The 2011 PGA Championship kicks off today, with Rory McIlroy heading in a sort of favorite after winning his first Major ever this year, the 2011 US Open. Tiger Woods? He’s been practicing in the dark hours of the morning, but it’s very unlikely to see him win his first Major tournament since 2008. From the way things are looking at the moment, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors is safe.
Number 1 – Jack Nicklaus, 18
The Golden Bear turned pro in 1961, winning his first Major in 1962, the US Open in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. He went on to win the US Open four times (1962, 1967, 1972, 1980), the Masters six times (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986), his last one coming at the age of 46. He won the the Open Championship, the British Open to some, three times (1966, 1970, 1978) and the PGA Championship five times (1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980). His 73 wins on the PGA tour place him second all time behind Sam Snead with 82.
Number 2 – Tiger Woods, 14
Tiger Woods seemed destined to break Nicklaus’ long hold on the top, but Woods’ personal life problems and injuries have derailed him from that path. He hasn’t won a major since the 2008 US Open in Torrey Pines. He has three wins in the US Open (2000, 2002, 2008), four Masters (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005), three Wins in The Open (2000, 2005, 2006) and four PGA Championship titles (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007).
Number 3 – Walter Hagen, 11
Walter Charles Hagen was born in the 19th century, 1892 to be exact. He turned pro in 1912 and won his first Major in 1914, the US Open, which he won again in 1919. He became the first Native-born American to win the Open Championship in 1922, an event he won four times (1924, 1928, 1929). He also won five times at the PGA Championship (1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927). His best finish at the Masters was 11th.
Number 4 (shared) – Gary Player, 9
One of only two Non-Americans on this list, Gary Player, born in South Africa (1935), won his first Major in 1959, winning the Open Championship in Muirfield, Scotland. It is claimed he has travelled over 15 million miles in his career, claimed to be more than any other athlete in history. On April 2009 he played his last Masters, for the 52nd time. He is the last of the big three (Nicklaus, Palmer and him) to retire from the PGA Tour. He won three Masters (1961, 1974, 1978), one US Open (1965), three Opens (1959, 1968, 1974) and twice in the PGA Championship (1962, 1972).
Ben Hogan, 9
Ben Hogan is the only player to win the first three Majors in one year, making him the only man to achieve the “Hogan Slam”. Back in 1953 Hogan won the Masters, US Open and the Open Championship. The PGA Championship, Hogan’s least favorite tournament which he often skipped, overlapped the play of the British Open that year. Tiger Woods won the last three tournaments in 2000 and the first of 2001, making it a Slam of his own. Hogan won two Masters (1951, 1953), four US Open titles (1948, 1950, 1951, 1953), only once at the Open and twice in the PGA Championship (1946, 1948).
Number 6 – Tom Watson, 8
Tom Watson was the best in the world during the late 70’s and early 80’s, taking the number one spot from Jack Nicklaus. Still, his 2009 second place finish at the Open Championship (Ayrshire, Scotland), shy of his 60th birthday always seems to me like his greatest achievement. Watson turned Pro in 1971. He won two Masters (1977, 1981), one US Open (1982) and five times at The Open (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983). His best finish at the PGA Championship was 2nd in 1978.
Number 7 (shared) – Arnold Palmer, 7
Despite winning less than Player and Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer was the most popular of the big three and Golf’s first real superstar when the sport entered its TV age. Palmer turned Pro in 1955, winning his first Major in the 1958 Masters. He won three more Masters tournaments (1960, 1962, 1964). He won one US Open (1960), two Open Championships (1961, 1962) but never the PGA Championship – he finished 2nd three times.
Sam Snead, 7
Sam Snead still holds the record for most PGA Tour wins with 82. He turned pro in 1934 and won his first Major, the PGA Championship, in 1942. He won three Masters (1949, 1952, 1954), one British Open (1946) and three PGA Championships (1942, 1949, 1951). He finished second at the US Open four times.
Gene Sarazen, 7
A self taught caddie turned golfer, Gene Sarazen is one of five players to complete Golf’s career grand slam. He won the Masters once, in 1935. He won the US Open twice – 1922 and 1932. He has one win at the Open Championship – 1932. He won the PGA Championship three times – 1922, 1923, 1933.
Bobby Jones, 7
Bobby Jones didn’t win the Masters or the PGA Championship (never player in the PGA Championship), but is the only player to win all four Majors (back then they were the US Open, British Open, US Amateur and British Amateur) in a single year, a Grand Slam, in 1930. He won four US Open tournaments (1923, 1926, 1929, 1930) and three British Opens (1926, 1927, 1930).
Harry Vardon, 7
The second non-American on this list, Harry Vardon is probably the most famous person to come out of Jersey, an island off the coast of France and is a British Crown Dependency. Vardon was born in 1870 and turned pro in 1890. He won six times at the British Open – 1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 1914. He won the US Open only once, in 1900.