Jack’s Place: When talking majors, Nicklaus can’t be beat

Jack's PlaceMajor golf championships started before the Civil War: Willie Park won the first British Open, a 36-hole affair at Prestwick, in 1860. The U.S. Open debuted in 1895, and it was followed by the PGA Championship (1916) and the Masters (1934). To identify the greatest major championship players of all time, SI Golf Group devised a point system, and in the end, Jack Nicklaus—the record holder with 18 professional majors—emerged as the greatest major champion. The magazine started with the 1892 British because that was the first year the event was contested over 72 holes. While players from more than a century ago competed in only two majors a year, keep in mind that fields were considerably smaller, meaning it was easier to accumulate top 10s. So the playing field is somewhat leveled when comparing one era with another.

Point System

First100
Second70
Third65
Fourth60
Fifth55
Sixth50
Seventh45
Eighth40
Ninth35
10th30
11th-17th25
18th-25th20
26th-30th15
31st-40th10
41st+*5

*finishing 72 holes

RankPlayerPointsStartsMastersU.S. OpenBritish OpenPGA
1Jack Nicklaus5,8101646 wins, 4 seconds4 wins, 4 seconds3 wins, 7 seconds5 wins, 4 seconds
Surprised? Big Jack played in the most majors and had the most wins (18), most seconds (19) and most top 10s (73).
2Sam Snead3,7301183 wins, 8 top-3s4 seconds1 win, 5 starts3 wins, 2 other finals
Had seven wins and 60 top 25s; his biggest disappointment was that he never won the U.S. Open.
3Gary Player3,6001503 wins, 15 top-10s1 win, 2 seconds3 wins in three decades2 wins, 2 seconds
Nine wins and 18 top threes, and his 70 top 25s are second only to Nicklaus’s 95.
4Tom Watson3,5351402 wins, 3 seconds1 win, 2 seconds5 wins, 2 seconds1 second
His eight wins are sixth-all time, but he never won the PGA, losing in a playoff in 1978.
5Tiger Woods3,255704 wins, 11 top-5s3 wins, 2 seconds3 wins, 2 thirds4 wins, 2 seconds
Has a remarkable 20 percent win rate, but his victory drought is at six years and counting.
6Gene Sarazen3,2151161 win2 wins, 7 top-3s1 win3 wins in match play
First player to win the modern Grand Slam, and the first to win the U.S. Open and the PGA in the same year (1922).
7Arnold Palmer3,1951424 wins, 9 top-4s1 win, 4 seconds2 wins, 1 secondThree seconds
His seven wins came in a six-year window, and he was a 10-time runner-up over his career.
8Ray Floyd2,7151271 win, 1 second1 win1 second2 wins, 1 second
Turned his only top-five in the U.S. Open into a victory in 1986 and was two back of Jack at the 1978 British.
T9Ben Hogan2,705582 wins, 4 seconds4 wins, 10 top-5s1 win in only start2 wins in match play
Fabulous record for a late bloomer who coped with the Depression, World War II, and a serious car accident.
T9Phil Mickelson2,705863 wins, 5 thirds6 seconds1 win, 1 second1 win, 1 second
Didn’t win his first major until age 34, and he holds a dubious record in the U.S. Open.
11Walter Hagen2,63054No top-10sTwo wins, 1 secondFour wins, 1 secondFive wins in match play
Most wins of anyone before World War II, and his 20.7 percent win rate is the best of all time.
12Ernie Els2,61085Two secondsTwo wins, 1 secondTwo wins, 9 top-fives2 thirds
Has won majors in three decades, and he was in contention on Sunday in six of Tiger’s 14 victories.
13Greg Norman2,405913 seconds, 9 top-sixesTwo secondsTwo wins, 1 secondTwo seconds
What could have been—he was in the hunt, if not in the lead, in a dozen majors on the back nine on Sunday.
14Nick Faldo2,390983 winsLost playoff in 19883 wins, 1 second1 second, 1 third
Six-time winner, made most of his opportunities after being in contention just 12 times.
15Ben Crenshaw2,3661162 wins, 2 seconds1 third2 secondsLost playoff in 1979
In contention more than a dozen times, but had problems closing the door on the back nine.
16Tom Kite2,2001093 seconds1 win1 second2 fourths
Accumulated a lot of points due to longevity as well as his 16 top-fives.
17Lee Trevino2,18089Tenth two times2 wins2 wins, 1 second2 wins, 1 second
Only flaw for this six-time champion was his indifferent play at Augusta National.
18Fred Couples2,120961 win, 11 top-10sOne thirdTwo thirdsOne second
Contended in all four and was at his best in the Masters (five top-5s) and the British (nine top-10s).
19Byron Nelson2,115532 wins, 2 seconds1 win, 1 second1 fifth2 wins in match play
Excellent record despite playing during the Great Depression and World War II, retired in his prime at age 34.
20Billy Casper2,090941 win, 1 second2 wins1 fourth3 seconds
Won in three decades and only played the British five times, never before age 38.