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-80 (NR). Johnny Farrell, -1.55, 1925-1929
Farrell is not widely recalled today. But in his lifetime, he personified the game of golf nearly as much as his contemporaries, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen.
So widely respected was Farrell that for decades following his 1928 U.S. Open victory, he was best known as a teaching pro, often to a celebrity class that included numerous Hollywood stars and several presidents.
On tour that respect earned him a nickname: The Gentleman Golfer.
Farrell sprang from the same suburban New York caddie ranks that had produced Gene Sarazen. Joining the tour in his teens following the end of World War I, he won 22 PGA Tour events, played on three Ryder Cup teams, and was Player of the Year in both 1927 and 1928.
In 1927, he won six consecutive PGA Tour events, a record until broken by Byron Nelson. Also noted for his fashion sense, he was named the tour’s Best Dressed Player in 1928 by Rodman Wanamaker.
But Farrell’s 1928 season is better recalled for his stunning upset victory at the U.S. Open, played that year at Olympia Fields.
Jones was, of course, the prohibitive favorite, having already captured the event in 1923 and 1926. Jones might have won except for a four-hole stretch during the final round. At the par 3 sixth hole, he pulled his tee shot into a creek and made double bogey. Bogeys followed at the seventh, eighth and ninth, and a back side rally only produced a score of 77. Thanks to that collapse, Farrell made up five strokes to tie Jones at 294.
The rules that year called for a 36-hole playoff, and Farrell seized command at the conclusion of the morning 18. He birdied the 15th, 16 17th and 18th to take a three-stroke lead at the halfway point. Jones recovered in the afternoon and the match see-sawed until Jones bogeyed the 15th, pushing Farrell one stroke in front. At the 35th hole, Farrell dropped his approach within four feet for birdie, but Jones matched it by dropping a 30-foot putt. On the final hole, Jones left his approach just three feet from the cup for a potential tying birdie, but Farrell made his eight-footer to clinch the victory.
It was the playing highlight for Farrell, whose career in the tour’s largest events otherwise consisted of a series of near misses. Runner-up to Macdonald Smith at the 1925 Western Open, he tied for third at both the 1925 and 1926 U.S. Opens, and reached the semi-finals of the 1926 PGA before bowing out to Hagen, who a day later would win his third straight title. Farrell largely retired from tournament golf in the mid 1930s to pursue his more lucrative teaching opportunities. He did, however, make time for the game’s major events, playing in the U.S. Open and Masters into the early 1950s.
By then he had authored several golf instructional books and begun hosting one of the seminal golf shows of the TV era.
As he aged, Farrell could occasionally be seen in the company of his celebrity pupils, among them Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and the Duke of Windsor.
Farrell at his peak
Tournament           Finish      Score       Z Score
1925 U.S. Open          T-3           292           -1.74
1925 Western Open T-2            287           -1.61
1926 U. S. Open         T-3           297           -1.60
1926 PGA             semi-final match play -1.22
1926 Western Open T-6           291           -1.27
1927 U.S. Open          T-7           308           -0.95
1927 Western Open T-9           293           -1.14
1928 U.S. Open          1st           293          -1.94
1928 Western Open 2nd          294           -2.01
1929 British Open    2nd          298           -2.03
Average Z Score: -1.55

 

T-102 (T-90). I.K. Kim, -1.44, 2009-2013
Prior to her victory at the 2017 British Open, I.K. Kim was primarily known for failure; a missed one-foot tap-in cost her the 2012 Kraft Nabisco championship.
That miss, coming on the 72nd hole, threw Kim into a playoff with Sun Young Yoo, which she lost to Yoo’s birdie on the first extra hole. Through the better part of the ensuing four seasons, Kim largely disappeared from the LPGA’s leaderboards. The $1.125 million she won in 2013 shrank to $339,622 by 2015, she went winless between 2011 and 2015, and she went 22 consecutive majors between 2013 and 2016 without any placing better than a tie for 16th.
“I really criticized myself a lot and it’s not very healthy,” Kim said of her problems following that miss, the shortest in golf history to cost a player a major. In response, she sought out coaches who specialized in the mental aspects, not all of them involved in golf specifically. Eventually, they taught her “to be nice to myself…to have some kind of gentleness and compassion with myself.”
At the 2017 British Open, that therapy paid off. Kim seized the lead early in the second round, posted three rounds in the 60s to expand her lead to six strokes, and coasted home two ahead of Jodi Ewart Shadoff.
It was a satisfying, if delayed, culmination for Kim, who had come to the tour more than a decade earlier as part of the Korean wave sparked by Se Ri Pak. Like many of her fellow Koreans, she found quick success. She won her first tournament in 2008, her second in 2009 and her third in 2010. That was also the season she expanded her horizons to the European Tour, winning rookie of the year honors. Between 2008 and 2010, Kim finished among the top five at five women’s majors, falling just two strokes short at the 2009 U.S. Open.
Though she only turned 30 in June of 2018, the long dry spell Kim went through between 2012 and 2016 suggests that her peak seasons are probably past her. Her hope of establishing a higher peak was slowed considerably by an inconsistent 2018 in which Kim finished better than 30th in only one of the LPGA’s five majors.
Kim at her peak
Tournament             Finish        Score        Z Score
2009 U.S. Open           T-3              286             -1.70
2010 U.S. Open           4th              286             -1.55
2010 LPGA                  T-5              284             -1.37
2010 British Open     T-3              281             -2.01
2011 Nabisco              T-10           287             -1.13
2011 U.S. Open           T-10           288             -1.07
2011 LPGA                  T-12           284             -0.92
2012 Nabisco              2nd            279             -1.92
2013 U.S. Open           2nd            284             -2.18
2013 Evian Masters   T-19           21              -0.56
Average Z Score: -1.44

 

T-102 (T-93). Tom Lehman, -1.45, 1994-1998
Watching players of the caliber of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy or Jason Day can make the professional tour seem like a deceptively simple experience. You arrive, you win, you repeat.
Tom Lehman’s career is the living breathing refutation of that impression. Lehman tried and failed to often that only his perseverance enabled him to continue in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Eventually – very eventually – that perseverance positioned him as one of the game’s greats.
Lehman graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1982 and turned professional. There was no intermediate tour at that time; his indoctrination came against the regular Tour fields, and he failed. Between 1983 and 1985, he started 74 tournaments, failing to make the cut in 46 of them, and never finishing among the top 10. His total earnings for the three-season period, less than $40,000, sent him to Asia, South Africa and any other locales where greater success loomed as a possibility.
When the present-day Web.com tour, then known as the Hogan Tour, was organized for tour hopefuls in 1991, Lehman, already 31, signed on. It was there that the years of hard-won experience began to take root. He won for the first time in 1990, added three more titles in 1991, and was named that circuit’s player of the year. Regaining his PGA Tour card, Lehman made 29 starts in 1992, and two years later he finally broke through, winning the Memorial Tournament and leading the Masters after three rounds before finishing second to Jose Maria Olazabal. He captured the 1995 Colonial Invitational, and a month later again held the 54-hole lead in a major before finishing third at the U.S. Open behind Corey Pavin and Greg Norman.
Lehman added $830,000 that season to the $1 million he had won the year before. At 35 yet less than four seasons into his second Tour life, he had emerged from a decade of obscurity as a veteran star.
Those strong performances made Lehman a plausible contender when the 1996 major season opened at Augusta. He tied inconspicuously for 18th there, 14 shots behind Nick Faldo, but once again found himself sleeping on the third round lead at the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. Lehman’s advantage stretched to three shots over lightly regarded Steve Jones with nine holes remaining before bogeys at 10 and 12 – Jones birdied both holes – set him back, and a bogey on the 72nd hole sealed the loss by a single stroke.
To the knowledgeable golfing public, the outcome – the long-suffering star losing to a journeyman – suggested that Lehman had one coming. If so, he got it a few weeks later at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s. The leader by one after 36 holes, Lehman summoned his skills and knowledge to post a tournament-low 64 on Saturday. It was not only good for a six-shot advantage over runner-up Nick Faldo, it set a 54-hole Open record at 198. Lehman closed with an unspectacular 73, but that was good enough to hold off Faldo and a fast-charging Ernie Els – who shot 66 – by two shots. “It was a struggle, but I stuck it out,” Lehman told reporters afterward. He was talking about the round, although he could have been talking about his entire career.
Crowned a major champion, Lehman proceeded to prove the adage that youth is wasted on the young. In 1997 he finished third at the U.S. Open — his third consecutive placing that high or higher – and he followed that with a tie for fifth in 1998. He placed sixth at the 2000 Masters and fourth at that summer’s British Open. A golfing non-entity at age 32, Lehman by 42 could claim 10 top 10 finishes in majors, seven of them top fives.
Lehman at his peak
Tournament        Finish        Score        Z Score
1994 Masters         2nd             281            -1.90
1995 U.S. Open      3rd              283            -1.59
1996 U.S. Open      T-2              279            -2.15
1996 British Open 1st              271            -2.52
1996 PGA                T-14            281            -1.05
1997 Masters          T-12           287            -0.60
1997 U.S. Open      3rd             278            -1.92
1997 British Open T-24           284            -0.47
1997 PGA                T-10           283            -0.80
1998 U.S. Open      T-5              286            -1.35
Average Z-Score: -1.44

 

105 (T-96.) Jack Burke Jr., -1.43, 1952-1956
Jack Burke Jr., came to the PGA Tour with a pedigree. His father, Jack Burke, had been a tour pro during the 1920s, good enough to tie for second at the 1920 U.S. Open. The younger Burke turned pro as a teen-ager just in time to have his career plans interrupted by World War II. He joined the Marines, which put the maturity and thoughtfulness his dad had instilled in him to work as an instructor teaching combat techniques. Discharged in 1946, he returned as a club pro before tackling the tour in 1949.
After two years of apprenticeship, Burke’s career began to take off. Invited to the 1951 Masters, he finished one stroke outside the top 10. At the PGA Championship he won three matches before running up against Sam Snead in the semi-finals; Snead edged him out 2 & 1 and went on to win the title. His Sunday 69 at the 1952 Masters failed to threaten Snead, but was good enough for runner-up honors. It continued what would become a long-term love affair between Burke and Augusta; he tied for eighth in 1953 and for sixth in 1954.
The 1956 Masters is recalled today largely for amateur Ken Venturi’s final round collapse. Four shots in front of Cary Middlecoff through 54 holes, Venturi staggered home in 80, surrendering his chance to become the tournament’s first amateur champion. Unnoticed for most of the tournament, Burke started Sunday in fourth, eight strokes back, and remained five behind in third place through the first nine holes. But when Venturi needed 43 strokes to finish the back nine, it was Burke who benefitted. At the tournament’s 71st hole, Burke stood one behind both Venturi and Middlecoff, but posted a birdie while Venturi bogeyed and Middleoff took a double-bogey. His par at the final hole cinched the championship. “I didn’t think I had a chance to win,” Burke said afterward. “I was just trying to catch Middlecoff for the low pro money.”
Burke fumbled his way through most of the rest of the summer season. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open, didn’t even bother to enter the Western, and failed to win any of the events he did enter. He arrived at the PGA Championship being played in Canton, Mass., in late July facing the most daunting match play field in the event’s history. The tour that year expanded its entries from 64 to 128, requiring the winner to survive seven rounds of play encompassing 10 rounds in just five days. After dispatching two lightly regarded pros on the first day, he went 20 holes with veteran Fred Haas Jr. in the third round before winning. He beat another journeyman in the fourth round, outlasted veteran Fred Hawkins in their 36-hole quarter-final, but trailed former U.S. Open champion Ed Furgol by five holes through 14 holes of their semi-final. In the afternoon, Burke won five consecutive holes to seize the lead, only to see Furgol square the match with a birdie at the 35th hole. When both players birdied the 36th, the contest went to an extra hole, which Burke won with another birdie.
That set up an interesting 36-hole final pitting Burke against fellow veteran Ted Kroll, holder of a Purple Heart. Kroll led by three after the first hole of the afternoon round, but Burke won five of the next seven holes, took a two-up lead through the afternoon turn and wrapped up the title when Kroll bogeyed the 34th. Burke’s second major of the season was also only his second win of the season.
Burke cut back his competitive profile in the late 1950s, choosing instead to go into a partnership with fellow pro and long-time friend Jimmy Demaret. They founded the Champions Golf Club in Houston, where Burke held forth at the pro shop and on the course for the rest of his life. He restrained himself to periodic appearances at Augusta and in the PGA into the 1970s.
Burke at his peak
Tournament             Finish        Score        Z Score
1952 Masters              2nd             290             -1.71
1952 Western Open  T-8               287             -0.83
1953 Masters             8th               287             -1.15
1954 Masters             T-6               292             -1.37
1954 Western Open 4th               279             -1.63
1955 Masters             T-13             294             -0.99
1955 U.S. Open          T-7              296              -1.06
1955 PGA               qtr final     match play    -1.92
1956 Masters            1st              289              -1.91
1956 PGA                   1st         match play   -1.75
Score: -1.43

 

T-106 (NR). Morgan Pressel, -1.42, 2011-2015

 
Pressel at her peak
Tournament           Finish        Score        Z Score
2011 Nabisco            T-3              284             -1.66
2011 LPGA                2nd             279             -1.98
2011 U.S. Open        T-21             291             -0.56
2013 LPGA                T-3              284             -1.59
2013 British Open   T-4              283             -1.74
2014 ANA                  T-11           286              -0.89
2015 ANA                  3rd             280             -1.84
2015 LPGA                T-5              282            -1.58
2015 U.S. Open         T-5              277            -1.31
2015 Evian Masters T-11           280            -1.02
Average Z Score:-1.42

 

T-106 (NR). Fred McLeod, -1.42, 1907-1912

At 5-4 and less than 125 lbs., Fred McLeod may have been one of the smallest major golf champions in history. But McLeod overcame any size disadvantage to be a consistent presence in the major professional tournaments of the pre-World War I era.
Born in 1882 in Scotland, McLeod joined the emigration of pros whose future appeared to have been stifled by the ascendency of Vardon, Braid, Taylor and Ray. Arriving in 1903, he made his presence felt at that year’s U.S. Open and Western Open, tying for sixth, six strokes behind Alex Smith in the latter.
The Western soon became a reliable success story. McLeod finished fifth in 1905, third in 1906, and second – behind Robert Simpson and then Willie Anderson – in 1907 and 1908.
But it was at that season’s U.S. Open at Myopia Hunt Club that McLeod made his name. On a course that had tortured the field during the three previous Open playing there, McLeod closed with a tournament-best 77 to catch Willie Smith, who had led from the first. In the playoff, Smith – the 1899 champion – quickly opened up a quick advantage and holding that lead with just five holes to play.
Then McLeod got hot, Smith fell apart, and over the final five holes of the playoff McLeod not only took the lead but cemented it. By the finish, McLeod had built a six-stroke margin of victory.
It gave McLeod both fame and momentum. He won the North and South Open in 1909, finished fourth in the U.S. Open in both 1910 and 1911, and in 1919 made a serious run at the PGA Championship. McLeod breezed through his first three matches, and defeated George McLean in the semi-finals.
That victory pitted the 5-4 McLeod against the defending champion, 6-6 Jim Barnes in the championship match. McLeod opened strong, leading by two holes through 10. But McLeod played unsteadily the rest of the way, losing six holes in a seven-hole stretch to end the first 18 holes trailing by five. That made the afternoon round a formality, Barnes wrapping up the title 6 & 5.
McLeod played an occasional tournament schedule into his 50s, including appearances in the first four Masters tournaments. He was an honorary starter at the Masters for more than a decade, performing those duties one last time at the 1976 event about a month prior to his death at age 94.
McLeod at his peak
Tournament           Finish      Score        Z Score
1907 U.S. Open          T-5          310           -1.21
1907 Western Open T-2           309          -1.60
1908 U.S. Open         1st            322          -2.31
1908 Western Open 2nd          300          -1.49
1909 U.S. Open         T-13          303          -0.91
1909 Western Open 4th           302          -1.43
1910 U.S. Open         4th           299          -1.47
1911 U.S. Open         4th           308          -1.59
1912 U.S. Open         T-13          308         -0.88
1912 Western Open 7th           310         -1.29
Average Z score: -1.42

 

T-114 (NR). Jimmy Thomson, -1.39, 1934-38

In the 1940s, Jimmy Thomson was among the small cadre of “celebrity golfers” who moved as easily among the elite of Hollywood as they did on tour. To the general public, Thomson was probably more recognizable for his occasional appearances in movie features than for his tournament accomplishments.
Those film briefs included cameos, usually as himself, in films starring Bing Crosby, Martin and Lewis, or Ronald Reagan. Thomson’s Hollywood bona fides were only enhanced by his marriage between 1930 and 1945 to film star Viola Dana.
On the course, Thomson was a legitimate threat in the years immediately preceding World War II. A native of Scotland who moved to the United States as a child when his dad got a teaching pro’s job, he was a cousin of Jack White, the 1904 British Open champion. Thomson twice made runs at major titles.
At the 1935 U.S. Open played at Oakmont, Thomson seized the 36-hole lead with one over par rounds of 73-73. In a field laced with unknowns, his three-stroke edge over Gene Sarazen loomed as even more significant than the two-stroke advantage he carried over the runner-up, one of those unknowns named Butch Krueger. In fourth place, meanwhile, lurked a local club pro named Sam Parks.
On Saturday morning, however, Thomson stumbled and shot 77. That wasn’t all that unusual; Krueger posted a 78 as did Sarazen. Parks, however, cobbled together a 73 to tie Thomson for the lead.
In the afternoon’s final round, Parks followed an opening birdie with bogeys on the second, third and fourth holes to fall four behind Thomson. Then it was Thomson’s turn to stagger. Bogeys on five, six and seven followed by a double bogey at the eighth cost him four shots; by the turn, Parks held a one-stroke lead.
The back nine proved to be more torture for both players. Thomson bogeyed four of the final five holes, undermining his chances to overhaul Parks, who opened the door by bogeying three of the final four. The unknown local pro won by two with Thomson second, one stroke ahead of Walter Hagen.
Thomson’s second chance at major glory followed at the 1936 PGA Championship. After defeating his first two opponents in the 64-player match play event, he was pitted against Henry Picard in the third round. He beat Picard 5 & 4, and followed that with a 4 & 2 win against Jug McSpaden to reach the semi-finals.
In that semi, he was a steep underdog against Craig Wood, but polished Wood off 5-4 to advance to the championship match against Denny Shute. With the title on the line, Thomson’s long game wilted under the pressure Shute’s superior putting enabled him to apply. He took a one-up lead through the morning 18, increased it to two holes on the 11th hole of the afternoon round, then saved the 12th hole – and possibly the match – by sinking a 30-foot putt for par and a halve. At the par 5 16th, Shute stopped his second shot just three feet from the flag and made the putt for a clinching eagle to end the contest 3 & 2.
Thomson won two PGA tour events, in Richmond in 1936 and in Los Angeles in 1938. He was sixth at the 1937 Masters, and four times placed among the top five at the Western Open, although never winning.
Thomson died in 1985.
Thomson at his peak
Tournament            Finish        Score        Z Score
1934 Western Open 5th               279           -1.47
1935 U.S. Open          2nd             301           -1.83
1935 Western Open T-4               298           -1.42
1936 PGA                    2nd        match play  -1.84
1936 Western Open 12th            288            -0.85
1937 Masters             6th              291           -1.01
1937 Western Open 5th               292          -1.69
1938 Masters             T-8              292           -0.91
1938 PGA             2nd round   match play -1.46
1938 Western Open T-4              292           -1.38
Average Z score: -1.39

 

 

T-110 (T-122), Rickie Fowler, -1.39, 2013-2018
Were Fowler ever to staple together back-to-back solid seasons, his -1.39 peak rating Z Score might be half a standard deviation better. Remember 2014, when Fowler finished among the top 5 in all four majors? That made Fowler the tour’s best in majors, ahead even of McIlroy, based on his cumulative -1.63 Z score; McIlroy’s was merely -1.40.
He followed that with no top 10s, only two top 25s and three missed cuts in his next nine major showings. Then in 2017, Rickie returned to the proper course, with top 10s in the Masters and U.S. Open.
In 2018, Fowler continued the slow construction of his resume. He chased Patrick Reed to the finish at The Masters, coming home second, just one stroke behind. Following decent finishes in the Opens, he tied for 12th at the PGA.
Fowler still has time to satisfy his legion of fans, of which this writer is one. At the same time, the major victories of Spieth, Koepka and Thomas – all two or more years younger than Fowler – demonstrate how quickly the biological meter is running. Fowler’s task is to become less streaky, more reliable.
To really gain recognition as a great player, Fowler has to do that one thing he hasn’t done yet…he has to win. And then he has to win again. The top 100 on the peak list is chock full of players who have won multiple majors…and whose scores show it. The statistical reward for winning a tournament varies depending on the depth of the competition, but as a general proposition it amounts to a Z score of about -2.50. In 2014 the four major winners recorded Z scores of -2.48, -2.81, -2.40 and -2.09. The Z score of the 15th player on the all-time peak list – Phil Mickelson – is -2.00. The very best Z score of Fowler’s career to date is -2.12. Rickie needs more of those.
What he does not need is a reprise of 2015-16. If that season is repeated in 2019, Fowler will slide down the peak rating list.

