather abetted his track record. The 1966 event had been scheduled for Columbine in Denver, but flash floods rendered that course unplayable and forced the move to Firestone. He was also able to spend the tournament’s first 36 holes playing in relative anonymity belying his even par standing, just one stroke behind the leader. That’s because the leader was 54-year-old Sam Snead, and the golf legend attracted all the attention.

Geiberger broke out during Saturday’s third round, firing a 68 to take a four-stroke edge on the field while Snead retreated to a 75. His Sunday 72 ensured a no-drama finish those same four strokes ahead of runner-up Dudley Wysong. In the post round press conference, he explained his success as a simple matter of relaxation … doing so while eating a peanut butter sandwich.

The PGA title came in Geiberger’s first serious run at a major championship, his best previous finish being a tie for fourth at the 1965 U.S. Open. It was the highlight of a sporadic career that saw moments of brilliance interspersed with mediocrity. Through 1975, he won only three more times, his closest major brush coming at the 1969 U.S. Open, when he tied for second a stroke behind Orville Moody. The early 1970s were a particular wasteland for Geiberger, who failed to win anything between 1967 and 1973, and whose dozen major appearances between 170 and 1974 showed nothing better than a tie for 13th.

So it came as something of a surprise when Geiberger, by then nearing 40, laid down his 59 during the second round of the Danny Thomas St. Jude event in Memphis in June of 1977. His round of six pars, 11 birdies and an eagle set him up to win the event, although the victory also required overcoming a two-stroke deficit to Gary Player on the back nine on Sunday.

 

Al Geiberger at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1965 U.S. Open        T-4        287        -1.40

1965 PGA              19th       291        -0.61

1966 PGA              1st        280        -2.68

1967 U.S. Open        T-28       291        -0.10

1967 PGA              T-5        283        -1.59

1968 U.S. Open        T-9        286        -0.87

1968 PGA              T-8        285        -1.08

1969 Masters          T-13       288        -0.51

1969 U.S. Open        T-2        282        -1.55

1969 PGA              T-35       289        -0.07

Average Z Score: -1.05

 

T-188 (T-155). Young Tom Morris, -1.03, 1866-1874

The Young Tom Morris biography can be read in “The Hole Truth,” now available in bookstores and at amazon.com.

Young Tom Morris at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1866 British Open     9th        187        0.89

1867 British Open     4th        175        0.00

1868 British Open     1st        154        -1.53

1869 British Open     1st        157        -1.82

1870 British Open     1st        149        -2.07

1872 British Open     1st        166        -1.28

1873 British Open     T-3        183        -0.29

1874 British Open     2nd        161        -1.46

Average Z Score: -1.03

 

T-188 (T-155), Louis Oosthuizen, -1.03, 2012-2016

Some guys just need one break to propel their careers. Louis Oosthuizen got his at the 2010 British Open. The weatherman provided it.

At the time, Oosthuizen was a 27-year-old South African journeyman pro whose only accomplishment had been winning the Open de Andalucia de Golf in Spain four months earlier. At St. Andrews, his first-round 65 drew relatively little attention because pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy ripped off a 63 and the field as a whole went under par. Playing very early on the second day, Oosthuizen notched a 67 in a moderate rain and wind and retired to the clubhouse for lunch…just in time, as it turned out, for the Old Course to rise up in revolt.

The skies opened up that afternoon, affecting, among other, McIlroy, who fought his way to an 80. The average score climbed by four full strokes. Ensconsed in his warm, dry place, Oosthuizen suddenly found himself out front by five strokes. He lost only one stroke of that lead on Saturday and was never threatened on Sunday in claiming a decisive seven-stroke victory over Lee Westwood.

From full-out unknown, Oosthuizen had become a celebrity. Initially, however, his Open title sat on his resume like a freak show stat. He missed the cut in three of his next five majors before legitimizing that St. Andrews performance with a runner-up finish to Bubba Watson at the 2012 Masters. That was the tournament where a Sunday double eagle at the second hole propelled Oosthuizen into a playoff, which Watson famously won with an inconceivable hook out of the trees following an errant drive on the second playoff hole. It was the first of four runner-up finishes for Oosthuizen, the others coming to Jordan Spieth at the 2015 U.S. Open, to Zach Johnson in a playoff at that summer’s British Open at St. Andrews, and to Justin Thomas at the 2017 PGA Championship.

That record makes Oosthuizen one of the few PGA Tour pros with more than five years of experience whose peak rating stands a decent chance of improving. This is due in some measure to an injury-plagued 2013 that saw him complete just one of the four majors, missing the cut in the Masters. A top five finish in one of the 2018 majors would likely boost him on the peak rating ladder. Were Oosthuizen to match his best professional season – that would be 2015 – he could leap as many as 40 places, and begin to threaten a position in the top 100.

Louis Oosthuizen at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

2012 Masters             2nd          278        -2.07

2012 British Open    T-19         281        -0.81

2012 PGA                   T-21         288        -0.53

2014 PGA                   T-15         275        -0.86

2015 Masters            T-19         284        -0.29

2015 U.S. Open         T-2           276        -1.85

2015 British Open    T-2          273        -2.45

2016 Masters             T-15       291        -0.67

2016 U.S. Open          T-23       287        -0.24

2016 PGA                   T-22       276        -0.48

Average Z Score: -1.03

 

T-188 (NR). Charl Schwartzel, -1.03, 2011-2015

Schwartzel is a native South African whose career highlight was his victory in the 2011 Masters. He won that championship by two strokes over Adam Scott and Jason Day, overcoming a four-shot deficit starting the final round.

The most remarkable aspect of that final round was its start. Schwartzel chipped in on the first hole for a birdie, and then holed his approach on the second hole for an eagle. That left him three under par through two holes without having pulled the putter from his bag.

He remained one behind until the 15th hole, then unleashed a closing string of four consecutive birdies to capture the victory. He was the first player ever to win the Masters by birdying the final four holes.

Charl Schwartzel at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

2011 Masters            1st           274          -2.42

2011 U.S. Open          T-9           280          -1.01

2011 British Open    T-16         285          -0.67

2011 PGA                    T-12        279          -0.68

2013 Masters             T-25        290          -0.08

2013 U.S. Open          14th        288          -0.94

2013 British Open     T-15        290          -0.74

2014 British Open     T-7          271          -1.39

2014 PGA                    T-15        275          -0.86

2015 U.S. Open           7th         278          -1.50

Average Z Score: -1.03

 

T-188 (NR) Jason Dufner, -1.03, 2010-2014

Dufner is a veteran tour professional with one major championship to his name, the 2013 PGA Championship.

A native of Cleveland, he began playing golf when his family moved to Florida. He attended Auburn University and turned pro in 2000, but did not win on tour until 2012.

His 20134 PGA win came by two strokes at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. It included a course-record 63 in the second round. Still he trailed Jim Furyk by one shot entering the final round.

In that final round, Dufner recorded three birdies on the front nine, giving him a two-stroke lead at the turn. That lead never wavered through the back nine, Dufner matching Furyk stroke for stroke as each recorded a 36.

Jason Dufner at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

2010 PGA                   T-5            279        -1.61

2011 PGA                   2nd           272        -1.75

2012 Masters            T-24          289        -0.24

2012 U.S. Open         T-4            283        -1.43

2012 British Open    T-31         283        -0.39

2012 PGA                   T-27         289        -0.34

2013 Masters            T-20         289        -0.28

2013 U.S. Open         T-4           285        -1.46

2013 British Open    T-26        292        -0.31

2013 PGA                   1st          270        -2.45

Average Z Score: -1.03

 

T-192. (T-157) Lee Janzen, -1.02, 1993-1997

No wonder Lee Janzen handled major tournament pressure so well. He was well-trained at Florida Southern.

And not merely during practice. On weekends, Janzen thrust himself into events colloquially known as the “Big Team.” It was nothing more than high-stakes (at least for college kids) matches involving four or five foursomes.

“I’d have 15-20 bets going off the first tee,” he told the Seattle Times in 1998. “I learned never to lose focus, no matter how I was playing. In college, you can’t afford to go out and lose a couple hundred dollars.”

Janzen admits he still hates to lose, “but now I can afford to pay.”

Janzen led Florida Southern to the 1985 and 1986 NCAA Division II championship, and won the individual title in 1986. Arriving on the PGA tour in 1990, he won his first tournament, the Northern Telecom Open, in 1992. At the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, Janzen opened with consecutive rounds of 67, and held off Payne Stewart to win his first major title by two strokes.

It was the start of a minor rivalry between the two men, one that tended to be for high stakes…and one that tended to go to Janzen. At the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic, Stewart opened with a 66 and led Janzen by five strokes entering the final round of play. But natural forces – weather and gravity — were on Janzen’s side. On the final hole of the second round, Stewart faced a virtually impossible 10-foot sidehill birdie putt to a cup positioned at the edge of a slope. The ball lipped the cup and then took off downhill, gathering steam as it went and halting a full 25 feet away. Having barely missed a three, Stewart wound up with a five.

Then on the fifth hole on Sunday, Janzen’s drive was snared by the branches of a tree.  Seconds before he would have been required to declare the ball lost and re-hit under a stroke and distance penalty, a gust freed the ball, which fell to the ground in play. Reprieved, he completed a vital par that kept him in contention. Janzen played four under par the rest of the way home and edged out Stewart again, this time by one.