Fowler at his peak
Tournament           Finish           Score           Z Score
2014 Masters           T-5                  286                 -1.19
2014 U.S. Open        T-2                  279                 -1.49
2014 British Open  T-2                   273                -2.06
2014 PGA                 T-3                   270                -1.76
2015 Masters           T-12                282                -0.65
2015 PGA                 T-30                 284                -0.13
2017 Masters          T-11                  287               -0.70
2017 U.S. Open       T-5                    278               -1.40
2017 PGA                T-6                    279                -1.68
2018 Masters          2nd                   274               -2.12
2018 PGA                T-12                   272               -0.90
Average Z Score: -1.39

 

T-120 (89). Alex Smith, -1.38, 1904-1910
Born in Carnoustie, Scotland, in 1874, Smith came to the United States to play in the 1898 Open, enjoyed the experience – he finished second – and decided to stay. Named head professional at Nassau Country Club in New York in 1901, Smith promptly challenged fellow emigree Willie Anderson for the U.S. Open title, losing a playoff when he blew a five-shot lead over the final five holes culminated by a missed four-foot putt on the final hole.
Smith finished in the top 10 twice more before winning the 1906 tournament at Onwentsia by seven shots over his brother, Willie. The victory evened the family score, Willie having triumphed in 1899. One week prior to his Open championship, Smith had opened the Western Open with an 82, trailing Anderson by eight, then rallied with rounds of 75, 75 and 74 to win that tournament by three.
Family issues limited Smith’s time on the course in 1907; he did not defend either his U.S. or Western titles, and finished an uninspired 25th in his only major appearance, the British Open. But he returned to finish third in both the 1908 and 1909 U.S. Opens, and in 1910 survived a harrowing experience to win his second national title. Smith came to the 240-yard par four 18th hole needing a birdie for the outright title, drove within 15 feet of the pin, and then three-putted. That error threw him into a three-way playoff with his brother, Macdonald Smith, and John McDermott, which Alex Smith won by four shots, recording a 71.
By then Smith had left Nassau Country Club for nearby Westchester Country Club, where he remained the head pro until his death in 1930 at age 56.
Alex Smith at his peak
Tournament           Finish       Score       Z Score
1904 U.S. Open          18th          326           -0.26
1904 Western Open  2nd          308           -1.91
1905 U.S. Open          2nd           316           -1.84
1905 British Open    T-16          333           -0.32
1906 U.S. Open         1st            295           -2.73
1906 Western Open 1st           306           -1.65
1907 British Open    25th          333            0.01
1908 U.S. Open         3rd            327           -1.83
1909 U.S. Open         3rd            295           -1.68
1910 U.S. Open         1st           298           -1.56
Average score: -1.38

 

T-114 (T-99). John Revolta, -1.38, 1933-1937
John Revolta is probably best remembered today as a long-time teaching pro and club-maker. But in the depression era his game was strong enough to pick up one major championship and contend in several others. He also had longevity on his side, continuing as a Masters presence into the 1960s.
The highlights of that long career, though, were truly compressed into a single calendar year, 1935. Revolta, a 24-year-old upstart, starred on the winter tour, taking the Inverness Four Ball with Henry Picard, winning the Sarasota Open and the Miami International Four Ball, again with Picard. That hot start appeared to have petered out when he came home an inauspicious 13th at the Masters, following with an even less impressive tie for 36th at the U.S. Open in early June.
One week following the Open, the Tour reconvened at the South Bend Country Club for the 35th playing of the Western Open, at the time considered just below “major” status. An opening 74 left him five out of the lead, but he made up all five strokes with a second round 70, and a 73-73 finish was good enough to beat Willie Goggin by four strokes, Byron Nelson by six.
Then in October, Revolta really caught the golf world’s attention, dispatching Walter Hagen 1-up in the first round of the PGA Championship in Oklahoma City. Hagen’s loss deprived the field of one of its favorites, but Revolta moved quickly to fill the void, winning four more matches and climbing to the 36-hole final, where he was pitted against another veteran, Tommy Armour. Against a frigid north wind, the 40-year-old veteran tightened up while the newcomer played by far the looser game. Revolta birdied the opening hole, led by three at the turn of the morning round, and stretching his lead to four shots at the mid-day break. By the 10th hole of the afternoon 18, Revolta had extended his lead to six, time running out on Armour on the match’s 31st hole. A mastery of the putting surfaces – Revolta one-putted 13 of them – proved to be the difference.
A place on the U.S. winning Ryder Cup team followed, as did a sixth victory that season, at Wisconsin. Revolta played off his new-found fame to land a coveted job as teaching pro at Evanston Country Club, a position he held for the next three decades. He authored several instructional books emphasizing the short game, always considered his strength.
Revolta at his peak
Tournament           Finish           Score           Z Score
1933 PGA              2nd round   match play      -2.15
1933 Western Open T-7                295               -1.22
1934 U.S. Open         T-8                 299              -1.12
1934 Western Open 3rd                277              -1.67
1935 Masters            T-13               292              -0.87
1935 PGA                  1st            match play    -2.27
1935 Western Open 1st               290              -2.23
1936 PGA             2nd round     match play    -2.00
1936 Western Open T-9                285              -1.06
1937 British Open    T-32              311               0.76
Average Z Score: -1.38

 

T-114 (T-99). Jane Blalock, -1.38, 1976-1980
As good a player as Blalock was, she is best remembered for a battle of another sort. It flowed from an obscure 1972 tournament and created more ill feelings between a player and organization than has been experienced in the history of professional golf.
The controversy began during the second round of the Bluegrass Invitational Tournament when a competitor accused Blalock of having improperly replaced her marked ball in order to avoid some spike marks on the green. Blalock was hardly a run-of-the mill tour figure at the time, having won the inaugural Dinah Shore – with its record $20,000 prize. It later surfaced that Blalock was suspected among her fellow competitors of being a habitual cheater, veterans Marlene Hagge and Louise Suggs both signing testimonials to that effect.
But when that committee – composed entirely of fellow competitors — disqualified Blalock from the Bluegrass, fined her $500 for having failed to give herself a two-stroke penalty and suspended her for a year, Blalock filed a $5 million anti-trust suit against the LPGA. It alleged, among other things, that the playing status of the executive committee members biased them against her side of the issue because they benefitted financially if she was disqualified.
“It was like a kangaroo court,” she later described the process of appealing to other players. The case wound through various courts for three years, Blalock prevailing, until the LPGA agreed to a settlement that included a $13,500 payment to Blalock plus partial legal fees. The decision fundamentally changed the nature of LPGA governance, the all-player executive committee being scrapped in favor of a non-playing commissioner.
One remarkable aspect of Blalock’s record was how well she played while the case wound its way through the courts and afterward. Following the Bluegrass imbroglio, Blalock won a second and third LPGA Tour event that season, adding four more in 1974 and another in 1975. “It takes a certain kind of person … to play well while all this is going on,” the unidentified husband of a tour pro told Sports Illustrated in June of 1972, adding, “I think Janie is that way.” In 1977 Blalock told the New York Times she used the incident as motivation. “The thing that disturbed me most is that people took the word of others without having seen any infractions,” she said.
Technically she never won an LPGA major, but that’s only because the Shore was not considered a major until 11 years after Blalock won it. The case’s 1975 settlement bizarrely marked the onset of Blalock’s playing peak, a five-season period when she routinely finished at or near the top in the only two women’s majors on the schedule at the time, the Open and the LPGA. She landed five top 5 finishes in the 11 majors contested between 1976 and 1980, including a runner-up to Sally Little at the 1980 LPGA.
Aside from the legal side of her game, Blalock was noted for her consistency. Between 1970 and 1985 she won 27 tour events, and completed 299 consecutive events over 12 seasons without missing a cut.
Blalock at her peak
Tournament           Finish      Score       Z Score
1976 U.S. Open         3rd           296           -1.85
1976 LPGA                T-4            291           -1.46
1977 U.S. Open        9th            301           -0.95
1978 U.S. Open        T-4            293           -1.34
1978 LPGA               T-9            287           -1.19
1979 U.S. Open        T-11         292           -0.91
1979 LPGA               T-14          290          -1.10
1980 U.S. Open       T-7            294           -1.77
1980 LPGA              2nd           288           -1.10
1980 duMaurier    4th            281           -2.26
Average Z Score: -1.38

 

T-114 (T-99). Marlene Hagge, -1.38, 1956-1960
At the tender age of 15, Marlene Bauer Hagge was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. That was in 1949, by which time Hagge had already won several national junior tournaments including the U.S. Girls Junior, the Palm Springs, Northern California and Indio women’s titles, and finished eighth at the U.S. Women’s Open. Considering that the dominant figures on the women’s golf tour in those days, Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias and Louise Suggs, were all in their prime, it’s hard to rationalize giving the award to a teen. It is, anyway, until glamour – a major criteria in the assessment of late 1940s female athletes – is factored into the formula. Hagge had glamour, a quality distinctly lacking in Suggs, Zaharias and Berg.
Soon thereafter Marlene and her older sister Alice joined the LPGA as two of its 13 founding members. Her first of an eventual 26 victories came at Sarasota in 1952, a season in which she tied for second at the U.S. Open.
Initially, Hagge found it difficult to be taken seriously as a touring pro, her beauty queen-level good looks often overshadowing her scorecard. In 1951, Time Magazine pointed to the alluring Bauers by means of denigrating the LPGA players as a group, terming the others “a sexless, hippy bunch.” In a 2002 Sports Illustrated interview, Hagge recalled the famously efficient but unglamorous Berg presiding over a clinic that also featured the Bauer sisters. “’Isn’t it grand to be pretty and able to hit it, too?,” Berg asked the attendees, adding that, “With my mug, I’ve got to be able to hit it.'”
Later in life, Berg acknowleged the obvious and important contribution made by Marlene and her sister to the fledgling tour. “They were cute, they were fun, and the people liked them,” she said. “Everybody wanted to see Babe and the Bauer sisters.”
Marlene said she and her sister enjoyed the glamour attention. “I don’t see why people complain about being a sex symbol,” she said. “There’s no way this hurt the tour.”
Eventually, of course, Hagge had to build a reputation as a player. That was the fun part for Hagge, who adored the grind of competition. Across a more than three-decade active career, she won 26 times, the last coming in 1972, 21 seasons after that first victory at Sarasota.
Hagge really hit her stride in 1955 with top five finishes at both the Titleholders and Women’s Western Open. That was also the year she married Bob Hagge. In 1956, still just 22, she beat Berg in a playoff for the LPGA Championship in June, after which Berg cited her “concentration, stamina and confidence” as the deciding factors. It was one of eight tour victories that helped Hagge lead that season’s money-winning total, albeit with just $20,235. She finished third in the U.S. Open, one shot out of a playoff, and fourth at the Women’s Western. Between 1955 and 1960, she teed it up in 23 women’s majors, finishing among the top five in a dozen and among the top 10 in 17.
Although age gradually eroded her playing skills, nothing ever ate into Hagge’s commitment to the tour. She played regularly through 1981, in 1964 tying for 10th in the Titleholders, for seventh in the U.S. Open, and for eighth in the LPGA. She was seventh again at the Titleholders in 1966, added two more top 10 finishes in majors in 1972, then in 1981 the 30-year tour founder tied for 12th in the LPGA, beating such younger stars as Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Sandra Haynie, Judy Rankin and Jane Blalock.
In 1987, nearly four decades after her tour debut as its youngest member, Hagge – by then the oldest active member at 53 – shot an opening round 73 at the Nabisco Dinah Shore on her way to a tie for 26th place.
“I never thought of myself as a pioneer,” Hagge told the World Golf Hall of Fame upon her 2002 induction. “We were just a bunch of stubborn women who loved golf and figured we could make it happen.”
Hagge at her peak
Tournament             Finish       Score       Z Score
1956 U.S. Open          T-3             303           -1.45
1956 LPGA                1st              291           -1.91
1956 Western Open T-4             311           -1.20
1957 Titleholders     3rd             301           -1.27
1957 U.S. Open         T-6             311            -0.91
1957 LPGA                T-3             290            -1.30
1958 Titleholders    4th             308           -1.13
1959 U.S. Open        T-3             292            -2.32
1959 LPGA               5th             294            -1.09
1960 U.S. Open        3rd             298           -1.24
Average Z Score: -1.38

T-114 (T-103). Corey Pavin, -1.38, 1992-1996
Corey Pavin was famously one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour. In 1995, arguably Pavin’s best season – he did, after all, win the U.S. Open – the Tour’s driving average was 263 yards. Pavin averaged 254.9, longer than only 27 of the 188 players who played enough to qualify for the rankings. One season later, still in his playing prime, Pavin averaged 248.1 yards, the second shortest driving distance on tour.
Given his lack of length, how did Pavin manage to even hang around on Tour, much less enjoy a successful and lengthy career? For the answer to that question, look at Pavin’s facility with much shorter clubs. In his prime, he averaged a half putt fewer per round than his tour competitors. On top of that, Pavin converted 11.65 scrambling attempts per 18 chances; his competitors only converted 10.55 per 18. Put those together and you get something close to a stroke advantage per round, more than compensating for distance deficiencies.
Pavin came to the Tour in 1982 following graduation from UCLA, and initially showed an ability to overcome the obvious physical shortcomings. He won his first tournament at Houston in 1984, added victories in Europe, Japan and New Zealand, and by the end of the 19888 season could count seven Tour wins.
Succeeding in the majors proved a tougher challenge. Pavin tied for 9th at the 1985 U.S. Open, and for sixth at that year’s PGA Championship. But through 1989 he had no other major top 10, just three other top 20s, and nine missed cuts. Then things turned around, and Pavin began showing up regularly among contenders in the biggest events. With a final round 67, he finished third in the 1992 Masters, doing that so quietly that the national media hardly noticed. At the following year’s British Open, Pavin shared the 54-hole lead with Nick Faldo, but both gave way to Greg Norman’s closing 64, Pavin finishing fourth. When Nick Price breezed to a six-stroke victory at the 1994 PGA, Pavin was the hard luck guy in second, having posted a 5-under par 265.
By then, the question being asked of Pavin was whether he could close the deal and actually win one of the showpiece tournaments. His chance came at the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Trailing Greg Norman and Tom Lehman by three shots after three rounds, Pavin played the final 10 holes in three under par, and came to the 450-yard 18th needing a par to win. His nailed four-wood from the fairway to within five feet of the hole took any lingering suspense out of the outcome. “Corey may not be pretty,” observed Phil Mickelson, who tied for fourth, “but he’s effective.”

Pavin at his peak
Tournament         Finish       Score       Z Score
1992 Masters          3rd             278         -1.53
1992 PGA                 T-12           285         -1.03
1993 Masters          T-11           286         -0.80
1993 U.S. Open       T-19           282         -0.61
1993 British Open T-4             272         -1.82
1994 Masters          T-8            286          -1.14
1994 PGA                 2nd           275         -1.89
1995 U.S. Open      1st            280         -2.29
1995 British Open T-8            285         -1.55
1996 Masters          T-7            285         -1.01
Average Z Score: -1.38

T-119 (T-103). Dow Finsterwald, -1.37, 1959-1963
Dow Finsterwald was a first-rate tour pro on his own merits. But he also made good acquaintances along the way, notably with Arnold Palmer. Given that they were born only four days apart in 1929, that friendship may have been destiny.
They first met while playing as collegians in the late 1940s, and the mutual friendship that developed followed them through virtually parallel careers. Finsterwald joined the tour in 1951, Palmer a few years later after completing a stellar amateur career. Their skills frequently cast them against one another; Finsterwald three times finished third in major events won by Palmer, including a playoff for the 1962 Masters championship. But the competition never dimmed their mutual respect. “It was a wonderful relationship for me,” Finsterwald said.
Although often obscured by Palmer’s enormous shadow, Finsterwald more than occasionally found himself clear of it. When the PGA altered its championship tournament from match play to medal play in 1958, Finsterwald shot a final round 67 to win. The victory followed no fewer than 18 runner-up finishes since his most recent previous victory 18 months earlier, a near-miss tendency that had won him the nickname, “bridesmaid of the brassie.” Herbert Warren Wind, the famed golf writer, described his play that weekend as careful, befitting his personality. “Dow is an extremely appealing fellow, soft-spoken, purposeful and with the gift of remaining quite the same whether he is talking shop with a friend or is surrounded on the course by several thousand admirers,” he wrote.
For the most part, though, it would be Finsterwald’s fate to run afoul of Palmer, something he did with regularity. At the 1960 Masters, Finsterwald shot 284, beating everybody except Palmer (282) and Ken Venturi (283). Two months later at the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, Palmer’s memorable find-round charge swept Finsterwald back into third again, this time tied with five other players.
Their most famous duel came at the 1962 Masters, when Finsterwald, Palmer and Gary Player finished in a triple tie, each at 280. Dow actually came to the 71st hole needing only to par in for an outright win, but bogeyed it. The next day’s 18-hole playoff was no contest, Palmer shooting 68 to Player’s 71 and Finsterwald’s 77.
In 1963, Finsterwald’s bid for a second major title ran afoul of the game’s other giant of that era. At the Masters, he tied Player for fifth, two strokes ahead of Palmer but three strokes behind Jack Nicklaus. Then at that summer’s PGA Championship, Finsterwald tied for third yet again, losing for a second time to Nicklaus by three strokes. When you think about it, it’s quite an amazing record. On five separate occasions between 1960 and 1963, Finsterwald had placed among the top five in a major championship ultimately won by either Palmer or Nicklaus. Has anybody ever done better against more imposing competition?
Finsterwald at his peak
Tournament           Finish       Score       Z Score
1959 U.S. Open         T-11           291           -0.77
1959 PGA                   4th             280           -1.68
1960 Masters            3rd             284          -1.93
1960 U.S. Open         T-3              283          -1.38
1961 U.S. Open         T-6              286          -1.18
1962 Masters            3rd             280          -2.30
1962 PGA                   T-11           286          -0.86
1963 Masters            T-5             289          -1.23
1963 U.S. Open         T-12           300          -0.68
1963 PGA                   T-3             282          -1.66
Average Z Score: -1.37

T-119 (T-103). Ray Floyd, -1.37, 1974-1978
A 29-year PGA Tour veteran, Raymond Floyd benefitted from that career longevity to show up on a couple of very exclusive lists.
He’s one of just seven players in history to have won major championships in three different decades. Floyd won the 1969 PGA, the 1976 Masters, and the 1982 PGA (later adding the 1986 U.S. Open). The other six are certified immortals of the game: Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Ernie Els.
He’s one of only two men, the other being Sam Snead, to have won PGA Tour events in four different decades. Floyd’s first victory came at the 1963 St. Petersburg Open; he was 20 at the time. He added five more titles in the 1960s, six in the 1970s, 10 in the 1980s, and in March of 1992 – at age 49 — won the Doral Ryder Open.
Dropping out of college at age 19 to play golf on tour – as Floyd did after one semester at the University of North Carolina – may seem like a risky move. But considering that Floyd won $5.2 million, plus an additional $9.5 million on the Champions tour, it worked out OK.
Floyd was almost an immediate success on tour. The Jacksonville victory came in his 10th start that year, and put him in company with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Don January and Bo Wininger. He won again in 1965, and broke through in 1969 with three victories, including the PGA. Floyd dominated the field, carrying a five-stroke edge into the final round and holding off Player by one. Leading by one stroke and playing head-to-head, Floyd clinched the victory by rolling home a 35-foot birdie putt at the 70th hole while Player bogeyed.
The next five seasons constituted as much of a struggle as Floyd ever experienced on tour. He went winless – losing playoffs in 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 – and had more missed cuts (five) than top 10 finishes (four) in majors. His only top five among 20 major appearances in that span was a tie for fourth at the 1972 PGA.
So Floyd arrived at Augusta for the 1976 Masters viewed as more of a second-tier figure than a likely contender, a mantle that fell plainly on Nicklaus’ shoulders. Yet somehow, Jack never had a chance. Floyd, who had never before broken 70 on the course, opened with a 65 to Jack’s 67, added a Friday 66, and closed with consecutive rounds of 70 to win by eight strokes. His 17-under par 271 tied Nicklaus’ 1965 record. Floyd’s formula for the week was simple: He used his 5-wood to humiliate Augusta’s par fives, playing them in 17 under par for the week, with 12 birdies, an eagle and just three pars, all of the latter coming on Sunday, when his victory agenda consisted of not screwing up. “I honestly believed the tournament was over,” Floyd said of his Sunday attitude.
The victory kicked off what was probably Floyd’s best season on tour. He finished 13th at the U.S. Open, fourth at the British Open and was runner-up by a stroke to Dave Stockton at the PGA when a long birdie putt at the 72nd hole failed to fall.
For a second time, then, Floyd slumped. Coming off a personal best $178,000 season in 1976, he won $163,000 a year later, then $77,500 in 1978. Victories became occasional: none in 1978, one in 1979, and one more in 1980. But a playoff victory at the 1981 Players Championship heralded a second comeback. Floyd A tie for third at the 1981 Masters marked his best finish there since 1977; a tie for third at the British Open that same summer was his best performance in a major since his 1976 Masters romp. From less than $123,000 in 1979, his seasonal earnings jumped to $359,000 in 1981, and then to nearly $387,000 in 1982. His August victory at the PGA provided a big financial boost.
As he had done at the 1976 Masters, Floyd tried to put the issue to rest early, firing an opening round 63 to assume a three-stroke advantage over Greg Norman and Bob Gilder. That lead rose to five by the close of play Saturday before Floyd’s cool “no problems” approach began to wither. He bogeyed the third, fifth, ninth and 10th holes, and led Fred Couples by just two shots standing on the 12th tee.
“I had a little talk with myself,” Floyd said after his round. “I’ve had hundreds of talks with myself, but this one worked.” He birdied the hole, and added birdies at 15 and 16 to put the tournament away.
Floyd was in his mid 40s when the 1986 U.S. Open began at Shinnecock Hills. The national championship had been a black mark on his resume, with no top 10s since 1971. “For years I have literally loathed playing the Open,” he would tell Golf Digest later that year. “I have always had a sour feeling about the way (the courses) were set up.” Yet a Monday practice round altered his mindset. “I told my wife, ‘they couldn’t trick it up,’” he said. “It is out there in its natural state and there’s nothing they can do about it.” Managing his way around the course, Floyd stood two over par – one stroke out of a nine-way tie for the lead – entering the concluding nine holes, then finished in 32 for a total of 66 and a two-shot victory over Chip Beck and Lanny Wadkins.
Although he continued to play regularly on the PGA Tour through 1992, Floyd won only once more – in October of 1986 — until his surprise triumph at the 1992 Doral-Ryder Open. Nearing 50 that summer and already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, he transitioned onto the Champions Tour, winning 14 more tournaments – three of them senior majors — through 2000.
Floyd at his peak
Tournament           Finish      Score       Z Score
1974 U.S. Open         T-15          296           -0.78
1974 PGA                   T-11          284          -0.96
1975 U.S. Open         T-12          291          -0.88
1975 PGA                   T-10          286          -0.86
1976 Masters            1st           271          -3.12
1976 British Open    4th           286          -1.73
1976 PGA                   T-2           282          -1.57
1977 British Open    8th          283          -1.02
1978 U.S. Open          T-12        291          -0.89
1978 British Open    T-2          283          -1.71
Average Z Score: -1.37