It was the apex of Jansen’s peak period. In 28 1995 starts, he won three times: at the Players, the Booz Allen and the International. Janzen earned what was at the time a career-high $1.379 million. Although not a contender in any of that season’s majors, his performances were uniformly steady.  He returned to the top 10 at the 1996 U.S. Open, and finished fourth at the 1997 PGA.

Although failing to win after 1998, Janzen continued to play the Tour on a regular basis through 2010. An infrequent competitor since 2014 on the Champions Tour, he did add that tour’s 2015 ACE Group Classic title to his resume.

Janzen at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

1993 U.S. Open       1st            272          -2.75

1993 PGA                 T-22          281          -0.35

1995 Masters          T-12          283          -0.54

1995 U.S. Open       T-13         286          -0.81

1995 British Open  T-24         289          -0.67

1995 PGA                T-23         278          -0.29

1996 Masters         T-12         287          -0.63

1996 U.S. Open       T-10        283          -1.32

1996 PGA                T-8          280          -1.25

1997 PGA                4th          279          -1.59

Average Z Score: -1.02

 

T-192. (T-157) Bruce Crampton, -1.02, 1969-1973

There are about a half dozen valid reasons why a modern American golf fan might be unaware that somebody named Bruce Crampton ever applied stick to ball. He was an Australian, he played in an era dominated by Nicklaus, Player and Trevino, he never won a major championship, and he did not have an outlandish personality or wear bright clothes.  Beyond that, he developed an image as a grumpy, fuss-budget of a player. All he did was compete.

“People think of me as stern, difficult, crank and cantankerous,” Crampton once admitted to Sports Illustrated. He did not dispute the adjectives. “I am what I am,” he said. The same article repeated what is considered an apocryphal tale on the tour about fellow pro Harold Henning inviting Crampton to a masquerade party as a horse. “I’ll be the head,” Henning is said to have offered, “and you can be your usual self.”

From his arrival on the American tour in the early 1960s, Crampton did win 14 events, the biggest among them including the 1965 Bing Crosby, the 1970 Westchester Classic, and the 1971 Western Open. If he never won a major, he sure came close. He was runner-up to Nicklaus four times: in the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open, the 1973 PGA Championship, and the 1975 PGA. Across 59 major appearances, Crampton finished among the top 10 19 times.

The 1972 U.S. Open was probably Crampton’s best shot, and it was his bad luck to run into both Nicklaus and Pebble Beach at their best. Trailing Nicklaus by a single shot through three rounds, he joined almost all of the rest of the field in running afoul of Pebbles’s notorious weather, this time featuring 35-mph gusts. Crampton shot 76, in the process watching Nicklaus salt away the title with a now-famous one-iron off the flagstick on the 17th hole.

Crampton joined the Senior tour in 1986 and added 20 more victories, the last coming in 1997, when he was 62. But he never got full credit for his talent, in part due to the absence of major titles, and in part due to his less-than-warm nature. He tried not to let the lack of admiration bother him, saying he preferred to focus on his swing. “Anybody who watches me does so only because he respects discipline, integrity and good golf shots,” Crampton said.

Other than his disposition, the one knock on Crampton had always been his inability to win the big tournaments. On the regular tour, his best efforts produced only four runner-up finishes: in the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open, plus the 1973 and 1975 PGA Championship

Crampton at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

1969 Masters           T-13         288          -0.51

1969 U.S. Open        T-6           284          -1.23

1969 PGA                 T-15         284          -0.91

1970 PGA                 T-6           283          -1.44

1971 Masters          T-18         289          -0.42

1972 Masters          T-2           289          -1.26

1972 U.S. Open        2nd        293          -2.18

1972 PGA                 T-24        291          -0.47

1973 British Open  T-18       292          -0.17

1973 PGA                 2nd        281         -1.59

Average Z Score: -1.02

 

192. (NR) Jay Hebert, -1.02, 1956-1960

Hebert was half of the tour’s most dominant brother act of the 1950s. His brother, Lionel, won the 1957 PGA Championship, and Jay won the same tournament in 1960.

A Marine during World War II, Hebert fought at Iwo Jima, went to college after the war and won seven PGA tour events. His 1960 PGA win came by one stroke over Jim Ferrier.

Jay Hebert at his peak

Tournament                  Finish     Score               Z Score

1956 PGA                         2nd rd.    match play          -0.30

1956 Western Open       T-2           284                       -1.40

1957 Masters                  10th          292                      -0.71

1957 PGA                    qtr-final   match play             -1.22

1958 Masters                  T-9             289                     -0.86

1958 U.S. Open               T-7             293                     -1.02

1958 PGA                         T-5            285                      -1.34

1959 Masters                  T-8            290                      -0.60

1959 U.S. Open             T-17           293                       -0.48

1960 PGA                       1st            281                       -2.29

Average Z Score: -1.02

 

T-192 (NR) Jeff Sluman, -1.02, 1990-1994

Jeff Sluman was the 1988 PGA Champion. The victory came at the outset of his  career – Sluman was playing in only his sixth professional major – and marked his first major top 10. In fact his record was so non-descript at that stage that his PGA victory is not part of his peak rating.

His true peak arrived two seasons later, his best finish at that stage being a runner-up to Nick Price at the 1992 U.S. Open.

Sluman won six times overall during his lengthy career.

Sluman at his peak

Tournament          Finish    Score     Z Score

1990 U.S. Open        T-14        285         -0.73

1990 British Open  T-25        283         -0.20

1992 Masters          T-4          280         -1.14

1992 U.S. Open       2nd         287         -2.42

1992 PGA                T-12        285         -1.03

1993 Masters         T-17        287         -0.61

1993 U.S. Open     T-11        280         -1.03

1994 Masters        T-25        293         -0.07

1994 U.S. Open     T-9         284         -1.17

1994 PGA              T-25        283         -0.39

Average Z Score: -1.02

 

T-192 (NR) Karen Stupples, -1.02, 2002-2006

Stupples is a native of Great Britain who was active on the LPGA Tour between 2000 and 2014. She has one major championship to her credit, the 2004 British Open, which she won by 5 strokes.

Prior to her 2014 retirement, she won about $4 million. She now does television commentary.

Stupples at her peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

2002 LPGA              T-9          290         -0.95

2003 Nabisco          T-15        291         -0.86

2003 LPGA              T-20        287         -0.72

2003 British Open  T-12       287         -0.75

2004 Nabisco          T-16       286         -0.93

2004 British Open 1st        269         -2.46

2005 U.S. Open        T-10      292         -1.04

2005 British Open   T-11      281         -1.04

2006 Nabisco           T-17      291         -0.57

2006 British Open   T-10      290         -0.88

Score: -1.02  

 

T-197 (NR) Jim Turnesa, -1.01, 1948-1952

The best of seven golfing brothers, Turnesa won the 1952 PGA Championship, beating Chick Harbert 2 & 1 in the final. Trailing by three holes after the morning round,  Turnesa never led until parring the final hole as Harbert made bogey. It was the most notable professional victory in more than two decades of play for any of the Turnesa brothers.

Turnesa at his peak

Tournament             Finish    Score     Z Score

1948 U.S. Open          3rd          280          -1.91

1948 PGA           1st round  match play    0.54

1948 Western Open  T-18        291          -0.50

1949 Masters              T-4          286          -1.64

1949 U.S. Open           T-4          289          -1.44

1949 PGA             3rd round  match play -1.03

1949 Western Open  T-13        281            -0.70

1951 Western Open  T-15        282            -0.52

1952 PGA                   1st    match play    -2.05

1952 Western Open  8th          287            -0.83

Score: -1.01

 

T-197 Jack White, -1.01, 1892-1904

Jack White was a British professional golfer who made 18 starts in the British Open, winning in 2004. White was a 30-year-old veteran of more than a decade of Open competition and the club pro at famous Sunningdale when he won the 1904 event. His winning score of 296, beating J.H. Taylor by one stroke, was a record at the time, and his final round 69 matched the Open record set earlier in the tournament by James Braid. That record, however, did not last long; a short time later Taylor turned in a 68.

White at his peak

Tournament            Finish    Score     Z Score

1892 British Open    11th      319           -0.63

1893 British Open    T-10      333           -0.94

1895 British Open    T-21      346           -0.24

1898 British Open    T-13      323           -0.23

1899 British Open    2nd       315           -1.81

1900 British Open    4th       323           -1.37

1901 British Open    6th       326           -0.74

1902 British Open    18th      325          -0.09

1903 British Open    3rd       308           – 1.92

1904 British Open   1st       296          -2.17    

Score: -1.01

 

T-197 (NR) Patrick Reed, -1.01, 2015-2018

Reed is one of the stars of the current tour. The 2018 Masters champion, he is well-positioned to improve his peak rating in 2019. With four finishes in the range of the top 10, Reed would improve his peak score to about -1.25, potentially elevating him about 50 places on the peak chart.

Reed at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

2015 U.S. Open        T-14      282       -0.79

2015 British Open  T-20      281       -0.36

2015 PGA                  T-28      384       -0.13

2016 British Open  T-12      283       -0.78

2016 PGA                 T-13      274       -0.91

2017 U.S. Open       T-13      282       -0.85

2017 PGA                 T-2       278       -1.89

2018 Masters         1st       273       -2.29

2018 U.S. Open       5th       284       -1.78

2018 British Open  T-28      284       -0.35

Score: -1.01

 

 

 

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