 

T-120 (T-106). John McDermott, -1.36 (1910-1914)
You can read the John McDermott biography in “The Hole Truth” by Bill Felber. It is now available in bookstores or at amazon.com

T-120 (T-106). Horton Smith, -1.36, 1928-1932
Horton Smith was not only the first Masters champion, he was also the first repeat champion. Two years after winning the inaugural “Augusta National Invitation Tournament,” as founder Bobby Jones insisted on formally calling it, Smith rallied over the closing 36 holes, making up six shots on Harry Cooper and winning by one.
The concept of a regular series of professional golf tournaments was barely past its formative stages – the formal PGA Tour remained eight years in the future — when Smith, an 18-year-old college student in Missouri, began showing up in 1926. His apprenticeship was brief; Smith won his first tournament in 1928, and in 1929 won eight times, earning a place on the American Ryder Cup team. He reached the semi-finals of the 1928 PGA Championship, finished 10th at the 1929 U.S. Open, and was runner-up to Tommy Armour at the Western Open, played in Milwaukee. He was 21 at the time.
Through 1933, six more tour championships and two more Ryder Cup appearances followed, making Smith a natural for invitation when Jones put together that first field at Augusta. With Gene Sarazen, the era’s premier player, absent, there was no clear favorite, but names abounded: Walter Hagen, former Open champions Billy Burke and Johnny Farrell, veteran Fred McLeod and Jones himself. Smith took command from the start, posting scores of 70 and 72 to take a one shot advantage over Burke and Ed Dudley, and matching that performance across the concluding 36 holes, wrapping it up with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole (now the 8th). His four-under-par total proved one better than Craig Wood.
Sarazen’s 1935 victory set up the 1936 competition as something of a showdown between the first two champions. At the outset, Lighthorse Harry Cooper, a British-born pro, threatened to upset the plot. Cooper led both men by six at the halfway point, and held a three-stroke advantage over Smith through the morning of the 36-hole finale, third round play having been delayed by rain. Down by two and having missed the 14th green, Smith needed a break and he got two. His 50-foot chip on 14 rolled in the cup for a birdie. Cooper, meanwhile, struggled, coming home in 76 strokes, five more than his previous worst round for the week. Smith’s birdie at 15 set up another one-stroke victory over Cooper, with Sarazen an additional shot back in third.
Smith continued to play regularly through the start of World War II, winning six more events between 1936 and 1941 and finishing third at the 1940 U.S. Open, when his closing 69 failed by one stroke to get him in a playoff eventually won by Lawson Little over Sarazen. At the 1942 Masters, the only major stroke play tournament contested in the U.S. between Peal Harbor and Hiroshima, Smith finished fifth, three shots out of a Nelson-Hogan playoff. He was commissioned into the Army Air Force during the war, coordinating athletics programs. With the war’s end, Smith, who was 37 in 1945, dabbled in the major events for nearly a decade, his best finish being a tie for 15th at the 1952 Open. Most of his time, though, was committed to new duties as a club professional in Detroit. Between 1952 and 1954, he also served as president of the PGA. By then Smith could claim 32 tour titles and 37 runner-up finishes.
Smith’s health began to fail in the mid 1950s. Although a lifetime non-smoker, he lost a lung to cancer in 1957. The health setback, however, did not prevent his annual appearances at Augusta; in 1963, he became the only player to have teed it up in all 30 tournaments. He recorded rounds of 91-86 and died that October.
Horton Smith at his peak
Tournament              Finish        Score       Z Score
1928 Western Open    T-4              297            -1.64
1929 U.S. Open            10th            302            -1.21
1929 Western Open    2nd            281             -1.71
1930 U.S. Open            3rd             289             -2.31
1930 British Open      T-4              296             -1.62
1930 PGA                 qtr-final   match play     -0.97
1930 Western Open   5th             287              -1.61
1931 British Open      T-12           303              -0.94
1931 PGA                 qtr-final  match play      -1.36
1932 PGA               1st round  match play      -0.27
Average score: -1.36

T-120 (T-106). David Duval, -1.36, 1997-2001
As difficult as it is to imagine today, there was a significant stretch of time when David Duval was considered a solid match for Tiger Woods…and in some minds Woods’ superior.
For most of the spring and summer of 1999 – a period solidly within Woods’ playing peak – it was Duval, not Woods, atop the World Golf Rankings. And during those weeks of 1999 and 2000 when Woods held that lofty distinction, Duval was almost always a close No. 2. Between 1997 and 2001, Duval won 13 PGA Tour tournaments, among them some of the biggest and most coveted on tour. He won the 1997 Tour Championship, the 1998 NEC World Series of Golf, the 1999 Mercedes and Players, and the 2001 British Open. While the Brit represented his only major victory, Duval between 1998 and 2001 posted 10 top tens in majors, including two runner-up finishes plus a third in the Masters. He, not Woods, was the Tour’s leading money winner in 1998; he, not Woods, won the 1999 Vardon Trophy.
So his abrupt performance decline following his British Open triumph came as an inexplicable surprise to most of the golf world. There was speculation that Duval, a notorious workout addict, may have sustained an injury; there was speculation of other ailments; there was speculation of a loss of desire…there was speculation about almost anything. Whatever the cause, Duval’s game essentially disappeared. Between 2002 and 2006, he entered 18 majors, missed the cut in 13 of them, withdrew from a 14th, and only once finished inside the top 20. Starting 2002 as the world’s third ranked player, he fell to 236th by the end of 2003 and to 462nd by the end of 2004. It was a baffling decline, one Duval himself has never really clarified…if indeed even he knows why it occurred.
Duval came out of a classic golf background – lots of youth tournaments – to star at Georgia Tech – where he was national player of the year — before turning pro in 1993. He earned his PGA Tour card in 1995 and two years later had his first tour win, the Michelob.
Leading Fred Couples by one stroke and Mark O’Meara by two with three holes remaining at the 1998 Masters, Duval bogeyed the 16th and saw O’Meara birdie the final two holes to steal the victory. Two years later he trailed Vijay Singh by a single shot on the back nine on Sunday, eventually finishing third. In 2001 he and Woods were tied with three holes to play, but Tiger played them in par-par-birdie and won by two.
By then, Duval had earned his own major. At Royal Lytham and St. Anne in August of 2001, Duval’s Saturday 65 gave him control of the tournament. He birdied four early holes in the final round to cement a three-stroke victory over Niclas Fasth.

Duval at his peak
Tournament          Finish       Score       Z Score
1998 Masters          T-2              280           -1.66
1998 U.S. Open       T-7              287           -1.08
1998 British Open T-10             287           -1.03
1999 Masters          T-6              285           -1.23
1999 U.S. Open       T-7              287           -1.17
1999 PGA                 T-10            285           -1.01
2000 Masters          T-3              282           -1.70
2001 Masters          2nd             274           -1.86
2001 British Open 1st             274           -1.97
2001 PGA                T-10             275           -0.89
Average Z  score: -1.36
T-123 (109). Vijay Singh, -1.35, 1998-2002
Across the span of his career, Vijay Singh cultivated a reputation as the Tour’s hardest-working player. For 10 consecutive seasons, beginning in 1998 and continuing through 2007, Singh teed it up in a minimum of 25 events annually. He made 275 starts during that decade; Tiger Woods, for purposes of comparison, started 187. Legendary for the amount of time he spent on the practice tee – his reputation was “first on the range, last off the range” — Singh famously once hit balls for four hours on Christmas day.
When Singh succeeded Woods atop the game’s rankings in 2004, one might have assumed he would ease up. He was, after all, 41 at the time. Instead, the opposite happened. Counting worldwide appearances, He played 32 events that year, 30 the next, and 31 in 2006. Paul Tesori, who caddied briefly for Singh, once told GolfWeek that the Singh family celebrates four holidays a year: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA. “It’s his love,” Tesori said. “His passion, his profession, his hobby and his addiction are all the same thing. They’re all hitting balls; they’re all golf.”
“You have to work twice as hard to stay up- there,” Singh explained of his commitment
That regimen extended beyond the range. Singh committed to a workout routine designed to offset the effects of aging. “I am working out really hard and I feel like I am a lot stronger now than when I was 25,” he said. He was also known to re-arrange furniture in his hotel room in order to work on his putting at night.
Singh took a roundabout path to tour stardom. A native of Fiji, he learned golf hitting coconuts as a child because golf balls were too expensive. Although he turned professional at age 19, Singh spent a decade wandering in what amounted to the golf wilderness, including a one-year suspension from the Asian tour over a cheating allegation that Singh has always disputed. Following two additional years where his activities were confined to those of a club pro, Singh resumed competitive play in the late 1980s, winning a tournament in Italy in 1989 and placing 23rd at the 1990 British Open.
The event marked his effective introduction to both the world and American golf audience, and Singh made the most of it. Moving to the American Tour for 1993, he won the Buick Classic in his eighth start, cramming a stunning 112 competitive rounds played in 10 different countries into that calendar year. But the big breakthrough came in 1997, when Singh won three times, including at Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament.
Singh was 35 by the start of the 1998 season, and facing a developing tour field that featured Woods (22), Els and Mickelson (both 28) It was an unlikely time for a relative veteran to develop into a star. Yet that’s what Singh did. At that summer’s PGA Championship, he won a head-to-head match with Steve Stricker to take the trophy by two strokes, securing it by getting up and down from a bunker on the 71st hole. Stricker failed to navigate the same bunker. He tied for third at the 1999 U.S. Open, and won the 2000 Masters, becoming the only man between July of 1999 and June of 2001 to beat Woods in a major. Singh beat Els by three strokes, with Woods three further back in fifth.
His third major, a second PGA trophy, came in 2004 at Whistling Straits, when Singh won sloppily. Leading by a stroke entering the final round but failing to make a birdie over 18 holes, he was thrown into a three-way, three-hole aggregate playoff with Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard. Singh birdied the first playoff hole and made that hold up, then proceeded to lament the state of his game. “It was sad to see someone win the way I did,” he said of his birdieless final round.
From his 1998 victory at Sahalee through the conclusion of the 2006 season, Singh played in 33 majors, winning three of them, and 17 times finishing among the top 10. Although scaling back his tournament commitment slightly since 2007 in favor of his golf course architecture business, Singh, who was 53 in February of 2016, has continued to play between 20 and 25 regular tour events annually.
Singh at his peak
Tournament           Finish       Score       Z Score
1998 British Open   T-18           290           -0.57
1998 PGA                  1st             271           -2.37
1999 U.S. Open        T-3             281            -2.07
2000 Masters          1st              278           -2.36
2000 U.S. Open       T-8              291            -0.87
2000 British Open  T-11           281            -0.86
2001 U.S. Open       T-7              282            -1.28
2001 British Open T-13            280            -0.92
2002 Masters          7th              283           -1.16
2002 PGA                8th               287           -0.99
Average Z Score: -1.34

 

125 (110). Hollis Stacy, -1.34, 1977-1981
Not to put too blunt a point on the distinction, but Hollis Stacy may be the least consistent great performer in golf history.
During a 27-season professional career, Stacy played in 90 events that are now identified as LPGA majors. She missed the cut in 27 percent of those events, while placing among the top 10 only 19 percent of the time. Among the 17 non-currently active LPGA members with four or more major titles, the average number of career tour victories is 43. Stacy won 18. The only non-active four-time winner with fewer titles is Susie Maxwell Berning, yet Berning made the top 10 in 28 percent of her major starts, and missed the cut just 22 percent of the time.
Enough of burying Hollis Stacy; we came, after all, to praise her. Here’s the important aspect of the career of this woman who grew up one of 10 children down the road from Augusta National: On the relatively rare occasions when Stacy worked her way into contention, she was an assassin. She may have reached the top five only six times in those 90 major events, but she did win four of the six. Her career playoff record showed six victories (over a combined dozen opponents) in 10 tries, four of the wins coming via a birdie, with three of those coming on the first extra hole.
Stacy came to the women’s tour in 1974 with a reputation built on the amateur circuit, having won the U.S. Girls Junior annually from 1969 through 1971. As is often the case, the new kid did not immediately fare well, Stacy’s managing nothing more than a couple of runner-ups in minor events through 1976. She beat JoAnne Carner in May at the Lady Tara Classic for her first title, and in July held off Nancy Lopez’ challenge to capture the U.S. Women’s Open at Hazeltine. Stacy had played in eight previous Opens as an amateur and pro, never finishing higher than 13th. The 23-year-old ascribed her victory to the competition. “When the heat is on like it was today, I am able to concentrate much, much better,” she said.
One year later at the Country Club of Indianapolis, that “pressure” formula paid off again. This time Stacy’s final round 72 held off Carner and Sally Little by a stroke. Carner and Stacy traded the lead five times during the final round before a Carner bogey at 16 moved Stacy ahead for good.
Her third major championship came at the 1983 duMaurier, this time by two strokes over Carner and Alice Miller. She added a third U.S. Open title in July of 1984, eagling the par 5 13th and rallying with a 69 to overtake third round leader Rosie Jones and win by two.
With four majors in hand by age 30, Stacy appeared poised for one of those legendary careers. It never happened. Between 1985 and 1990, she played in 24 LPGA majors, never finishing higher than a tie for ninth and only seven times earning a spot in the top 20. By then a 16-time tour victor, she won just one tour event in that time, and added only one other title after 1990, when her career trended badly downward. Of 28 majors Stacy started between 1991 and 1997, she missed 11 cuts and made just three top 10s. When, for the first time in her career, she missed the cut in all four LPG majors in 2000, Stacy shifted her focus to her golf course design business and to senior tour events. By then she had banked $2.6 million in winnings.
Stacy at her peak
Tournament         Finish      Score      Z Score
1977 U.S. Open      1st            292          -2.22
1978 U.S. Open      1st            289          -1.96
1978 LPGA              T-6            286          -1.19
1979 U.S. Open       T-15         293          -0.75
1979 duMaurier*  T-11          293          -1.03
1980 U.S. Open       2nd          289           -1.86
1980 LPGA              T-10          292          -1.07
1981 U.S. Open       T-10         292           -1.02
1981 LPGA              T-12         288           -0.93
1981 duMaurier     T-7          284            -1.40
Average Score: -1.34
*Until 1979 the event was known as the Peter Jackson Classic.
126 (111). Bernhard Langer, -1.33, 1984-1988
Perhaps it is his background that makes Bernhard Langer professional golf’s best-known stoic. Langer’s father was a soldier in the German army during World War II. Taken prisoner by the Russians at war’s end, he escaped from a Siberia-bound POW train and found his way to the Bavarian town of Anhausen where, in 1957, Bernhard was born. The son developed a reserved personality reflected in his leadership of Bible class meetings on the European Tour and his open admiration for Mother Teresa. His only concession to occasional garishness is his wardrobe, which has tended to favor brilliant colors.
By the time of the elder Langer’s death in the mid-1980s, Bernhard had already made it on the European golf circuit, having turned pro in 1972, winning the Dunlop Masters in 1980, and finishing runner-up to Bill Rogers at the 1981 British Open. One month later he added a German Open championship to his resume. Yet there remained holes in his game, most notoriously with his pacing and his putting. Langer was a deliberate figure on the course, so much so that even as he plodded to victory in the 1985 Masters, Jack Nicklaus told a national TV audience that “if (he’s) going to play over here, he’s going to have to speed up his play.” On the greens, Langer acquired one of the least desirable reputations on tour, as a victim of the yips. He missed the cut in his first start at the 1981 Masters, three-putting 11 times, nearly once every three holes.
Initially splitting his time between continents, he played 17 U.S. events through 1984, along the way running his trophy count in Europe to 11. Yet despite a second runner-up finish at the British Open in 1984, he remained a lightly thought-of contender as the 1985 Masters began. Most of the focus fell on 1980 and 1983 champion Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd and defending champion Ben Crenshaw. There were at least four reasons: Langer had never won in the U.S., no German had won a U.S. title, Ballesteros was the only European to have won, and Augusta National was known as a putter’s course.
Through two rounds, nothing occurred to shake the experts’ confidence. Watson and 1982 champion Craig Stadler shared the lead at 142, one stroke ahead of Ballesteros, Floyd, Bruce Lietzke and Lee Trevino. Langer, six strokes off the lead at that point, turned in a Saturday 68, but that performance only elevated him into a tie for third with Ballesteros, two shots behind Floyd and one behind Curtis Strange. A bogey on the second hole of the final round dropped him three strokes behind Floyd and Strange, but he recovered with birdies on three and five.
Still, Langer trailed Strange by three coming off the famous par 3 12th. But the two men were yet to play the back nine par 5s, and those holes turned out to be the deciding ones. Langer birdied both, while Strange bogeyed both, shooting the German into a one-shot lead at six under par. Getting through the final round with eight one-putts and no three-putts, he shot a closing 68. “Just grind it in,” he said of his formula over the final nine holes, when he shot a 33.
The victory shot Langer to international celebrity. He repeated his German Open championship in 1986, adding a Lancome Trophy, and in 1987 a German Masters, doing so while making 36 starts on the U.S. tour over those two seasons. When the World Golf Rankings were created in 1986, Langer debuted at No. 1 on the list. He competed regularly in America through 1989 before returning to Europe, where he won another half dozen events from 1990 through 1992. His track record in the majors was inconsistent: three top five finishes between his Masters victory and 1992 offset by eight missed cuts and five other finishes outside the top 50.
Langer was 37 when the field gathered for the 1993 Masters with no real reason to be projected as a contender. The previous season he had not finished among the top 20 in any of the majors, and had won just $41,000 in five U.S. Tour starts. Then there was the lingering disappointment of the finish of the 1991 Ryder Cup, when Langer missed a six-foot putt on the final hole that would have given the Europeans the trophy. His reaction to that miss was famously understated, but he felt it.
Yet Langer opened with rounds of 68 and 70, standing just one stroke behind Jeff Maggert entering weekend play, then posted a Saturday 69 to shoot past Maggert into a four-stroke lead over Chip Beck. His concluding 70 was uneventful. Afterward, for one of the few times in his career, the normally taciturn Langer let his verbal guard down. “Obviously you start to wonder if you can win again,” he told reporters. “I really felt after I won the first one that it would be a lot easier to win a second one.”
Turning 50 in 2007, Langer gravitated to the Champions Tour and became a dominant figure. In 2014 he won $3 million, far more than in any of his regular tour seasons. He won the Senior Open in 2010 and again in 2014, adding the Senior Players title that same season and repeating in 2015. Despite that success, he has continued to fight putting problems, being known as much as anything for his experimentation with various grips and putter lengths.
Langer at his peak
Tournament              Finish       Score      Z Score
1984 British Open      T-2              278          -2.20
1985 Masters              1st              282         -1.95
1985 British Open      T-3              284         -1.34
1986 U.S. Open            T-8             284          -1.22
1986 British Open      T-3             286           -1.77
1987 Masters               T-7             287          -1.23
1987 U.S. Open           T4               283          -1.31
1987 British Open     T-17            286          -0.84
1987 PGA                     T-21           295          -0.48
1988 Masters              T-9              287          -0.94
Average Score: -1.33

T-127 (T-112). Julius Boros, -1.32, 1955-1959
Many of the best modern players are virtually bred to the game. Beginning in highly competitive junior programs, they advance through a succession of amateur, college and professional tours, each step winnowing the field until only the very best and most dedicated reach the pinnacle.
The career of Julius Boros is the antithesis of that process. A junior college baseball player near his Connecticut home, he took a job with an accounting firm following World War II, his experience with amateur tournaments at first amounting to a dalliance. He was 29 before giving up the world of spreadsheets for the professional game; within three years of doing so he was crowned the national champion.
His victory at the 1952 U.S. Open in Dallas, by four strokes over Ed Oliver, could hardly have come as a bigger surprise. To that moment Boros had been winless on the professional circuit. The favorite, Ben Hogan, was a two-time defending champion, and Hogan played out of Fort Worth just down the road. Indeed, Hogan led George Fazio by two strokes halfway through the event, with Boros lingering inconspicuously in fourth position, two more strokes off the pace. But a third round 68 shot the unknown Boros into a two-stroke lead when Hogan managed only a morning 74 in the 36-hold finale, which was played in 96-degree heat. His closing 71 was enough to ensure the $4,000 first prize.
Although a fixture on tour for the next 20 years, Boros never was a headline-grabber. He waited 11 years for a second major championship, the 1963 U.S. Open at Brookline, again stealing the stage from the game’s pre-eminent player, Arnold Palmer. Boros was 43 by then and viewed as over the hill. But skeptics overlooked his recent victories at Colonial and Buick, the latter just two weeks before the Open. Two strokes behind Palmer after three rounds and three behind leader Jackie Cupit, he managed a concluding 72 to forge a three-way tie at 293, the highest winning total since the mid-1930s. In the 18-hole playoff, Boros’ steady play produced a 70, while Cupit recorded 73 and the mercurial Palmer blew to 76.
At 48, Boros was approaching the end of his career five years later when the 1968 PGA field gathered at Pecan Valley in San Antonio. Again, he went off at long odds, the prevailing choices being Jack Nicklaus and Palmer, seeking to complete the career grand slam. With a stunning second round 79, Nicklaus for one of the rare times in his career — missed the cut. Palmer seized the opportunity, coming to the 72nd green with an 8-foot putt to tie Boros for the title, but missing.
The odd thing about Boros’ playing record is that his most consistent golfing “prime” encompassed none of his three major championships. That prime occurred between 1955 and 1959, a period during which he posted seven finishes in the top 5. At the 1956 Open at Oak Hill, Boros stood on the 18th green facing a 15-foot birdie putt to tie Middlecoff, only to see it lip out. He tied Hogan for second. Two years later he was third at Southern Hills, although this time finishing six strokes behind Tommy Bolt, the comfortable champion.
Boros’ victory at Pecan Valley made him the oldest major champion in history, a distinction he continues to hold. A 1982 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame, he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 while sitting in a golf cart near the 16th hole of a favorite course.
Boros at his peak
Tournament                 Finish      Score    Z Score
1955 Masters                 T-4              289       -1.49
1955 U.S. Open              T-5              295       -1.32
1955 Western Open      5th             277       -1.65
1956 Masters                 T-24            303       -0.47
1956 U.S. Open              T-2              282       -2.04
1957 U.S. Open              T-4              284       -1.61
1957 Western Open      T-11           281       -1.04
1958 U.S. Open              3rd             289       -1.65
1958 PGA                        T-5             285       -1.34
1959 Masters                 T-8             290       -0.60
Average Score: -1.32

 

T-127 (T-112). Carol Mann, -1.32, 1964-1968
In the mid 1960s, Carol Mann was to the women’s tour what Jack Nicklaus was to the men’s tour. That was true both in the performance sense and also in the physical sense: At 6-3, Mann’s was an imposing presence, and although in those days nobody thought to accurately record driving distances, there was little doubt who hit the ball farthest.
As on the men’s tour, the results were readily visible on the scoreboard. Mann won her first major, the Women’s Western Open, in 1964 and her second, the Women’s U.S. Open, little more than a year later. She won four times in 1966 and three times in 1967. Between March and October of 1968, Mann won 10 of the 22 contested events, adding the Vare Trophy on a 72.04 stroke average. Between April and October of 1969, she squeezed in eight more victories and was the tour’s leading money winner.
That makes it more than slightly remarkable that the two majors Mann won early in her career were also the only two she ever won. Part of that has to do with the shrinking presence of LPGA majors in that era. The Titleholders and Western both ceased to exist in the mid 1960s, leaving the women’s tour with just two majors for the duration of Mann’s active participation. She several times gave those a run. At the 1966 Open, Mann, playing as defending champion, led by one stroke with three holes left only to watch Sandra Spuzich birdie 16 and 17 to pass her down the stretch. Two years later, Mann chased Susie Maxwell Berning and Mickey Wright to the finish. At the 1969 LPGA, she made a run at eventual champion Betsy Rawls before tying Berning for second.
So respected was Mann that in 1973, her fellow pros elected her to the LPGA’s presidency, a position she held through 1976. But the demands of the position, along with more than one conflict involving fellow competitors, compromised her focus on her own game. “I could barely get to the course in time to tee off; there was so much other activity,” she said later. “By June 1976, I went down the tubes. I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later, players wouldn’t give a damn.”
They eventually gave enough of a damn to vote Mann the Babe Zaharias Award in 1976, and to induct her into the LPGA’s Hall of Fame in 1977. Although not yet in her 40s, she was by then through as a competitor. She retired in 1981 to open Carol Mann Golf Services, the first woman-owned and operated course design and management firm. She started teaching at The Woodlands C.C. and took an active role in facilitating the relationship between the Hall of Fame and its members. In 2008, the PGA of America named her its “First Lady of Golf.”
Through it all, she professed disinterest in her playing legacy. “I never think how people will remember Carol Mann,” she said. “The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”
Mann at her peak
Tournament                    Finish       Score       Z Score
1964 Titleholders              T-15          304           -0.31
1964 Women’s Western 1st            308            -1.56
1965 Titleholders              T-5           302            -0.78
1965 U.S. Open                 1st            290           -2.08
1965 LPGA                         3rd            285           -1.42
1965 Women’s Western  10th          307           -0.83
1966 U.S. Open                  2nd          298           -2.17
1967 LPGA                         4th           291           -1.40
1967 Women’s Western  4th           300           -1.30
1968 U.S. Open                 T-3           295           -1.37
Score: -1.32

 

T-129 (T-114). Bob Ferguson, -1.31, 1868-1886
Ferguson had a golfing advantage almost by birthright; he was born in Musselburgh in a house virtually across the street from the town’s golf course, where the pro was Willie Park. Sr. A caddy at Park’s beck and call as a youth, Ferguson soon became identified as a protégée of Musselburgh’s best-known player, and by extension as a local hope in any matches or tournaments that also involved Young Tom Morris. The two were rivals, however, only in the golfing sense. They often played against – or with — one another, such as when they teamed to represent Scotland at a heralded 1881 match in Liverpool against a pair of pros representing England. Ferguson’s notes speak warmly of his St. Andrews opponent.
Doubtless with Park’s encouragement, Ferguson, not yet 19, entered the 1868 Open at Prestwick and finished fifth, three strokes behind his mentor and 11 behind the champion, Tommy. For most of the next decade, Ferguson adopted almost an arbitrary habit of dropping into or out of the tournament for no obvious reason. This habit fueled speculation that he viewed competition against Young Tom as futile, although that interpretation is countered by the fact that Morris and Ferguson did compete against one another in other professional events. Even so, he did not play the Open again until 1874 when it came for the first time to his home Musselburgh course, managing merely a tie for eighth in the 32-person field behind Willie Park’s brother, Mungo. Ferguson was fourth, six shots behind Willie, in 1875, skipped the 1876 event, returned in 1877 – again at Musselburgh – and tied for third behind Jamie Anderson, skipped 1878, and in 1879 finished sixth at St. Andrews.
With the Open returning to his home course in 1880, Ferguson opted to play, posting consecutive rounds of 81 that were good enough for a five-stroke victory. Even so, his performance was not without a moment of drama. Playing with Old Tom Morris in the first day’s morning nine, his drive off the second tee struck a telegraph pole, the result being an 8.
Defending his title in 1881, Ferguson opened with a 53 on the 12-hole Prestwick Course, assuming a four-shot lead on Anderson. The tournament is recalled today for having been played in some of the most severe weather ever recorded at an Open. A gale struck the seaside course, reportedly killing nearly 200 fishermen who had taken to their work that morning. Of 22 competitors who began the three loops around the old course, just eight managed to complete the requisite 36 holes. Ferguson’s score of 170, although three better than Anderson, was the highest posted by an Open champion in four years.
He breezed to a third straight title in 1882, winning by three strokes at St. Andrews, and loomed as an obvious choice to match Tommy’s feat of four straight when the tournament returned to Musselburgh a year later. Trailing Willie Fernie by three strokes after the first 18 holes, he rallied with a second-day 80 to qualify for the tournament’s first playoff, a 36-hole endurance test. Leading by a stroke on the par three 27th hole, Ferguson missed the green, chipped indifferently, then watched Fernie roll in a long putt for a birdie two. He walked off the green trailing by one decisive shot, eventually losing 158-159.
His failure to win a fourth straight tournament marked the effective end of Fergson’s competitive career. He returned to the Open only twice more, the tournament’s final two appearances at Musselburgh. In 1886 he tied Willie Park Jr. for fourth; in 1889, he failed to finish. Ferguson was in his mid 40s by then, battling the effects of typhoid fever, and largely tending to his day job as Musselburgh’s greenskeeper. He died in 1915.
Ferguson at his peak
Tournament            Finish      Score      Z Score
1868 British Open     5th          165           -0.37
1874 British Open     T-8          167           -0.69
1875 British Open     4th          172           -0.63
1877 British Open     3rd         164           -1.90
1879 British Open     6th         176           -1.39
1880 British Open   1st          162           -1.86
1881 British Open   1st          170           -1.90
1882 British Open   1st          170           -1.70
1883 British Open   2nd          158           -1.60
1886 British Open   T-4           161           -1.05
Average Z Score: -1.31

 

T-129 (T-114). Denny Shute, -1.31, 1932-1936
Herman Densmore ‘Denny’ Shute was a front-rank golfer on the 1930s professional ranks. Today, however, he is best remembered as the beneficiary of perhaps the single worst shot in the history of professional golf.
It happened on the 72nd hole of the 1933 British Open championship being contested at St. Andrews. Shute was already in, having posted four straight rounds of 73, even par at the time, which left him in a tie for first with fellow American Craig Wood. A third American, Leo Diegel, needed only to make the most routine of tap-ins for the par that would have put him in the playoff as well. Instead, Diegel whiffed the putt entirely. In the next day’s 36-hole playoff, Shute dispatched Wood by five strokes.
It was the first of three major titles by Shute, and although the next two lacked a bit of the St. Andrews drama, they were hardly walkovers. At the 1936 PGA Championship, Shute held off the much longer hitting Jimmy Thomson 3 & 2 in the 36-hole final, closing the match with an eagle 3. As defending champion in 1937, Shute survived six match victories, three of them decided on the final hole or in extra holes. In the semi-finals, he won two of the last three holes to defeat reigning U.S. Open champion Tony Manero 1 up. Facing Jug McSpaden in the championship match, Shute trailed by two with four holes to play, but won the 34th and 35th holes to draw even, then took the championship on the first extra hole.
Shute was born to the game. His father had been a golf pro in England before emigrating to the U.S., where Denny was born. Turning pro in 1928, he won for the first time a year later – in his native Ohio. It was the first of 16 tour victories in a career that slowed markedly with the coming of World War II. Following the war’s end, Shute made regular appearances at The Masters, tried the U.S. Open a few years without success, and only twice advanced beyond the first round or two of the PGA.
Shute at his peak
Tournament            Finish      Score       Z Score
1932 U.S. Open          T-14          302             -0.67
1932 Western Open T-7             292             -1.31
1933 British Open    1st           292             -1.62
1934 Masters             T-13          294             -0.85
1934 PGA               semi-final match play  -1.16
1935 Masters             5th            287             -1.42
1935 U.S. Open          T-4            303             -1.56
1935 PGA             3rd round  match play   -1.25
1936 U.S. Open         10th          291              -1.11
1936 PGA                   1st        match play  -2.16
Average Z Score: -1.31

 

T-129 (NR). Willie Smith, -1.31. 1898-1903
Willie Smith was the middle member of the first family of American golf. It was, of course, a transplanted family. He and his brothers, Alex, the eldest, and Macdonald, the youngest, were born in Dundee, Scotland, and emigrated to the United States in 1898. All became successful professional golfers; Alex and Macdonald will both appear higher on this listing.
Willie was the first to taste that success. Landing a job as professional at Midlothian Country Club in Chicago’s south suburbs, Smith entered the 1898 United States Open and finished fifth. A year later, in Baltimore, he trailed Willie Anderson by one shot through 36 holes, but played steadily on the final day while Anderson faded badly. The result was the biggest runaway in U.S. Open history prior to Tiger Woods’ 2000 romp at Pebble Beach, an 11-stroke margin over runner-up Val Fitzjohn. Anderson finished fifth. A dozen strokes behind Smith.
He followed that triumph with a second victory at the inaugural Western Open, played that September not far from Midlothian. In a 15-player field, Smith shot two rounds of 78 to tie Laurie Auchterlonie for first in the 36-hole event. The following day’s playoff was a romp, Smith winning by 10 strokes.
With his four victories in five seasons, Willie Anderson is recognized as the first dominant player in U.S. Open history, but Smith was a worthy challenger. Between 1898 and 1903, he posted five consecutive top 5 finishes and never came home worse than a tie for ninth. He finished second to his brother Alex in 1906 and lost to Fred McLeod in a playoff for the 1908 title. He tied for second, behind Anderson, at the 1902 Western.
Smith’s post-competitive life contained more adventure than he might have preferred. He had accepted an invitation to move to Mexico City in 1904 to become golf pro at the Mexico City Country Club. In time he agreed to construct a new course, which would eventually become the Club de Golf Chapultepec, in Chapultepec Park. But before Smith could dive heavily into the work the Mexico Revolution broke out. As a foreigner and a country clubber, Smith fell under suspicion by the revolutionary band led by Emile Zapata, those suspicions leading to injuries that eventually caused his death in 1916. He was 40.

Willie Smith at his peak
Tournament             Finish      Score      Z Score
1898 U.S. Open          5th             340         -1.03
1899 U.S. Open          1st              315         -2.33
1899 Western Open 1st              156         -1.60
1900 U.S. Open          5th             327         -1.33
1901 U.S. Open          3rd            333         -1.57
1901 Western Open T-5             171         -0.97
1902 U.S. Open          4th            316         -1.56
1903 U.S. Open          T-9            323         -0.93
1903 Western Open T-12           333        -0.12
Average Z Score: -1.31

 

T-132 ( T-116). David Graham, -1.30, 1979-1983
Possessed of a solid but unremarkable build and an equally solid but colorless personality, Graham seemed to be perfectly cast as one of the legions of PGA tour players capable of winning in any given week, but unlikely to emerge on a consistent basis.
Graham may have never fully blossomed into stardom. But he did emerge – twice – both times in sensational fashion.
A native Australian, Graham began dabbling on the American tour in his early 20s, won the Cleveland Open as a 25 year old in 1972 and by 1973 was fully committed. For five seasons Graham played his assigned “part of the field” role perfectly, winning twice, averaging about 25 starts per season, and averaging about $70,000, more than enough for a comfortable existence. That stretch even included one run at a major, the 1976 PGA Championship, when Graham tied Jack Nicklaus, among others, for fourth place, two shots behind Dave Stockton.
So Graham’s standing four strokes behind third round leader Rex Caldwell at the PGA’s 1979 Championship, while not predictable, hardly qualified as shocking. What did qualify as shocking was his play on Sunday. He birdied the first two holes, turned in 31, and built his lead to two shots over Ben Crenshaw standing on the 72nd tee. Then things went off script. Graham pushed his drive far offline, took four to reach the green, then missed a three-foot putt for a double bogey six. “It just didn’t feel right and I jerked the ball left,” Graham later acknowledged.” “I was going to the scorer’s tent and I was not a happy camper. But clearly there was somebody else there with me.”
If nothing else, that “somebody else” knew how to putt. On the first playoff hole against Crenshaw, Graham faced the daunting prospect of a 30-foot par putt to stay alive. He made it. On the second playoff hole, Graham needed a 10-foot birdie putt to stay alive. He made that one, too. On the third hole, he faced an eight foot birdie putt, this time to finish off Crenshaw. He made that one as well.
Two seasons later at the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion, Graham struck with equal suddenness. Trailing third round leader George Burns by three shots, he birdied the final round’s first two holes, and was dead even after four. He seized the lead on the 14th, padded that lead on the 15th, and put it at three strokes – the final margin – with a birdie at 16. Under final round major pressure, he produced a 67, two strokes better than any of the other leaders.
Graham’s strength was his understanding that his greatness contradictorily lay in not assuming his greatness. “I never allowed myself to think that it was over until it was over,” he said. Rather, he plodded, shot by shot, with as few errors as possible.
Graham at his peak
Tournament                Finish        Score        Z Score
1979 U.S. Open              7th              289            -1.46
1979 PGA                       1st              272             -2.33
1980 Masters                 5th              281             -1.38
1981 Masters                  7th             285             -0.92
1981 U.S. Open              1st             273             -2.63
1981 British Open          T-14          288             -0.60
1982 U.S. Open               T-6            287             -1.18
1983 U.S. Open               T-8            291             -0.98
1983 British Open          T-14         282             -0.60
1983 PGA                         T-14         283             -0.89
Score: -1.30

T-132 (T-116). Beverly Hanson, -1.30, 1955-1959
In college at North Dakota, Beverly Hanson trained to be a sports journalist. But three years into her career, Hanson found she was more interested in playing golf than writing about it.
So in 1947, Hanson, still just 22, began showing up at women’s tournaments. An amateur for the first three seasons of her competitive performance, Hanson competed in the 1950 Curtis Cup competition, winning all her matches and winning credibility among the women pros. At that year’s Women’s Amateur at East Lake in Atlanta, Hanson won and was presented the trophy by Bobby Jones. She later told golf historian Rhonda Glenn of her emotions at that moment. “I stood there with a smile on my face bigger than when I got married, bigger than when I came home from my honeymoon,” she said.
Her 1950 victory over Patty Berg in a Texas tournament, shortly after the founding of the LPGA, convinced Hanson to begin accepting paychecks in exchange for her play. Those paychecks didn’t amount to much. Many of the pay records of those early women’s tournaments have not been publicly maintained, but surviving records confirm the impression that the ladies were playing as much as for pride as for money. At the seventh Women’s Open championship played in 1959 in Pittsburgh, Hanson tied for 15th place in a field of 40 and picked up $83.33. One year later, Hanson tied for 12th in the Women’s Western, receiving $225 for her effort. A month later she finished 17th at the LPGA Championship, good for $114. In 1962, her 8th place finish at the Titleholders brought $325. At the time, those were the four major events; Hanson made the top 15 in all four and netted a total of $747.33.
Hanson’s Open debut came in 1950, and he tied for sixth, a distant 17 shots behind Babe Zaharias. She followed that with a runner-up finish at the 1951 Titleholders, But in the shadows of such luminaries as Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs, she was largely viewed as part of the field.
Her aspiring career suffered a further setback in 1952 when her new Oldsmobile overturned near Schenectady, N.Y. She was seriously injured.
Her breakthrough came in 1955 when Hanson won the LPGA by three shots over Suggs. For the next three years, Hanson was a major figure on the women’s tour. She tied for third at the 1957 LPGA, and won the 1958 Titleholders by five strokes, ending that season with a tour-leading $12,639 in winnings. Her three majors were among 15 tour victories overall during the decade.
Hanson was 37 when she left the Tour to get married and raise a family. She continued her teaching pro duties into her 70s, and died in 2014, a largely forgotten figure, especially for a three-time major champion. “She never got the credit that she deserved,” said Marlene Hagge, a contemporary.
Hanson at her peak
Tournament                  Finish      Score        Z Score
1955 U.S. Open                T-9            312             -0.78
1955 LPGA                        1st           220            -1.81
1956 U.S. Open                 12th         310            -0.69
1956 Women’s Western 1st           304            -2.00
1957 U.S. Open                 T-9            312            -0.81
1957 LPGA                         T-3           290            -1.30
1957 Women’s Western  T-6           300            -0.49
1958 Titleholders             1st          299           -2.33
1958 Women’s Western  2nd           297          -1.64
1959 Women’s Western  T-4            300           -0.91
Score: -1.30

T-134 (T-118). Tony Jacklin, -1.29, 1968-1972
Probably the most beloved British golfer between Ted Ray and Nick Faldo, Jacklin did something in 1969 that no British lad had done in a generation: He won the Open. Less than a year later, proving that his first victory was no fluke, he added the U.S. Open – and by seven full shots. In the process, Jacklin became the first European to win America’s championship since Willie Macfarlane in 1925, and the first Brit ever to hold both titles simultaneously.
A pro since the age of 18, Jacklin decided to tackle the American tour in the late 1960s, having established his credentials in Europe. His victory at the 1968 Jacksonville Invitational was the first by a European on the U.S. Tour since the 1920s, and the first ever by a British golfer. A year later, his victory at Royal Lytham and St. Anne fulfilled a childhood dream.
“As a young man, I would practice on my own for hundreds of hours…always coming down the 18th having to play an incredibly difficult shot to win the Open,” he later recalled. By that standard, the real thing was anti-climactic. Jacklin grabbed a two-shot lead from Bob Charles with a third round 70, and was never really pressed. He later described the victory as “My Everest.”
The following June at Hazeltine, Jacklin proved the least flappable contestant on a wind-swept and much-criticized new venue. While several of the competitors lambasted conditions on the 8-year-old course lashed by winds gusting at 40 mph – runner-up Dave Hill said it needed 80 acres of corn and a few cows – Jacklin quietly grabbed the lead with an opening 71, then followed with three rounds of 70 to take all the drama out of the event. His 281 score was high by contemporary Open standards, but his seven-stroke margin of victory was the largest in a U.S. Open since 1921
Jacklin nearly won a second British Open, coming to the 71st hole of the 1972 competition dead even with playing partner Lee Trevino, Jacklin lay 15 feet above the cup in three on the par 5 hole while Trevino’s fourth shot missed the green. But after Trevino holed his pitch for a par, a demoralized Jacklin three-putted, then bogeyed the 72nd hole to fall into third behind Jack Nicklaus. “I was never the same again after that,” Jacklin said later.
That’s only rhetorically true. In fact, Jacklin still had eight European Tour wins plus two U.S. Senior Tour wins ahead of him. He also competed on the 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1979 Ryder Cup teams, and was non-playing captain in 1985, when the European team handed the U.S. its first defeat in nearly three decades.
Jacklin at his peak
Tournament          Finish        Score        Z Score
1968 Masters            T-22           288            -0.10
1968 British Open   T-18           299             -0.29
1969 U.S. Open         T-25          289             -0.43
1969 British Open 1st              280            -2.35
1969 PGA                  T-25           287             -0.41
1970 Masters           T-12           288             -0.52
1970 U.S. Open       1st             281              -3.04
1970 British Open  5th             286              -1.68
1971 British Open  3rd             280              -2.04
1972 British Open  3rd             280              -2.14
Average score: -1.29


T-134 (T-118). Tony Lema, -1.29, 1962-1966
The Tony Lema story can be found in “The Hole Truth” by Bill Felber and now available at Amazon.com or in major bookstores.

Lema at his peak
Tournament         Finish       Score       Z Score
1963 Masters          2nd           287             -1.58
1963 U.S. Open       T-5            295             -1.42
1963 PGA                T-13           287             -0.93
1964 Masters          T-9            287              -0.73
1964 U.S. Open       20th          293             -0.42
1964 British Open 1st            279             -2.84
1964 PGA                 T-9            282              -0.98
1965 U.S. Open       T-8             289             -1.08
1965 British Open T-5             289              -1.40
1966 U.S. Open      T-4              286             -1.52
Average Z Score: -1.29

 

T-134 (T-118). Marilynn Smith, -1.29, 1961-1965
The story goes that when Marilynn Smith was competing collegiately at the University of Kansas in 1948, her father appealed to legendary athletic director Phog Allen for school support in sending her to that season’s national intercollegiate championship. A three-time state amateur champion, Smith certainly had the credentials. But Allen had little interest in women’s golf in general and the sparse KU women’s golf program in particular. “Mr. Smith, I’m sorry that your daughter is not a boy,” he responded.
She didn’t make the trip. But a year later she paid her own way…and won.
Smith was 20 when she turned pro in 1949 at precisely the opportune moment to become one of the founding members of the LPGA. But like many of the women in those formative days, she labored long and hard for little in the shadows of Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs.
Her first major event, the 1950 Titleholders, saw Smith post a four-round score of 322, good for a tie for 15th place in a field of 20, two dozen strokes behind Zaharias. That summer’s Open was more of the same: Zaharias won by nine, and Smith finished so far back that surviving media reports failed to list her score, presumably out of a sense of propriety. She was 19th in a field of 20 at the 1952 Titleholders, 14th at that year’s Open, and didn’t record her first top five finish until the 1953 Open, when she came in fifth, 11 behind Betsy Rawls.
She slogged through the rest of the 1950s, picking up occasional victories – five for the remainder of the decade – and managing nothing better than 8th at the 1959 Titleholders and 1960 U.S. Open. But staying on the women’s tour in those days required commitment to the organization, and Smith had it. She served one year as secretary of the tour, and three more (1958-60) as president. They were distractions her career probably didn’t need at that stage, but within the lightly-financed LPGA, participants viewed the off-course duties as cooperative, and Smith took her turn. As president, she led formation of the tour’s teaching division, established the tour’s first pro-am, and formed a national golf school for girls.
Finally in 1961, the hard seasons of education coincided with the end of her term as president to good effect. Smith finished fifth at the LPGA, Western Open, and U.S. Open, and sixth at the Titleholders, easily her best season to date. She won two minor tournaments in 1962, then in 1963 defeated Mickey Wright in a playoff to win the Titleholders. Her prize was $7,500, equaling the largest payout for a women’s event to that time. She beat Wright at the same event a year later, this time by one stroke in regulation. Third-place finishes at the 1963 and 1965 Titleholders and 1965 U.S. Open, coupled with a fourth at the 1965 LPGA gave her nine placings in the top five for the five-year period.
From constantly scrambling from event to event in the 1950s, Smith found her name perennially toward the top of the LPGA money list in the 1960s. The Titleholders championships were just two of six events she won between 1963 and 1964, and she added another eight through 1972. By the time of her retirement, she could claim 23 LPGA titles plus membership in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Marilyn Smith died in April 2019.
Marilynn Smith at her peak
Tournament               Finish         Score       Z Score
1961 U.S. Open             5th               303           -1.23
1961 Western Open    5th                301           -0.92
1961 LPGA                    5th                300           -0.80
1963 Titleholders       1st                292           -1.81
1963 Western Open    3rd                303           -1.62
1963 LPGA                    T-9                 300           -0.90
1964 Titleholders       1st                289           -1.76
1965 Titleholders        3rd                298           -1.22
1965 U.S. Open            3rd                 294           -1.61
1965 LPGA                   4th                  286           -0.67
Score: -1.25

 

T-134 (T-118), Bob Rosburg, -1.29, 1955-1959
Bob Rosburg spent so many years as an on-course commentator for CBS that it may come as news to members of a younger generation that he once actually played. Rarely seen unless outfitted in his trademark glasses, medium physique and headset, he certainly looked more like a schoolish golf wannabe than a major champion.
There is a reason why that look became so familiar to generations of television audiences: he invented it. Rosburg was not only an on-course commentator, he was the first on-course commentator, developing the role in 1974 when an ABC exec envisioned it as a means of making commentary more relevant.
If any of his fellow competitors were fooled by Rosburg’s non-threatening build, his game soon disabused them of that notion. He taught them that lesson early, and he started at the top of his world’s athletic profile as a 12-year-old playing in the first flight championship match at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. His opponent was Ty Cobb – yes, THAT Ty Cobb. Rosburg finished off the Georgia Peach 7 & 6.
The golf world got its first taste of Rosburg’s competitive nature during the 1947 U.S. Amateur championship held at Pebble Beach. Just 19 and soon bound for Stanford, he won five straight matches to reach the semi-finals of the 200-person field before bowing out 2 & 1 to Skee Riegel, the eventual champion. Following his 1953 graduation from Stanford, Rosburg turned pro and did well enough to earn an invitation to the 1954 Masters, justifying Bob Jones’ faith in his game by tying for sixth. That was just three strokes out of a Sam Snead-Ben Hogan playoff that Snead won. That same year Rosburg picked up his first professional title during a winter tour event in Miami.
Returning to Augusta in 1955, Rosburg moved up to fourth, although a distant 10 strokes behind runaway champion Cary Middlecoff. Even so, it marked the start of one of Rosburg’s best seasons. Back at Olympic in June, he tied for fifth in the U.S. Open, and tied for third at the Western Open in Portland. He picked up two more tour victories in 1956, and in 1958 won the Vardon trophy for lowest tour stroke average.
The 1959 U.S. Open field at Winged Foot featured a gauntlet of a field including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, all of them solidly in contention through three rounds. So was Billy Casper, a young sensation on the greens, who led Hogan by three shots entering the final 18 holes, which were pushed back from the normal marathon Saturday finish to Sunday due to thunderstorms. Snead and Palmer sat one further stroke back, accompanied by Rosburg.
None of the game’s biggest names mounted a run at Casper. Palmer managed only a closing 74, Snead a 75 and Hogan a 76. But Rosburg hung around, then at the 11th he holed out from a greenside bunker and moved within one. That set up a race to the finish which Casper won, Rosburg closing a stroke behind in second.
Two months later at the PGA Championship in Minneapolis, the heat beat down so oppressively and the driving range was so remotely placed that Rosburg disdained it entirely. Instead, he limited his entire practice routine to a few chips and putts. Rosburg began the final round six strokes behind Jerry Barber and five behind Doug Sanders, but gradually picked his way through the field, thanks in large part to a five-under front nine of 30. On the par 3 10th hole he hit into a difficult greenside bunker, but played out to within three feet and holed his putt for a saving par. “I had to have it and that sand shot gave it to me,” he said. Rosburg parlayed that and his front nine 30 in to a round of 66. He still needed help, though, trailing Barber by a stroke and pacing nervously in the clubhouse while the leader completed the final holes. He got the help when Barber bogeyed both the 17th and 18th.
Rosburg at his peak
Tournament               Finish      Score      Z Score
1955 Masters               T-4             289          -1.49
1955 U.S. Open            T-5             295          -1.32
1955 Western Open    3rd            275          -1.95
1956 Masters               16th           299          -0.85
1956 Western Open    T-13           288          -0.92
1957 Western Open    T-27           288           0.07
1958 U.S. Open             T-5             291          -1.33
1958 PGA                      T-11           288           -0.94
1959 U.S. Open            2nd             283          -1.92
1959 PGA                      1st              277          -2.21
Average: -1.29
T. 134 (NR) Sandy Herd, -1.29, 1902-1911
Alexander Herd, known familiarly as Sandy, was born to golf, although he initially resisted the urge. A native of St. Andrews whose brothers all became golf pros, Herd tried several other professions as a teen, apprenticing to a baker, then to a plasterer. By his mid 20s, Herd accepted his fate and signed on as head professional at the Huddersfield Club. He remained there through 1911.
By then Herd was a four-year Open veteran, having debuted with an eighth place finish in 1888. While still in his 20s, Herd made several abortive runs at the Open title, coming closest in 1895 when he was runner-up, four strokes behind John H. Taylor.
Finally in 1902, Herd emerged as the champion. This was the era when Taylor, Harry Vardon and James Braid dominated, winning a combined 16 times between the mid 1890s and World War I. Following the first 36 holes, Herd was tied with Ted Ray for second, four strokes behind Vardon with Braid one further stroke back.
But on the first hole of the third round, Vardon sliced his first two drives out of bounds, opening the door for a challenger. He turned in an 80, and Herd’s 73 gave him a three-stroke advantage.
He needed all of that cushion, managing only a closing 81 that opened the door again for Vardon or Braid. Vardon came to the final hole needing two putts to catch Herd, but three-putted. That left the issue to Braid, but he too missed a potential tying putt.
Herd was a four-time runner-up and a perennial in the top 10. He finished second to Harold Hilton in 1892, to Braid in 1910, and to Ray in 1920.
Herd never crossed the ocean to try his skills in the U.S. Open, the era’s only other major. But the American national championship certainly bears the Herd family imprint. His brother, Fred, won the 1898 U.S. Open.
Herd died in 1944.
Herd at his peak
Tournament           Finish      Score     Z Score
1902 British Open    1st           307          -1.97
1903 British Open     4th           309          -1.79
1904 British Open     9th           304          -0.83
1905 British Open    15th          332          -0.44
1906 British Open    T-19          317          -0.43
1907 British Open    12th          324          -0.92
1908 British Open      4th          302          -1.57
1909 British Open     T-8           307          -1.14
1910 British Open     2nd          303          -2.09
1911 British Open     T-3           3.04          -1.75
Average: -1.29
T-134 (NR). Brooke Henderson, -1.29, 2015-2018
Henderson may already be the best female golfer in Canadian history, which is saying something since she’s only 21. But she has a major championship, the 2016 Women’s PGA, and nine top 10 major finishes.

Tournament                   Finish      Score          Z Score
2015 U.S. Open                 T-5             277             -1.30
2015 LPGA                        T-5             282              -1.58
2016 ANA Inspiration    T-10           281              -1.03
2016 Women’s PGA       1st             278              -2.33
2016 Evian Masters        T-9             277              -0.97
2017 U.S. Open                 T-13           285             -0.83
2017 Women’s PGA         2nd            272             -2.18
2018 Women’s PGA         T-6             282             -2.36
2018 British Open           T-11            282             -0.80
2018 Evian Masters        T-10            276             -1.12
Average Score: -1.35

 

140 (T-122). Craig Wood, -1.27, 1938-1942
Craig Wood’s biography is included in “The Hole Truth” by Bill Felber, now available at bookstores or through Amazon.com.

 

T-141 (T-124). Hideki Matsuyama, -1.27, 2013-2017
It is too early in Matsuyama’s career to say much about him. So let this suffice. He is a 26-year-old budding star. Proof? In 2017, Matsuyama made the top 15 in all four majors, something only one other player – Brooks Koepka – could say. And while Koepka did beat Matsuyama to the finish at the U.S. Open, Matsuyama earned close to $3 million more in season-long winnings, a nice consolation prize.
Based on his record to date, the trick for Matsuyama going forward will be stringing good seasons together. His 2013 introduction to the tour showed great promise, with top 10 finishes in the U.S. and British Opens. Competing full-time for the first time in 2014, he did win one event and he did earn nearly $3 million. But his showings in the majors were non-descript, with not a single top 30. So the pertinent question is whether the real Matsuyama is the consistent challenger of 2017 or the run-of-the-mill tour pro of 2014.
And if it is the good Matsuyama, what could that mean for his status on the peak ranking chart? Given the performance gap between 2014 and 2016, it would really take at least two more successive seasons at the level of 2017 to move him significantly. But if he did replicate his 2017 season in 2018 and 2019, it’s possible that by the end of that year Matsuyama’s peak rating could climb to the vicinity of -1.53 or thereabouts. Whose neighborhood would that put him in? Well, Henrik Stenson (-1.52) for one. He’s presently number 80 on the all-time list. Jimmy Demaret is -1.55, Payne Stewart is -1.47, and Ben Crenshaw, -1.59; all might theoretically be in reach.
Matsuyama at his peak
Tournament           Finish           Score           Z Score
2013 U.S. Open         T-10               287               -1.12
2013 British Open    T-6                 286               -1.60
2013 PGA                   T-19               279               -0.74
2015 Masters            5th                 277               -1.54
2016 Masters            T-7                 288               -1.24
2016 PGA                   T-4                 271               -1.57
2017 Masters            T-11               287               -0.70
2017 U.S. Open         T-2                 276               -1.68
2017 British Open   T-14               278               -0.85
2017 PGA                  T-6                 279               -1.68
Average Z Score: -1.27
T-141 (T-124). Jim Furyk, -1.27, 2003-2007
On tour, Jim Furyk was the guy with the funny, loopy swing everybody respected but nobody tried to emulate. As awkward as that swing was, it brought him 17 Tour championships, nearly $68 million in career earnings (to date), and the 2003 U.S. Open championship.
Furyk was a collegiate star at Arizona prior to joining he tour in the mid 1990s. He won his first event, at Las Vegas, in 1995, and quickly emerged as a contender in the tour’s most significant events. Furyk placed fourth in the 1997 and 1998 British Opens, as well as the 1998 Masters. He first amassed $1 million in winnings in 1997, and with the exception of 1997 was a winner on tour annually between 1995 and 2003.
It was in 2003 that Furyk cemented his image in the public mindset. At the Masters, he improved his score each day, closing with a 68 that brought him home fourth, three strokes out of a share of the lead. The U.S. Open was played that year at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, and Furyk came in hot. He entered having already accumulated 10 top ten finishes on the season, and more than $2.3 million in the bank. So it was hardly a shock when he dominated the event, completing three rounds in 200 for a three-stroke lead. On Sunday, he managed only a two-over par 72, but when none of the other challengers did better Furyk breezed home with his three-stroke margin intact. “I really liked the way I was playing,” he said.
If 2003 represented Furyk at his best, 2006 was almost as good. He came to the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot needing a par to get into a playoff with Geoff Ogilvy. But Furyk put his second shot in a greenside bunker, then missed a five-foot par putt, dropping him into a tie for second place. At the British Open at Royal Liverpool, Furyk spotted Tiger Woods two strokes entering the final round and found that too large a margin to make up, finishing fourth.
Furyk’s peak ended in 2006, but he enjoyed a lengthy, slow decline from those heights. Second again in the 2007 U.S. Open, he bid for the 2012 title at Olympic as well, sharing the third round lead before giving way to Webb Simpson and tying for fourth. At the following year’s PGA Championship, Furyk led through three rounds, only to be overtaken by Jason Dufner’s Sunday 68. It was the fourth runner-up in a major of his career and his 15th top five. Again at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Furyk, by then 46, finished second. His Sunday 66 nearly overhauled Dustin Johnson, eventually falling three strokes back.
Furyk at his peak
Tournament           Finish           Score           Z Score
2003 Masters           4th                  284               -1.62
2003 U.S. Open       1st                  272               -2.72
2003 PGA                  T-18                287               -0.63
2005 U.S. Open        T-28                291               -0.37
2006 U.S. Open        T-2                  286               -1.68
2006 British Open  4th                  276               -1.70
2006 PGA                 T-29                285               -0.22
2007 Masters          T-13                296               -0.77
2007 U.S. Open       T-2                  286               -2.04
2007 British Open  T-12               282               -0.96
Average Z-Score: -1.27

 

T-141 (T-124). Sergio Garcia, -1.27, 2002-2006
He arrived in 1999, proclaimed as the man-child successor in a royal Spanish golf line originating with Marcellino Morcillo in the 1940s, and continuing unbroken through Sebastian Miguel, Ramon Sota, Seve Ballesteros, and Jose Maria Olazabal. The golfing gods made that man-child Garcia endure through 17 years of frustration before granting him the major championship he had so long sought, but over time that only added to Sergio Garcia’s lure.
There were certainly close calls, agonizing ones including a memorable runner-up to Tiger Woods at his 1999 PGA Championship debut. At the 2007 British Open, Garcia took Padraig Harrington into a playoff before losing; a year later at the PGA he came home runner-up for a third time – and for the second time to Harrington. Garcia got a fourth silver medal in 2014, again at the British Open. His total margin of defeat in those four major championships spanning 15 seasons: just five shots.
That “tease” element – the recurring and intensely human ability to narrowly avoid winning – has always been a big part of the attraction of Garcia. There has never been any question about his talent. A club champion at 12, he became the youngest player to make the cut at a European Tour event when he did so as a 16-year-old at the 1995 Turespaña Open Mediterranea. That same year he became the youngest player to win the European Amateur. He won a professional tournament, the 1997 Catalonian Open, on the European Challenge Tour, as an amateur, and in 1998 won the British Amateur before reaching the semi-finals of the U.S. Amateur.
For most Americans, Garcia’s introductory moment came at the 1999 PGA when – still just 19 — he exuberantly chased Woods to the finish, eventually losing by a stroke. Even so, he qualified for the European Ryder Cup team. Already a winner in Europe, he broke through in America at the 2001 Master Card Colonial, narrowly losing that season’s Tour Championship to Mike Weir in a four-way playoff that also included David Toms and Ernie Els.
Until his victory at the 2017 Masters, Garcia’s most consistent major tournament season was probably 2002, when he recorded top 10s in all four events, including a fourth at the U.S. Open. From 2004 through 2006, he recorded five more top 5s in majors. He won the 2008 Players Championship in a playoff, defeating Paul Goydos.
But it was the narrow misses that made Garcia famous. Never was this more true than at Carnoustie during the 2007 British Open, an event Garcia blitzed with an opening 65 for a three-stroke lead. He extended that lead to six shots by Sunday morning only to make the final turn in 38. Harrington, meanwhile, paired four birdies with an eagle, but his six on the concluding par four allowed Garcia to par in for a victory. Instead he lipped out a six-foot putt and then lost the four-hole playoff.
When the two met again a year later at the 2008 PGA at Oakland Hills, Garcia led Harrington by a stroke with three holes to play, but bogeyed two of those closing three and lost by two.
When a major title finally did come, struggle – naturally – came with it. Through 54 holes, Garcia share first place with Justin Rose. All Sunday, the skeptics – trained by time – assumed he would fall back…which of course he did. Having opened up a three-stroke lead through five holes, he gave all of them back on the next four, concluding the front nine still even with Rose. Garcia bogeyed the 10th, then the 11th as well, to fall two back. An eagle at 15 got him back to even, but that didn’t last because Rose birdied the 16th. Then Rose bogeyed the 18th, and they were even again, necessitating a playoff. Sergio’s drive split the fairway, his iron pierced to within 12 feet, and his putt found the cup for a winning birdie. It was a decisive conclusion to a lengthy journey.
Garcia at his peak
Tournament          Finish           Score           Z Score
2002 Masters           8th                  284              -0.96
2002 U.S. Open        4th                  283              -1.70
2002 British Open  T-8                   280              -1.24
2002 PGA                 T-10                 289              -0.66
2003 British Open  T-10                 288              -1.06
2004 Masters           T-4                  285               -1.04
2005 U.S. Open        T-3                  285               -1.63
2005 British Open  T-23                 283               -1.25
2006 British Open  T-5                   277               -1.51
2006 PGA                 T-3                   276               -1.60
Average Z-Score: -1.27

 

T-141 (T-124). Lanny Wadkins, -1.27, 1984-1988
There was the phenom Lanny Wadkins, out of which through trial and tribulation sprang the mature Lanny Wadkins.
The phenom Lanny Wadkins holds the major. He won it as a 27-year-old journeyman pro out of Wake Forest in August of 1977, defeating Gene Littler in a sudden death playoff. In fact it was the first scheduled sudden death playoff in the history of the tour majors, and this fact about it underscores how much a journeyman Wadkins was at the time. “I didn’t realize it was sudden death,” he later revealed. “I thought we were playing 18 on Monday.” The format change had been implemented several years earlier, but this marked its first implementation. “I was in the clubhouse having a beer, when somebody came in and told me, “you need to get to the first tee,” Wadkins said.
He got there in time to prevail over Littler in three holes.
It was his fourth tour victory, but his first in four years. Wadkins followed it up by winning the World Series of Golf in September, but the ensuing four seasons represented only a gradual maturation. Through 1981, Wadkins added two more victories in minor events, but he was a non-factor in the big ones. Then at the 1982 U.S. Open – back at Pebble Beach – Wadkins’ steadied his major game. He tied for sixth behind Tom Watson, and at that summer’s PGA Championship he chased Ray Floyd to the finish, losing by three.
Although the more mature Wadkins never managed to close the deal on a major, he did win nine times over the next six seasons, and he became a regular contender at the tour’s premier events. Wadkins tied for eighth at the 1983 Masters, was seventh at the 1983 U.S. Open, tied for fourth at the 1984 British Open, for second at the 1984 PGA, and for fifth at the 1985 U.S. open. At the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, Wadkins again chased Floyd to the finish, shooting a closing 65 but falling two strokes short in a tie with Chip Beck for second. At the 1987 PGA Championship, Wadkins tied Larry Nelson through 72 holes, but missed a four-foot putt on the playoff hole to give Nelson his third major title.
Wadkins at his peak
Tournament           Finish      Score       Z Score
1984 British Open   T-4             281           -1.51
1984 PGA                  T-2              277          -1.93
1985 U.S. Open        T-5              281           -1.42
1985 PGA                  T-10            284           -1.09
1986 U.S. Open        T-2              281           -1.74
1986 PGA                 T-11             284           -0.90
1987 Masters           T-12            290            -0.72
1987 PGA                  2nd             287            -1.81
1988 Masters          T-11             288            -0.77
1988 U.S. Open        T-12             284           -0.82
Average Z-Score: -1.27

145 (NR). Sung Hyun Park, -1.26, 2016-2018

Park at her peak
Tournament                    Finish      Score      Z Score
2016 ANA Inspiration      T-6            280          -1.23
2016 U.S. Open                   T-3           284          -1.36
2016 Evian                          T-2            267          -2.40
2017 ANA Inspiration       T-14          283          -0.56
2017 Women’s PGA           T-14          280          -0.78
2017 U.S. Open                  1st            277          -2.21
2017 British Open             T-16          280           -0.61
2017 Evian                         T-26           213          -0.12
2018 ANA Inspiration      T-9             277          -1.20
2018 Women’s PGA         1st             278          -2.08
Average Z Score: -1.26
T-146 (T-129). Tommy Bolt, -1.24, 1954-1958
Tommy Bolt always gloried in the skill of his game. The public famously loved him for a different attribute, his volcanic temper. His penchant for club-throwing earned him the nickname “Terrible Tommy,” something Bolt eventually came to grips with.
“I think I can hit a golf ball as well as the next man…but do people come out to watch me hit a golf ball?” he once lamented. “No. They come out to watch me blow my top. And I’m sorry to say I’ve obliged them.”
So while Bolt’s reputation initially was earned, over time it became a mantra he played to…occasionally with good results. Halfway through his 36-hole quarter-final against Sam Snead at the 1954 PGA Championship, Bolt – down one hole – complained loudly about the crowd’s favoritism for Snead. Word of his clubhouse tirade swept the course, and in the afternoon round Terrible Tom’s supporters out-roared the popular West Virginian. Bolt won.
“It thrills crowds to see a guy suffer,” he said late in his life. “At first I threw clubs because I was angry. After a while it became showmanship, plain and simple.”
To be recognized as something more than freak show performer, eventually, of course, you have to win. Bolt did that at the 1958 U.S. Open, one of the most grueling major championship tournaments ever conducted. It was played in mid-June at Southern Hills in Tulsa.
To that point, the USGA had rarely taken its most prestigious championship into the southern U.S., the fear being that the combination of natural heat and humidity would combine with the 36-hole Saturday finale to produce brutal, possibly hazardous, playing conditions. That was precisely what it got at Southern Hills, the field and a gallery estimated at 20,000 coping with searing 100-degree heat accompanied by gusting winds. Nothing, however, bothered Bolt, who carried a one-stroke lead over Gary Player into those final 36 holes and inexorably pulled away to win by four.
At the tournament’s conclusion, Bolt revealed his secret weapon to the assembled press, all of whom wanted to know how he had managed to keep his vaunted temper so thoroughly in check under the obviously adverse conditions. He reached into the lining of his cap and pulled out the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer, which he had carried with him every step of the journey.
Bolt at his peak
Tournament                 Finish        Score        Z Score
1954 Masters                  T-12            296          -0.86
1954 U.S. Open               T-6              289          -1.12
1954 PGA                    semi-final  match play -0.89
1955 U.S. Open               T-3              292           -1.72
1955 PGA                     semi-final match play -1.52
1955 Western Open      T-30            287           -0.13
1956 Masters                  T-8              296           -1.13
1957 PGA                   4th round  match play  -1.14
1958 U.S. Open              1st              283          -2.59
1958 PGA                         T-5              285          -1.34
Average Z-Score: -1.24

 

T-146 (T-129). Jose Maria Olazabal, -1.24, 1990-94
Jose Maria Olazabal’s golfing career survived two moments of crisis.
The first, literally a moment, occurred on the 15th hole of the 1994 Masters. Leading playing partner Tom Lehman by one stroke, Olazabal challenged the pond in front of the green on the 500 yard par 5 hole, his second shot barely carrying the hazard, then hanging up in the fringe just short of the putting surface. From that awkward position, Olazabal struck a perfect 30-foot putt that climbed the slope of the green and fell dead center into the cup for an eagle three. Less than an hour later, he was Masters champion by two shots over Lehman.
The second crisis took longer to overcome. Intense foot pain, a byproduct of back problems, sidelined him for part of 1995 and all of the 1996 season, threatening his career. He returned to win a couple of minor tournaments on the European circuit in 1997, but was a non-factor in the 1997 and 1998 majors, finishing no higher than a tie for 12th both years at Augusta, and missing the cuts at both PGAs.
But relieved of his symptoms, Olazabal summoned the form that had made him a great player five years earlier, taking the lead in the second round of the 1999 Masters and never relinquishing it. Surviving a stretch of three consecutive bogeys on the front side, his four-round total of 280 was two shots better than Davis Love.
“When I was at my lowest, I never thought about this happening again,” Olazabal told reporters in the press room. “I thought I would never play golf again.”
The victory climaxed what until his physical problems seemed like a career of destiny. Olazabal was almost literally born to play golf, the son of a greenskeeper in Hondaribbia, Spain, who was swinging a club from the first moments he was capable of doing so. In 1984 at age 18, he won the British Amateur title, defeating Colin Montgomerie in the final match. His 1994 Masters title made him the only British Amateur champion to also win a professional major since Lawson Little, the 1934-35 Amateur champion won the 1940 U.S. Open.
Turning pro in 1986, Olazabal joined the European Tour and won 23 events, eight of them before coming to the U.S. and claiming the 1990 NEC World Series of Golf. He did not, however, play regularly on the American tour until 1990, by which time he was 35. As a member of the U.S. circuit, he would win only once, at the 2002 Buick Invitational.
That did not mean Olazabal was lightly known here. To the contrary, he was famous – infamous may be a better word – for his biennial contributions to the European Ryder Cup team’s efforts against the American squad. Teaming with countryman Seve Ballesteros to form what came to be called the ‘Spanish Armada’, he went 11-2-2 over 15 matches in 1987, 1989, 1991, and 1993. It remains the best two-man team performances in Ryder Cup history. When Ballesteros retired from Ryder Cup play, Olazabal partnered with Sergio Garcia, another fellow Spainard, that extended his performance record to 18-8-5. He was a member of victorious European teams in 1987, 1997 and 2006.
His best seasons in the majors came before Olazabal had barely won anything in the U.S. He tied for eighth in the 1990 U.S. Open, and over the next four seasons landed five times in the top 10, including a runner-up finish at the 1991 Masters, when a final-hole bogey cost him a playoff opportunity against Ian Woosnam, the champion. He finished third at the 1992 British Open,
Olazabal was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.

Olazabal at his peak
Tournament         Finish      Score       Z Score
1990 Masters          13th          287          -0.71
1990 U.S. Open       T-8            284          -0.92
1990 British Open T-16           281          -0.64
1990 PGA                T-14           294          -0.67
1991 Masters         2nd            278          -1.62
1991 U.S. Open      T-8              290         -0.98
1992 British Open 3rd             274         -2.17
1993 Masters          T-7             284         -1.16
1994 Masters         1st              279         -2.21
1994 PGA               T-7               278         -1.33

Average Z Score: -1.24

 

T-146 (T-129). Curtis Strange, -1.24, 1985-1989
But for a pair of unthinkably bad rounds, Curtis Strange might be recognized today as a four-time major champion. As it is, Strange can content himself with the knowledge that he is one of only six men to have successfully defended his U.S. Open title.
He did that at Oak Hill in 1989, retaining the title he had won a year earlier at Brookline. No other player had done it since Ben Hogan in 1951; none has done it since.
Yet for Strange, the near-misses were often as memorable as the triumphs. He trailed Fuzzy Zoeller by just two shots midway through the 1984 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, then lost five strokes to the lead with a Saturday 74. Strange’s Sunday 68 left him those five shots out of the Zoeller-Greg Norman playoff, which Zoeller won.
Less than a year later, Strange hacked his way to an opening round 80 at the Masters, then followed with rounds of 65 and 68. A front nine 32 on Sunday shot Strange into first place, four shots clear of Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros, but Strange closed with a 39 and Langer won by two. He had played the 45 holes between Friday and Sunday’s back nine 15 strokes under par, but come up short due to that opening 80.. “It would have been a helluva story, wouldn’t it?” Strange rhetorically asked reporters.
Strange was a member of Wake Forest’s NCAA championship team before turning pro in the mid 1970s, winning for the first time at Pensacola in 1979. He was 24. The next seven years mixed flashes of potential with costly unevenness. Strange tied for fifth, although 10 strokes behind Jack Nicklaus, at the 1980 PGA, and for seventh at the 1982 Masters. Between 1980 and 1987 he won 11 events, some of them significant, including the 1985 and 1987 Canadian Opens, and the 1987 NEC World Series of Golf. But he also missed six cuts in majors, including annually in the PGA from 1984 through 1986.
Still, Strange’s game was plainly on an uptick. Despite the Masters disappointment, he won the tour’s money title in 1985. Fourth behind Scott Simpson at the 1987 U.S. Open, he followed up that season’s Canadian and World Series by capturing both the Independent Insurance Agent Open and the Memorial in May of 1988. Strange came to the 71st hole of that year’s U.S. Open at Brookline leading Nick Faldo by a stroke, but three-putted from 12 feet, then compounded his problems by leaving his approach at 18 in the gaping front bunker. A steely blast and tap-in putt secured an 18-hole playoff, which Strange won 71-75. It was the highlight of a million dollar Tour season, the first in PGA history.
Strange highlighted his title defense the following year at Oak Hill with a second-round 64, tying the course record and just one shot above the all-time Open record. Still he trailed Tom Kite by three strokes and Simpson by two as the final round began. But Kite made seven at the par four fifth and managed no better than a 78. Simpson posted a 75, allowing Strange, on his way to an imperturbable 70, to claim a one-stroke victory.
Strange cut back his Tour obligations in the 1990s, detouring into TV commentary. He joined the Champions Tour in 1997, the same year he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Curtis Strange at his peak
Tournament            Finish            Score           Z Score
1985 Masters             T-2                  284                -1.58
1986 British Open    T-14                 291               -0.89
1987 Masters             T-12                 290               -0.82
1987 U.S. Open          T-4                   283               -1.10
1987 PGA                    9th                   291               -1.14
1988 U.S. Open         1st                    278               -2.03
1988 British Open     T-13                 285               -0.88
1989 Masters             T-18                 291                -0.41
1989 U.S. Open         1st                   278               -1.99
1989 PGA                   T-2                    277                -1.68
Score: -1.24

T-146 (T-129). Justin Rose, -1.24, 2012-2016
When you are a golf phenom life generally takes one of two courses. You either explode onto the scene – Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth are the archetypes – or you fail spectacularly.
Very occasionally, however, somebody comes along to occupy the middle ground. Justin Rose is that rare somebody. A prodigy, he was a Walker Cupper by age 17, tied for fourth that same year at the British Open, and then largely disappeared. Turning pro in 1998, he proceeded to miss his first 21 cuts. For the better part of four seasons, Rose went winless, and well into his 20s he could claim only three championships, one in Europe, one in South Africa and one in Japan. His resume in the recognized majors during that time was virtually non-existent: just a dozen starts through 2006, with five missed cuts and only one finish in the top 20. You could not find Rose’s name anywhere among the top 100 World Golf Ranking.
It will be left to the pros to diagnose what turned Rose’s career around. That change took place gradually, but it did happen. He announced his new direction at the 2007 Masters, tying for fifth, and followed that with a top 10 at the U.S. Open. Ties for 12th at the season’s final two majors gave him top 12 standing at all four 2007 majors, twice as many such finishes as he had managed over the previous nine seasons. He was, finally, a prodigy…albeit at age 27 an exceptionally old one.
His true prime, however, didn’t really take hold for another five seasons, the interim filled with something better than mediocrity but short of stardom. Between 2008 and 2012, Rose added his first four PGA Tour championships to his collection, cracking the tour’s top 10 for the first time in 2010. He was third at the 2012 PGA, although nine shots behind Rory McIlroy, who never gave the field a chance that week. At the following year’s U.S. Open at Merion, Rose completed his long-awaited return to prominence, coming from two strokes off Phil Mickelson’s pace on Sunday to win. He has since come close twice to adding a second major, tying for the runner-up position at both the 2015 and 2017 Masters. He lost the 2017 event in a playoff to Sergio Garcia.
Justin Rose at his peak
Tournament                Finish            Score             Z Score
2012 Masters                 T-8                  284                  -1.07
2012 U.S. Open              T-15                287                  -0.60
2012 PGA                        T-3                  284                  -1.29
2013 U.S. Open              1st                   281                  -2.14
2014 Masters                 T-14                 289                 -0.54
2014 U.S. Open              T-12                 283                 -0.83
2014 PGA                        T-24                 276                 -0.68
2015 Masters                 T-2                   274                  -2.08
2015 British Open        T-6                    277                 -1.41
2015 PGA                       4th                    274                 -1.73
Average Z Score: -1.24

 

150 (NR). Al Espinosa, -1.23, 1926-1930
There were actually two Espinosas on tour in the 1920s and 1930s, Al and his brother Abe. Al, the younger brother by two years, was also the more successful player, winning nine PGA titles and playing on the 1927, 1929 and 1931 Ryder Cup teams.
Espinosa never won a major championship, but he came frustratingly close three times.
At the 1927 PGA Championship in Dallas, his first three victories put him up against four-time defending champion Walter Hagen in the semi-finals. Espinosa led coming to the final hole, but missed the potential winning three-foot putt to send the match to an extra hole, where Hagen prevailed, going on to win his fifth consecutive title.
One year later in Baltimore, Espinosa win his first four matches in mostly comfortable fashion, including a 6 & 5 semi-final dispatching of Horton Smith, who a few years later would win the inaugural Masters. When Leo Diegel shocked Hagen in the quarter-final, the door opened for Espinosa. But he suffered through a disastrous putting slump in the final match, which Diegel won 6 & 5 when Espinosa three-putted the final two holes.
Espinosa made his best major run at the following summer’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Tied with Gene Sarazen at 142 through two rounds, he fell four back of Bobby Jones and Sarazen with a third round 77, and trailed Jones by six strokes with seven holes to play.
But Jones recorded a bogey and a triple bogey across those final seven holes while Espinosa birdied two of the final three holes, creating a 36-hold Sunday playoff.
That playoff, however, was no contest, Jones burying Espinosa by 23 shots to claim his third U.S. Open title.
Espinosa tied for seventh in the 1934 Masters. He played the tour only sparingly after the mid 1930s, and died in 1957.
Al Espinosa at his peak
Tournament                      Finish                Score               Z Score
1926 Western Open            T-6                      291                   -1.27
1927 PGA                         semi-final         match play           -1.06
1928 U.S. Open                    T-14                    300                    -0.99
1928 PGA                         qtr.-final           match play            -1.09
1928 Western Open            T-4                     297                      -1.89
1929 U.S. Open                    2nd                    294                     -2.13
1929 British Open               T-32                   314                      0.16
1929 Western Open           T-11                    288                     -0.97
1930 PGA                         qtr.-final           match play             -1.18
1930 Western Open           2nd                     285                     -1.84
Average Z Score: -1.23
151 (NR). Mike Weir, -1.22 (2003-2007)
Weir is arguably the best player to be produced by Canada.
A 1992 Brigham Young graduate, he joined the Tour in 1992 but was an under-sized, largely invisible presence for several seasons. His first victory didn’t come until 1999 when he won the Air Canada title in Vancouver, shooting a closing 64 to beat out Fred Funk by two strokes.
From there is victories didn’t come frequently, but they were big ones. In November of 2000 he beat Lee Westwood by two strokes to win the WGC American Express Championship. One year later he claimed the Tour Championship in a four-way playoff over Ernie Els, David Toms and Sergio Garcia.
The 2003 Masters was weather-influenced, including a series of storms that wiped out Thursday’s first day of play. The field didn’t complete 36 holes until Saturday morning, when Weir emerged with a four-stroke lead over Darren Clarke. He gave all of that advantage back thanks to a 75 Saturday afternoon, beginning the final round Sunday two behind Jeff Maggert.
In that final round, Weir took advantage of Maggert’s triple bogey 7 on the third hole to take the lead, expanded it to two strokes with a birdie at the sixth, but lost it to a charging Len Mattiace at the 13th, where Mattiace – playing several groups ahead of Weir — underscored the four birdies he’d already made with an eagle.
Mattiace actually took the lead with a birdie at 16, but bogeyed the final hole, allowing Weir to par in for a tie. He barely made it, sinking a seven-foot par putt on the final hole. In the playoff, Weir took a bogey but that was good enough when Mattiace – who had been waiting an hour in the clubhouse for play to conclude — made double-bogey.
Mike Weir at his peak
Tournament                  Finish               Score             Z Score
2003 Masters                    1st                      281                 -2.20
2003 U.S. Open                 T-3                     279                 -1.27
2003 PGA                           T-7                     284                 -1.13
2004 U.S. Open                 T-4                     284                 -1.48
2004 British Open           T-9                     281                  -1.18
2005 Masters                    T-5                     284                 -1.06
2006 Masters                    T-11                   287                 -0.78

2006 U.S. Open                T-6                      288                 -1.24
2006 PGA                          6th                      277                 -1.45
2007 U.S. Open                T-20                    294                 -0.46
2007 British Open          T-8                       281                -1.12
Average Z Score: -1.22

152 (T-132). Justin Leonard, -1.21, 1996-2000
Justin Leonard is probably best known for having rolled in that 45-foot putt on the 17th hole of his 1999 Ryder Cup match to clinch the Cup for an American team that trailed big-time entering that day’s play.
He was a major champion – winner of the 1997 British Open – who with a break or two might have been a three-time or four-time champion. But Leonard’s functional career was brief: his dozen Tour victories all came by his 36th birthday, and he was essentially off the tour by age 38.
A collegiate star at Texas, Leonard joined the tour in 1994 and was close to an immediate hit. He made the top 10 at both the 1995 and 1996 PGA, tied for seventh at the 1997 Masters, and won the 1997 British Open a few weeks past his 25th birthday. It was a meteoric climax to a meteoric rise. Leonard trailed Jesper Parnevik by five strokes entering the final round, but completed the front nine Sunday in five-under-par, passing Parnevik and finishing with 66 to win by three full strokes. The key was his putting: Leonard needed only 25 putts all day, one-putting successively on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes.
As a byproduct of that Open victory, Leonard acquired a public reputation for fastidiousness somewhere out on the far fringes of normal. “Justin is the kind of person who arranges his sock drawer in colors, and if he was to use a vacuum cleaner he would do it in straight lines,” fellow pro Brad Faxon famously told the British media. Those same writers, used to generations of brief, off-the-cuff victory remarks at the trophy presentation ceremony, were astonished to see Leonard read from a piece of paper on which he had prepared notes.
One month after his Open victory, Leonard made a solid run at a second straight major, standing tied for the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship at Winged Foot outside New York. This time, however, the Sunday magic belonged to the man he had been tied with, Davis Love, whose 66 left Leonard five strokes back in second place. Leonard’s best run at a second major occurred two years later at Carnoustie, site of the 1999 British Open. That was the tournament where Frenchman Jean Vandevelde’s last-hole collapse allowed little known Scot named Paul Lawrie to win. Less recalled is that Lawrie survived a playoff with VandeVelde and…Leonard. In the wake of VandeVelde’s collapse, even less recalled is that as it turned out, Leonard could have won the tournament outright by parring the 72nd hole. But he drove into the rough and had to take bogey.
Leonard’s final strong push for a major victory came at the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Two strokes ahead of Vijay Singh at the turn on Sunday, Leonard bogeyed four holes on the back nine, most of his problems attributable to the same putter that had served him so well at Troon in 1997. On the back nine alone, he missed a six foot par putt, a 10-foot birdie putt, a five-foot par putt and a 12-foot par putt. The effect was to throw him into a three-way, three-hole playoff with Singh and Chris DeMarco, which Singh won. “All I needed was one of them to go,” Leonard remarked.
Leonard at his peak
Tournament                 Finish             Score        Z Score
1996 PGA                         T-5                   279             -1.44
1997 Masters                  T-7                   286              -0.75
1997 U.S. Open               T-36                 289             -0.25
1997 British Open        1st                   272             -2.69
1997 PGA                         2nd                 274              -2.56
1998 Masters                  T-8                   285             -0.79
1999 Masters                  T-18                 289             -0.50
1999 U.S. Open               T-15                 290             -0.71
1999 British Open          T-2                   290             -1.92
2000 U.S. Open               T-16                  293            -0.53

Average Z Score: -1.21
153 (NR). Angela Stanford, -1.20, 2009-2013
A star college player at TCU, Stanford turned professional in 2000 and earned her LPGA Tour card less than one year later. But it took her nearly three seasons to break through with a victory, that win coming in the 2003 ShopRite.
It took her no time at all to capitalize on the momentum that win generated. One week later she trailed Kelly Robbins by one shot at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pumpkin Ridge, then holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole to tie her for the lead. One day later the pair joined Hillary Lunke in a three-way playoff. In that playoff, Stanford holed a 24-foot birdie putt on the final hole to tie Lunke, then watched helplessly as Lunke holed her own 15-footer for the victory.
That might have been the start of Stanford’s ascendency to stardom. But it didn’t work out that way. She went five seasons without winning another LPGA Tour event, and aside from a tie for fourth at the 2004 LPGA Championship she never contended in a major.
Those frustrations finally ended with Stanford’s victory at the 2008 Bell Micro. Two months later she won the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, and in February of 2009 she won the SBS Open.
Between 2010 and 2011 she contended at the LPGA, the Kraft Nabisco and the Women’s Open, finishing fifth, third and fourth.
Still Stanford was best characterized as a member of the LPGA’s “field,” a player capable of winning any time, but not one expected to contend consistently.
Finally in 2018 Stanford got her major, surviving a weather-challenged Evian Championship. She did it by posting a final round 68 and then watching third round leader Amy Olson double bogey the final hole to fall one stroke short of forcing the event to a playoff.

Angela Stanford at her peak
Tournament                Finish       Score      Z Score
2009 LPGA                     T-5             280            -1.58
2009 British Open        T-20           294            -0.73
2010 Kraft Nabisco      T-15           287            -0.89
2010 U.S. Open             T-19            294           -0.51
2011 Kraft Nabisco      T-3             284            -1.66
2011 U.S. Open             4th             284            -1.76
2012 ANA Inspiration T-11           283            -1.18
2013 ANA Inspiration T-19           285            -0.57
2013 U.S. Open             T-4             289             -1.43
2013 Evian Masters    T-6             209             -1.45

Average Z Score: -1.19
T-154 (NR). Johnny Bulla -1.14, (1948-1952)
Bulla is among the handful of non-major winners who deserve to be considered among the game’s best. He came close enough, including the 1939 British Open, when he held the clubhouse lead until the little-known Dick Burton birdied the final hole to beat him.
Bulla’s career bisected World War II, and he was among those whose golf reputations were most damaged by it. He was 27, in the absolute prime of his playing years, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and 31 when peace was declared.
The war was obviously the most significant barrier to Bulla’s career, but not the only one. A left-hander, he played golf right-handed due to an absence of equipment. He rationalized his defeats as “playing right-handed and thinking left-handed all my life.”
Bulla was an early advocate of flight. Earning his pilot’s license in the 1930s, he was the first pro to regularly fly to events, and often piloted his fellow competitors from tournament to tournament.
That near miss in the 1939 British Open was hardly Bulla’s only close brush with golf immortality. He tied for second behind Sam Snead at the 1946 British Open, and tied Lloyd Mangrum for second three strokes behind Sam Snead at the 1949 Masters.
Bulla is also the author of one of the iconic pieces of coaching advice in golf. Asked to summarize his philosophy, he said, “think about the next shot; not the last.”
Johnny Bulla at his peak
Tournament        Finish          Score        Z Score
1948 Masters          T-14             293             -0.65
1948 U.S. Open       T-8               287             -0.86
1948 British Open T-7               291             -0.89
1948 PGA             qtr-finals    match play   -1.26
1949 Masters         T-2                285             -1.77
1949 U.S. Open      T-14              294             -0.40
1950 U.S. Open      T-12              294             -0.56
1951 Masters         T-8                291             -1.00
1951 PGA             qtr-finals   match play    -2.92
1952 U.S. Open      4th 287 -1.57
Average Z Score: -1.19
T-154 (T-134). Fuzzy Zoeller, -1.19, 1981-1985
Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller only took golf seriously when he was actually striking the ball. At all other times, he seemed to be in it more or less as a lark.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I am a jokester,” Zoeller said of himself. Occasionally, those jokes back fired, notably when he dismissed Tiger Woods’ victory at the 1997 Masters with a flippancy that contained more than a whiff of racial animus. Zoeller later apologized for the comment, and Woods accepted.
But the ‘devil-may-care’ attitude seemed to help Zoeller by defusing pressurized situations in which he frequently found himself. None was more pressurized than the 1979 Masters, the first for Zoeller, then a 27-year-old journeyman with one tour win to his name, when Zoeller made up six shots on third round leader Ed Sneed to get into a three-way playoff also involving former Masters champion Tom Watson. Zoeller birdied the 71st hole, then watched Sneed bogey the 72nd to cement the playoff. “To me, all the pressure was on the other people,” Zoeller explained. On the second playoff hole, Zoeller watched Sneed and Watson both miss birdie attempts, then sank his own no-pressure seven-footer. In so doing, he became the first person since 1935 to win the Masters in his first try. It’s a distinction he still holds.
The victory might have been one of those pleasant one-offs that PGA majors give us now and again – except it wasn’t. Zoeller finished second in the 1981 PGA, and in 1984 stared down Greg Norman through the closing holes of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Through most of the tournament, that closing duel looked unlikely. Hale Irwin, the 1974 Open champion on the same course, shot three rounds in the 60s and led Zoeller by a stroke enter in the final round, with Norman another stroke back. But Irwin skied to a 79 on Sunday, positioning Norman to tie Zoeller if he could sink a 50-foot putt on the final hole. Norman did, prompting Zoeller – back in the fairway – to laughingly wave a white towel in mock surrender.
Be assured, it was mock surrender. In the Monday playoff, Zoeller seized the early advantage and beat Norman by eight strokes.

Fuzzy Zoeller at his peak
Tournament        Finish        Score     Z Score
1981 PGA                2nd            277         -1.70
1982 Masters         T-10           290         -0.72
1982 U.S. Open      T-15           290         -0.71
1982 British Open T-8             287        -1.42
1983 British Open T-14           282        -0.60
1983 PGA                T-6             279         -1.46
1984 U.S. Open     1st             276         -2.74
1984 British Open T-14           285        -0.60
1985 U.S. Open      T-9             283        -1.07
1985 British Open T-11          286        -0.88
Average Z Score: -1.19

 

156 (T-136). Brittany Lincicome, -1.19, 2006-2010
To most casual golf fans, Brittany Lincicome is probably best known as the woman who drives golf balls off the top of that New York skyscraper onto Richard Branson’s waiting jet. That’s about as risqué as Lincicome goes in the name of color. But to serious devotees of the women’s tour, her game makes up the difference.
For the lightly initiated, Lincicome is a 32-year-old Floridian with a pair of major championships to her name and, yes, a penchant for driving the ball a long way. In 2017, she averaged just under 271 yards per drive, seventh longest among the women. For that attribute, her fellow tour pros call Lincicome “Bam Bam.”
Lincicome turned pro while still a teen in 2006, and enjoyed quick success. At the 2007 Nabisco, her steady play – three rounds of 71 or 72 – left her fifth, two shots out of the lead and positioned for a Sunday push. But Lincicome could produce only another 72, allowing Morgan Pressel, who closed with a 69, to sail past eight players to the victory. Lincicome tied for second.
A repeat of her narrow miss loomed two years later when Lincicome came to the par 5 72nd hole trailing Kristy McPherson by a shot. She went to her strength, cranking a drive that positioned her to have a go at the pond-protected green 210 yards distant with a hybrid. “It came off the clubface and it was exactly where we were trying to hit it and it took the slope like I was hoping it was going to,” she said later. The ball rolled close to the hole, giving Lincicome a four-foot eagle putt she needed to win. “If I had to make anything further than that … my hands were shaking so bad,” she remarked.
Lincicome then underwent six years playing competently yet in the substantial shadows of Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng and Inbee Park. Between 2010 and 2014 she won a couple of minor tour events, hit the ball long, and made more than enough money to enjoy life. But her major card was unremarkable; runner-up at the 2014 LPGA, an occasional ninth, a few missed cuts. Between 2011 and 2013 she played in 13 LPGA majors, registering just one finish better than 13th. Lincicome’s resume began to look like so many on tour: solid, capable, and with that one little sparkling bauble that appeared to have arisen as if by chance.
That impression began to change with her performance at the 20124 LPGA championship,. Lincicome led after two rounds, and still led overwhelming favorite Inbee Park by a stroke through the third round. But a bogey on the tournament’s 72nd hole threw Lincicome into a sudden-death playoff with the LPGA’s reigning megastar, and Park won it with a par. It was the kind of setback that might have knocked a player‘s ego for a loop, but Lincicome turned it into a positive. At the following season’s ANA Inspiration, Lincicome returned to the 72nd hole needing an eagle, this time merely to tie Stacy Lewis. What happened next was a virtual replay of 2009: a long drive in perfect position, a hybrid within six feet, a solid putt. She beat Lewis in the sudden-death playoff. “Surreal,” Lincicome said.

Brittany Lincicome at her peak
Tournament                Finish             Score       Z Score
2006 U.S. Open              7th                    291           -1.19
2007 Nabisco                  T-2                   286           -1.71
2007 U.S. Open              T-14                  288           -0.75
2007 LPGA                      T-6                    280           -1.41
2007 British Open         T-11                  295           -0.92
2009 Nabisco                  1st                    279           -2.19
2009 U.S. Open               5th                   287            -1.51
2010 Nabisco                   T-21                289            -0.56
2010 LPGA                       T-14                288             -0.56
2010 British Open          T-9                   286            -1.05
Average Z Score: -1.19

 

T-157 (136). Michelle Wie, -1.18, 2013-2017
The personification of youthful ambition Wie began playing golf at four, entered a major amateur competition at 10, and won her state women’s championship at 11, the same year she first qualified for an LPGA field. As a 16-year-old in 2006, she recorded a top 10 finish at what was then called the Nabisco Championship, ratcheting her way up to fourth place a year later and to second a year after that at the LPGA.
Turning pro at 15 in 2005, Wie’s 2006 rookie season gloriously appeared to uphold all the promise she had shown as an amateur. She tied for third at the Nabisco, for fifth at the LPGA and for third at the Open. That’s when reality set in.
Part of the problem may have been divided focus. Wie committed to competing for some of the larger men’s tour prizes with consistently disappointing results. In short order those disappointments, combining with injuries, showed up in her women’s tour events as well. Between 2007 and 2013 – seven years that ought to have been the prime of her career – Wie often was a non-factor in LPGA majors, recording only two top 10s, missing the cut five times, and failing to even start or withdrawing on seven other occasions. During that time she managed only two victories in regular tour events.
Thus it came as a surprise and yet no surprise when Wie finally blossomed in 2014. She was only 24, yet a veteran whose youthful aggressiveness had been fully tempered by both experience and expectation. Wie’s renaissance began at the opening major, now called the ANA Inspiration, when she chased Lexi Thompson through 54 holes, eventually losing by three strokes. In June at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Wie delivered a clutch birdie at the 71st hole and won by two strokes over Stacy Lewis.
Those outcomes have enabled Wie to emerge from the gigantic shadow often cast by potential into a more full realization of the game her supporters always envisioned her to have.

Michelle Wie at her peak
Tournament                Finish     Score       Z Score
2013 ANA Inspiration    T-41         288          -0.39
2013 LPGA                        T-9           286          -1.28
2014 ANA Inspiration     2nd         277          -2.39
2014 U.S. Open                 1st           278          -2.19
2015 U.S. Open                11th          278         -1.11
2015 Evian Masters       T-16           281         -0.86
2016 ANA Inspiration    T-36          286          -0.02
2017 ANA Inspiration     6th           277          -1.69
2017 Women’s PGA         T-20         281          -0.53
2017 British Open            T-3            275         -1.64
Average Z Score: -1.18

 

T-157 (NR). Alf Padgham, -1.18 (1932-1948)

Padgham was one of Britain’s best players during the years between the wars. But because he never played in the United States, he is almost entirely forgotten on this side of the Atlantic.

Born in 1906, in debuted in 1930, placing in a tie for 39th at that year’s Open championship. The following year he won the News of the World Match Play, his first of nearly 20 career victories, all of them in Europe. At various times he held the national championships of Great Britain, Netherlands, Ireland and Germany.

Between 1932 and 1938, he vied with Henry Cotton to be the dominant force in the Open Championship. He finished in a tie for fourth in 1932, took third in 1934, and finished second, four strokes behind Alf Perry, in 1935.

In 1936 Padgham held off a competitive field to emerge one stroke ahead of the field. He tied for fourth in 1938.

Padgham did not compete in the 1939 event. His absence combined with the onset of World War II put a severe crimp in Padgham’s career record. He was 32 during his 1938 appearance, and 40 when the tournament resumed in 1940. He tied for 31st.

Padgham was a regular Ryder Cup participant in the 1930s and 1940s, although he never won a point for the British team. He retired from competitive golf in the early 1950s and died in 1966.

Alf Padgham at his peak

Tournament                          Finish                 Score             Z Score

1932 British Open                    T-4                       292                 -1.56

1933 British Open                    T-7                       295                 -1.18

1934 British Open                    3rd                      290                  -2.08

1935 British Open                    2nd                      287                  -2.09

1936 British Open                     1st                       287                  -2.11

1937 British Open                     T-7                       298                 -1.13

1938 British Open                      T-4                      303                  -1.03

1946 British Open                    T-30                      316                   0.96

1947 British Open                    T-13                      300                  -0.64

1948 British Open                      T-7                      291                  -0.89

 

159 (NR). H.J. Kim, -1.17, 2014-2018

Hyo-Joo Kim is a regular on the Korean tour who plays a few events, mostly the majors, outside her home country.

Born in 1995, she was only 19 when she emerged on the world stage with a victory in her first professional major, the 2014 Evian. The win was not surprising to those who had seen her play in Korea, where she had already won 5 tournaments, three of them that year.

Kim made her mark on the tournament field early, shooting a first round of 61. Even so, she came to the 72nd hole, a par 5, trailing veteran Karrie Webb by one stroke.  But Kim drained a 12-foot birdie putt, and when Webb bogeyed she emerged with the upset victory.

Back in her home country, she added three more victories that same year.

She won her first LPGA Tour event, the JTBC Founder’s Cup, in 2015, and added the 2016 Pure Silk Bahamas.

Through  2017, though, Kim was only occasionally a factor in the majors, managing nothing better than a tie for seventh at  the 2017 Women’s British Open. She missed the cut in five of her major efforts.

Then in 2018, Kim challenged for the U.S. Women’s Open title at Shoal Creek. Fourth, and seven strokes behind Ariya Jutanugarn, through three rounds, Kim birdied five holes and caught Jutanugarn when the leader played the final nine holes in five over par. The final two bogeys, at 17 and 18, sent the contest to a four-hole playoff, which Jutanugarn won when Kim bogeyed the fourth hole.

 

H.J. Kim at her peak

Tournament                    Finish       Score       Z Score

2014 Evian                         1st             273              -2.21

2015 ANA Inspiration      T-11           284               -0.91

2015 LPGA                          T-9             284              -1.22

2015 British Open             T-13           287              -0.84

2015 Evian Masters         T-20            282              -0.71

2016 ANA Inspiration      T-18           283               -0.63

2017 British Open             T-7              277              -1.23

2017 Evian Masters          T-14            211              -0.61

2018 LPGA                          T-15            285              -0.82

2018 U.S. Open                   2nd            277              -2.56

 

T-160 (T-137). Ian Woosnam, -1.16, 1989-1993

Between Gary Player’s first victory in 1991 and Joe Maria Olazabal’s 1994 win, seven men born outside the United States won at least one Masters green jacket. Six of them were fairly quickly inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. That began to prompt a question: Why not Woosie?

That question was rendered moot when the Hall announced its five-member induction class for 2017, a class that included Ian Woosnam. In doing so, it acknowledged what many had known for years: Woosnam got far more than most out of his God-given talents.

At just 5-4, the physical nature of those talents had its limits. But Woosnam compensated with a determination that occasionally focused on the dare-devilish. His father, Harold Woosnam, once related a story of Ian’s victory as an eight-year-old in a swimming race, a win made more remarkable by the fact that Woosnam hadn’t yet learned how to swim. “That was Ian all over,” Harold Woosnam said. “He somehow found a way to get across that thing.”

Woosnam learned the game in amateur competitions in England, where he often found himself pitted against another future Masters champion, Sandy Lyle. He joined the European Tour when he was 21 in 1979, and first came to the attention of Americans by finishing sixth at the 1986 British Open.  Unlike many of the greats of European golf, Woosnam never succumbed to the big money lure of the American tour, his U.S. schedule rarely extending beyond the three major events plus one or two others that were particular favorites.

On the European tour, however, he developed into a star of the first magnitude. He won five events in 1987, among them the Suntory World Match Play, the Million Dollar Challenge, and the World Cup team and individual events. He claimed a second Suntory World Match Play in 1990, a second World Cup individual trophy in 1991, and led the European Order of Merit rankings for both 1987 and 1990.

If American pros ever doubted the ability of this Welshman who preferred his side of the ocean, those doubts were disabused on the occasions when their paths interceded. Following his third at the 1986 British Open, Woosnam finished eighth in 1987, then second to Curtis Strange at the 1989 U.S. Open and sixth at the PGA. He was fourth at the 1990 British Open, and came to the 1991 Masters as the newly minted world number one, having earned the status with victories in France and New Orleans. He was the first person ever to attain that status without having won a major. “It gave me tremendous confidence,” he said.

A second round 66 boosted Woosnam’s confidence even more, lifting him into a tie for second, two strokes behind Tom Watson. The two were paired for the weekend, Woosnam taking the lead entering the final round thanks to a Saturday 67. They remained tied at 11-under par – with Jose Maria Olazabal — as the twosome approached the final tee. That’s when things went off script.

Woosnam pulled his drive well left, through the gallery and near the practice area. Watson went the other way, sending his drive crashing into the right side trees. Ahead, meanwhile, Olazabal blasted out of a trap, his shot nearly hitting the flag before sailing 20 feet by. He took a bogey and fell a stroke behind.

Playing first from the woods, Watson sent a three-iron into the same trap. Woosnam’s 140-yard uphill approach was better, but it stopped on the fringe 30 feet away. When Watson failed to get up and down for his par, Woosnam rolled his third stroke about six feet past the hole and drilled home the winner. “The read of the putt was perfect for me,” he said later. “You could almost imagine it going in. It was just about holding my nerve and doing it.”

The victory brought such satisfaction to Woosnam that it may have sapped his competitive drive. He did nothing of note at any of the other 1991 majors, lost his just-earned No. 1 ranking, and managed only two top five finishes in majors for the remainder of his career. He did continue to pile up European tour victories, including the 1993 Trophee Lancome and the 1994 Dunhill British Masters, eventually running his trophy title to 29. An eight-time Ryder Cup team member, he captained the 2006 European team to victory at the K Club in Ireland. One year later, he was named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Still Woosnam can’t help but wonder what he might have done had he followed up more diligently on that Masters victory. “I always looked at my career as like trying to get to the top of a mountain,” he said after retiring. “Just winning tournaments, one step up the mountain, until I won a major and got to number one in the world.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “I got to the top and started going the other way. I probably should have said I’m going to win six majors.”

Ian Woosnam at his peak

Tournament                      Finish           Score            Z Score

1989 Masters                      T-14                290                -0.58

1989 U.S. Open                   T-2                  279                -1.81

1989 PGA                             6th                  279                -1.32

1990 U.S. Open                   T-21               286                -0.55

1990 British Open             T-4                 276                -1.76

1991 Masters                    1st                  277                -1.83

1991 British Open            T-17               281                -0.89

1992 U.S. Open                 T-6                  292                -1.00

1992 British Open           T-5                  279                -1.25

1993 Masters                   T-17                287                -0.61

Average Z-Score: -1.16

 

 

T-160 (T-137) Ken Venturi, -1.16, 1956-1960

The prevailing image of Ken Venturi is of a player who emerged from obscurity to prevail in the 1964 U.S. Open under death-defying conditions. There is more than a grain of truth to that. But it should not obscure Venturi’s earlier accomplishments, for the tragedy-to-triumph narrative can only be fully appreciated when viewed in the context of the great promise Venturi showed in advance of his fall.

The young Venturi – the one who competed as an amateur in 1956 and then as a professional through 1960 – was as dominant a figure as it is possible to be without actually winning. Venturi made two runs at major titles, and both eventually led to heartbreak.

The first occurred at the 1956 Masters while Venturi, still an amateur, opened with a 66 and built a six-stroke lead over Jack Burke and Cary Middlecoff standing on the ninth tee on Sunday. Then Venturi suddenly began playing like an amateur trying to win the Masters. He bogeyed six of the next seven holes, shrinking his lead to a single shot over Burke. At the 17th, Venturi bogeyed and Burke birdied, turning the outcome to Burke. The amateur third round leader had played the back nine in 42. Afterward, Venturi largely let others speak for him. “A strong young heart has … the strength to play more good golf in the years ahead,” remarked Middlecoff during the presentation ceremonies. Famed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind agreed. “It is not mere persiflage to say he will probably win many important tournaments in the years ahead,” Wind wrote.

But Wind, for once, was wrong. As a young pro, Venturi finished four behind Dick Mayer at the 1957 U.S. Open, then at the 1958 Masters he led through 36 holes but lost six strokes to Arnold Palmer on Saturday and tied for fourth. Again at the 1960 Masters, Venturi led Palmer by three strokes through six holes on Sunday, and by one when he completed his own round. But knowing Palmer remained on the course, he cautioned reporters who came to him for a congratulatory comment that “I haven’t won it yet. Palmer birdied both 17 and 18 to steal the tournament away again. “I wanted to win more than anything, Ken, but I’m truly sorry it had to be this way,” he told the runner-up afterward.”

A 1961 automobile accident began Venturi’s downfall. He lost the smooth swing that had been so natural for so long, going winless between August of 1960 and Congressional, and he also lost whatever confidence in his game remained. Venturi earned less than $4,000 in prize money in 1963. Yet he kept trying, “hitting balls until my hands were blistered,” he said. Those failures, ironically, only added to the sweetness of his eventual triumph at Congressional.

Venturi led after three rounds, but had been so drained by the heat and humidity that he passed on lunch in favor of medical treatments for dehydration and heat exhaustion. A doctor cautioned him that he risked a life-threatening heat stroke if he went out to play the afternoon round, but Venturi waved off the concern. (The conditions were so oppressive that the USGA did away with the 36-hole grind prior to the 1965 tournament.)

Walking the final fairway, unaware he had a four-stroke lead, Venturi asked tournament official Joe Dey “how am I doing?” “All you have to do is stay on your feet,” Dey replied. In naming Venturi its Sportsman of the Year for 1964, Sports Illustrated described his as “the cruel, the ugly and eventually the inspiring story of a defeated man who refused to accept failure.”

 

Ken Venturi at his peak

Tournament                       Finish           Score            Z Score

1956 Masters                       2nd                 290               -1.69

1956 U.S. Open                    8th                  289               -1.01

1956 Western Open           T-32                295               -0.07

1957 U.S. Open                   T-6                  286               -1.32

1957 Western Open          T-14                282               -0.88

1958 Masters                     T-4                  286               -1.41

1958 PGA                           T-20                292               -0.40

1959 PGA                           T-5                  281               -1.50

1960 Masters                    2nd                 283               -2.10

1960 PGA                          9th                  287               -1.24

Average Z Score: -1.16

 

T-162 (NR). Jeong Jang, 2002-2006, -1.15

Jeong Jang was part of the first generation of Korean golfers who, attracted by Se Ri Park’s success, followed her to the U.S. women’s tour.

The 17-year-old won the Korean Women’s Open in 1997 and followed that up with a victory in the following year’s national amateur event. Jang joined the American tour in 2000 and nearly won, losing a playoff for the Safeway LPGA Championship to countrywoman Mi Hyun Kim on the second hole.

She tied for fourth in the 2002 Women’s British Open, and for sixth and seventh in the 2003 and 2004 U.S. Women’s Opens. But a breakthrough win eluded her until 2005 when she strung together four rounds in the 60s to beat Sophie Gustafson by four strokes at the Women’s British open.

Two years later she lost a playoff to Natalie Gulbis for the Evian Masters.

Jang left the tour following the 2014 season.

 

Jeong Jang at her peak

Tournament                           Finish              Score               Z Score

2002 British Open`                 T-4                   277                  -1.51

2003 Kraft Nabisco                 T-21                 293                  -0.54

2003 LPGA                               T-11                 286                  -0.89

2003 U.S. Open                       T-6                   286                  -1.59

2003 British Open                  T-14                 288                  -0.57

2004 Kraft Nabisco                T-22                 287                  -0.79

2004 U.S. Open                      T-7                   283                  -1.17

2004 British Open’              T-23                 282                  -0.64

2005 LPGA                            T-13                 286                  -1.05

2005 British Open              1st                    272                  -2.70

Average Z Score: -1.15

 

T-162 (139). Colin Montgomerie, -1.15, 1995-1999

There were more than a few moments in the 1990s when it appeared likely that Colin Montgomerie would go down in history as a multi-major tournament winner. He had the game, the opportunity, the desire, and the personality.

That such an outcome never actually transpired – that Montgomerie eventually retired without even a single major win – is one of those freakish things ascribable only to ill fortune. Perhaps no statistic better sums up Montgomerie’s career than this one: On six different occasions he finished among the top 3 in majors without ever once winning. Four of those increasingly excruciating misses came either by one stroke or in a playoff.

A native of Scotland, Montgomerie grew up in England but emigrated to the U.S. to play college golf, in the process becoming a Walker Cup star for the British team. Establishing his professional bona fides in Europe, he was named that circuit’s rookie of the year in 1988, won his first tour event in 1989, and making his Ryder Cup debut in 1991. Eventually he would run his collection of European Tour victories into the mid 30s, winning the Order of Merit – representing the leading money winner – seven consecutive seasons starting in 1993.

He has earned more than $1.5 million playing golf around the world.

His failures in the major events have not been for lack of trying. Between his debut at the 1990 British Open and his 50th birthday in June of 2013, Montgomerie started 69 such events. He first came to America’s attention at the 1992 U.S. Open when, as an emerging 29-year-old star of the European, an early Sunday start time enabled him to tour the Pebble Beach course in 70 for a four-round total of 288. As the afternoon wore, on, the wind whipped up, the greens dried out and the front-runners flailed helplessly, Montgomerie’s 288 looked so good that Jack Nicklaus, commenting on TV, called him the winner. How bad were those late conditions? The average Sunday score of players who stood among the top 10 after three rounds was 80; only one broke 75. That one was Tom Kite, whose 72 stood up for the victory, three strokes ahead of Montgomerie, who started the day in 28th place and finished in third. He got a taste of what was to come on the final holes, notably the 18th, which he parred. “The ball almost moved on its spot,” he said. “The wind was such a big factor.”

Two years later at Oakmont, Montgomerie’s final round 70 brought him home in a tie with Ernie Els and Loren Roberts, setting up the first three-way playoff in more than three decades. That playoff did not go well for Montgomerie, who double bogeyed two of the first three holes and shot 77, three worse than Els – who eventually won on the 20th hole — or Roberts. A little more than one year after that, Montgomerie again found himself in a major playoff, this time in sudden death with Steve Elkington for the PGA title at Riviera. Elkington dropped a 20-foot putt for the win.

Montgomerie would have won the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional but for his misfortunes on a single hole. His nemesis was the long par 4 to a peninsula green that today is the 18th, but which at the time played as the 17th. Montgomerie bogeyed it all four rounds, undermining his otherwise excellent three-under 277. His problems that week were also widely ascribed to his own sensitivity to criticism from the U.S. gallery, which never warmed to him. His last bogey, after Montgomerie waited an inordinately long time for the gallery to settle down, came on a five-footer at the tournament’s 71st hole as he and Els stood tied for the lead. Afterward, some suggested he had frozen himself.

Montgomerie’s last shot at major glory came during the 2006 U.S. Open. As usual, he nearly sealed the deal, birdying the 71st hole and arriving at the final tee in need of a par to win. He pulled a seven iron for his 172-yard approach, but left it short and right of the green in severe rough. “I thought adrenaline would kick in,” Montgomerie later said of taking too little club. “I usually hit the ball 10 yards further in that circumstance.” He pitched on indifferently, and three-putted, throwing him into a tie with Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson for his accustomed spot, second place behind eventual champion Geoff Ogilvy.

Montgomerie eventually did get his major – three of them in fact – but they all came on the senior tour, which he dominated for several years.

 

Colin Montgomerie at his peak

Tournament           Finish      Score       Z Score

1995 PGA                   2nd           267         -2.28

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

1997 U.S. Open          2nd          277         -2.07

1997 British Open    T-24         284         -0.47

1997 PGA                   T-13         284         -0.61

1998 Masters            T-8           285         -0.79

1999 Masters            T-11         287         -0.86

1999 U.S. Open         T-15         290         -0.71

1999 British Open   T-15         296         -0.84

1999 PGA                  T-6           282         -1.58

Average Z Score: -1.15

 

T-164 (NR). George Sargent, 1909-1915, -1.14

A native of England who learned to play golf as an apprentice to Harry Vardon, Sargent made a couple of half-hearted attempts at his country’s Open title in 1901 and 1902, finishing no better than 32nd.

Seeing better golf opportunities on the other side of the Atlantic, he moved to Canada and established himself as the pro at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club. After placing second in the 1908 Canadian Open, he took a job as a club pro in Vermont and entered the U.S. Open at Myopia. The experience was not rewarding; Sargent failed to break 90, ripped up his scorecard and left.

Perhaps surprisingly, he returned to the much more user-friendly Englewood Country Club in New Jersey for the 1909 Open and turned in an opening 75 that left him just two strokes behind Tom McNamara. Still two behind entering the final round, he shot a final round 71 in intense heat to beat McNamara by four strokes.

The Chicago Tribune called Sargent’s victory “the greatest upset that has occurred since the tournament was inaugurated.”

For the next decade, Sargent was a consistent presence in the U.S. Open’s top 10, although he never again challenged for the title. The closest he came was a tie for third at the 1914 event in which Walter Hagen beat Chick Evans buy one stroke. Sargent and Fred McLeod finished seven back. When Evans won in 1916, Sargent tied for fourth.

Sargent won the 1912 Canadian Open, and in 1916 was a founding member of the PGA of  America in 1916, although he did not play in the championship tournament until 1922 when he was well past his prime.

After his tournament days, Sargent served as head golf pro at some of the nation’s most prestigious private clubs, among them Scioto, Interlachen, Chevy Chase and East Lake. He died in 1962.

 

Tournament                           Finish              Score               Z Score

1909 U.S. Open                      1st                    290                  -2.16

1909 Western Open                7th                    306                  -1.02

1910 U.S. Open                      T-16                 309                  -0.56

1911 U.S. Open                      T-7                   311                  -1.26

1912 U.S. Open                      6th                    303                  -1.44

1913 U.S. Open                      T-21                 319                  -0.10

1914 U.S. Open                      T-3                   297                  -1.25

1914 Western Open                T-3                   296                  -1.39

1915 U.S. Open                      T-10                 306                  -0.73

1915 Western Open                6th                    311                  -1.52

Average Z Score: -1.14

 

T-164 (T-140). Bob Charles, -1.14, 1968-1972

Bob Charles is not the best left-hander to ever play professional golf. That distinction falls to a far better known and more recent player whose story will be forthcoming. He does however, in all likelihood hold one “best” distinction. He is very probably the best golfer ever produced by the banking profession.

Charles got his start in banking as a youth in his native New Zealand, working for several years as a teller. Eventually, though, his skill with a club proved more promising that his skill with a spreadsheet, so he gave up the suit and tie, turned pro, and almost immediately won the New Zealand PGA Championship.

That got him onto the European circuit, and in 1962 he made his first good run at the British Open. In terms of contending for the Claret Jug, it wasn’t much of a run; Arnold Palmer rode the unstoppable momentum of his building reputation to a six-stroke victory that week at Troon. Charles did, however, post a 290, good for fifth place and just one stroke out of third. It also renewed his confidence for a visit to Royal Lytham and St Anne’s in 1963. A third round 66 positioned him a shot ahead of four-time winner Peter Thomson, two up on Jack Nicklaus and Phil Rodgers, and Thomson took some of the final-round pressure off by stumbling home in 78. Charles’s 71 held off Nicklaus, who closed with 70. But the lightly regarded Rodgers shot 69 to set up a 36-hole playoff, which Charles won by a comfortable eight strokes.

It was an odd pairing in one respect. Charles was a natural right-hander in everything except golf; Rodgers, a natural left-hander, played golf right-handed because as a youth those were the only clubs he could find. The victory made Charles the first left-handed champion in the history of the professional majors.

Although Charles today is – logically –remembered largely for that British Open championship, his best days remained ahead. That younger, less experienced Charles was also a less consistent player. He followed up the Lytham win with only one top 10 finish in a major over the next four years, missing seven cuts in the process. Although he continued to fare well in New Zealand, Charles elsewhere won just once more until October of 1967, when he won a regular PGA Tour event in Atlanta. By then, Lytham had begun to look just a bit like a fluke.

The Atlanta victory turned him back into a consistent contender, if not a consistent champion. Across the span of the next two seasons, Charles made serious runs at three major titles, each time coming up frustratingly short. At Carnoustie in 1968, he trailed Billy Casper by a shot after three rounds. Casper fell back with a closing 78, but Charles could only manage a 76 himself. That left the door open for Gary Player, whose eagle three at the par five 14th set him up for a two-shot win. One week later at Pecan Valley in San Antonio, Charles’ final round 70 left him tied with Palmer one stroke behind Julius Boros. A year after that back at Lytham, Charles led Tony Jacklin by three strokes through 36 holes, but a third round 75 let Jacklin get ahead to stay.

That’s three runner-up finishes in little more than a year, those three coming by a total of four strokes. It didn’t get him another trophy, but in 1971 it did get him membership in the Order of the British Empire, to which he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth.

When he turned 50 in 1986, Charles gravitated to the Senior tour, where he won 23 times, although never managing to put away a major.

 

Charles at his peak

Tournament                        Finish          Score           Z Score

1968 Masters                        19th               286               -0.39

1968 U.S. Open                     T-7                 285               -1.03

1968 British Open               T-2                 291               -1.73

1968 PGA                              T-2                 282               -1.52

1969 British Open              2nd                282               -1.95

1970 U.S. Open                    T-3                 289               -1.77

1970 British Open              T-13               292               -0.55

1971 U.S. Open                   T-13               286               -0.75

1971 PGA                             T-13               288               -1.05

1972 British Open              T-15              289                -0.62

Score: -1.14

 

T-164 (T-140). Willie Park Jr., -1.14, 1883-1892

With his father, Willie Park Jr. remains today one of only two father-son combinations to have won major golf championships. They matched the achievement of the Morrises in 1887 when Willie Jr. won the Open by a single shot, accomplishing a feat Willie Sr. had done four times.

In fact Willie Sr. was the reigning champion when Willie Jr. was born in February of 1864. Naturally he was introduced to the game in childhood, much of which was spent on the Musselburgh Links, host to the Open in 1874, 1877 and 1880. The 10-year-old Willie Jr. would have watched his uncle, Mungo, win the 1874 Open at Musselburgh, and frequently caddied on the course when not playing.

Still just 16, Willie Jr. debuted at the 1880 event, finishing 16th in a field of 24, just one stroke behind his father. He tied Old Tom Morris for fifth in 1881, tied for fourth in 1884 at the age of 20, and repeated in that position a year later.

By now Park Jr. was recognized as a challenger for championship honors, particularly since the 1886 tournament was scheduled for Musselburgh, his home course. Instead fellow Musselburghers David Brown and Willie Campbell came home first and second, Park again running fourth. But there was no stopping Park in 1887. Trailing Campbell by five strokes following the morning 18 holes at Prestwick, he shot an afternoon 79, and benefitted when Campbell took four shots to escape a bunker on the 16th hole. (The bunker remains known today as “Willie Campbell’s Grave.”)

When the tournament returned to Musselburgh in 1889, Willie Jr. made up for his 1886 failure, surviving both the 36-hole tournament and a 36-hole playoff with Andrew Kirkaldy, a protégée of Old Tom Morris. Their scores of 155 represented a record for Musselburgh. Park could have set the record and won in regulation but a birdie putt on the final hole lipped out. Still, Park breezed through the playoff, leading by three shots after the first 18 holes and winning by five.

Combined with his father’s four Open victories and his brother, Mungo’s one, the 1889 championship made it seven for the Park family, one short of the Morris family’s record of eight. Nearly a decade later, at age 34, Willie Jr. nearly squared the slate at Prestwick in 1898. Leading after each of the first three rounds, Park led Harry Vardon by one shot until Vardon holed an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Playing several holes behind Vardon, Park came to the 18th facing a lengthy putt for the birdie he needed to claim the Claret Jug. Instead he left the approach three feet short, then, with Vardon watching among the large gallery, missed that one as well to finish second, one stroke behind.

By then Park had taken over his father’s golf club making business, extending it outside Britain as golf became recognized internationally. He also became a recognized golf course architect, his designs notably including the Old Course at Sunningdale near London and Olympia Fields outside Chicago, both of which remain popular tournament venues today. In 1896, he authored the first book about golf written by a golf pro. Until well into his 40s, he continued to compete annually in the Open championship, finishing 6th in 1900. In 1919, the 55-year-old Park –who had moved to the United States — made a token appearance at the U.S. Open championship, missing the cut. Park died in 1925, a world renowned golf architect with more than 170 designs to his name across Europe and North America.

Willie Park Jr. at his peak

Tournament                        Finish           Score            Z Score

1883 British Open                 8th               165                -0.78

1884 British Open                 T-4               169                -0.55

1885 British Open                 T-4               174                -1.38

1886 British Open                 T-4               161                -1.05

1887 British Open               1st               161                -2.02

1888 British Open                T-11             182                -0.29

1889 British Open              1st               155                -1.87

1890 British Open               T-4               170                -1.10

1891 British Open              6th               173                -1.36

1892 British Open              7th               315                -1.03

Average Z Score: -1.14

 

T-164 (NR). Mike Brady, -1.14, 1913-1920

Brady was a nine-time PGA Tour winner in the early post-World War I period when the tour was in its nascent stages.

Those victories included the 1922 Western Open, at the time surpassed only by the U.S. Open and PGA as a status championship. Brady dominated the field that week at Oakland Hills, grabbing a four-stroke lead over Johnny Farrell after just one round and pulling away to win by 10. At 291, he was the only player among the 140-player field to break 300.

Brady is better known, however, for his failures. He never won a recognize failure, but twice came close enough to feel heartbreak.

At the 1911 U.S. Open at Chicago Golf Club, the 24-year-old Brady shot four rounds in the 70s, a performance that got him into a three-way playoff with teen-ager John McDermott and veteran George Simpson. In the playoff, McDermott won with an 80, Brady shooting 82 and Simpson 86.

Eight years later at the first post-war Open at Brae Burn, Brady held a five-stroke lead entering the final round, but managed only a closing 80 to allow Walter Hagen to catch him. In the playoff, Hagen escaped from a muddy lie on the 71th hole to make bogey and hold a one-stroke lead. He topped his drive on the 400-yard 18th, but still managed to get a three-wood within chipping distance and knocked that chip within three feet. Faced with the need to hole his own chip extend the playoff, Brady nearly did so before Hagen holed the three-footer for the victory.

Mike Brady at his peak

Tournament                        Finish            Score          Z Score

1913 U.S. Open                      14th                 315                 -0.54

1913 Western Open              2nd                  302                 -1.67

1914 U.S. Open                      T-5                   298                 -1.14

1915 U.S. Open                      6th                   302                 -1.29

1915 Western Open             T-4                   309                 -1.69

1916 PGA                               2nd round   match play       -0.86

1917 Western Open            T-10                 298                  -0.78

1919 U.S. Open                    2nd                  301                   -2.12

1919 PGA                              2nd round   match play         -0.58

1920 U.S. Open                    T-14                 305                    -0.72

Average Z Score: -1.14

           

T-168 (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-168 (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-168 (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-171 (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-172 (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-172 (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-174 (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-174 (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-176 (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-176 (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-178 (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-178 (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-180 (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-180 (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-180 (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-180 (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-184 (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-184 (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-184 (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-184 (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-187 (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-187 (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-187 (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 2013 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-191 (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-191 (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

 

T-191 (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-191 (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-191 (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

 

200 (159). Bobby Cruickshank, -1.00, 1921-25
A Scottish native, Cruickshank’s golf career was deferred by World War I, which he fought in as a member of the famed Black Watch. His brutal combat experience included watching his brother, John, being blown up almost literally before his own eyes. “He was standing as close to me as from here to that door,” Cruickshank lamented. The remains were never found.
Taken prisoner by the Germans, he managed to escape in October of 1918, returned to his unit and served out the remainder of the war. He was 26 when he emigrated to the U.S. in early 1921, seeing greater opportunities for a professional golfer on that side of the ocean.
Cruickshank’s major tournament debut came at the 1921 U.S. Open, where he finished in a tie for 26th. His name was made at the 1922 PGA, when Cruickshank routed four opponents before running afoul of eventual champion Gene Sarazen in the semi-finals. Golf quickly became a series of near misses. At the 1923 U.S. Open, Cruickshank took Bobby Jones into a playoff before losing. He lost a second time to Sarazen in the semi-finals of the 1923 PGA, and at that year’s Western Open Cruickshank’s final round 71 left him one shot shy of Jock Hutchison. At the 1924 U.S. Open, he finished fourth. That gave Cruickshank three top five finishes in major American medal events along with a pair of semi-final appearances in the biggest match play competition in his first four years on tour…but no wins.
Through the course of a lengthy PGA Tour career, Cruickshank would snare 17 championships, but he never would come closer to a major. There would, however, be other memorable moments. At the 1932 U.S. Open, he tied for second, three strokes behind Gene Sarazen. Perhaps the most stunning moment came in his opening round match of that season’s PGA Championship. Paired against fellow veteran Al Watrous, Cruickshank quickly fell behind, eventually trailing by nine holes with just 13 remaining. Suddenly Cruickshank found his game. He won the seventh hole with a 20-footer for birdie, then Cruickshank won the eighth, ninth, 10th (with an eagle) and 11th (chip-in birdie) holes.
That left Watrous 2-up with two to play. But he missed a two-footer on the 17th, and when Cruickshank birdied the par-5 18th the match went to extra holes.
Watrous appeared to have ended the match on the 40th hole, facing a two-foot birdie putt when Cruickshank was in with a bogey. “… he started to make a gesture to concede my putt and call it a match,” Watrous later wrote. “But at the last second he decided not to.” Watrous missed his downhill birdie putt and then missed coming back, extending the match. When he also missed a two-footer on the 41st hole Cruickshank finally was able to put him away. He won one more match before bowing out.
Cruickshank at his peak
Tournament             Finish       Score        Z Score
1921 U.S. Open          T-26            315            -0.29
1922 U.S. Open           T-28           307            -0.30
1922 PGA               semi-final   match play  -2.32
1922 Western Open  T-12           315             -0.71
1923 U.S. Open           2nd           296             -1.97
1923 PGA               semi-final   match play  -0.56
1923 Western Open   T-2            287             -1.08
1924 U.S. Open           T-4            303              -1.42
1924 PGA               2nd round  match play  -0.80
1925 PGA              2nd round   match play  -0.53
Score: -1.00

 

 

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