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Minor League Training, Big League Careers

Our list of the 10 best Nationwide Tour graduates in PGA Tour history

Chris DiMarco

Chris DiMarco's game has tailed off in recent years, but at one point, he was one of the game's elite players.

February 9, 2010

In the first five weeks of the 2010 season Steve Stricker won his eighth PGA Tour title, Ryan Palmer and Ben Crane won their third and Bill Haas garnered his first. That brings the number of victories by Nationwide Tour alumni -- as the good folks at Ponte Vedra Beach are quick to point out -- to 264.

That list includes championships won by Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, who like Stricker, Crane and Haas, are not graduates of the developmental tour. Els played eight events on what was then known as the Ben Hogan Tour in 1991, which makes him a Nationwide alum by the same measure that Derek Jeter is an alumnus of Michigan. Being a graduate of a university, or in this case of a developmental golf tour, is a different standard. Of the three 2010 winners, only Palmer earned his Nationwide degree, having graduated sixth in his class (on the money list) in 2003.

Michael Sim, who would be considered the valedictorian of last year's Nationwide class by virtue of his leading the money list, is also off to a strong start in 2010 with a runner-up finish at the Farmers Insurance Open. It's too early for Sim to crash the list of greatest Nationwide Tour graduates of all time, But what about Matt Kuchar, Class of 2006, who added a pair of top-five finishes to his two-victory résumé in January? Or Tim Clark, Class of 2000, who is winless on tour but has eight runner-up finishes, including the 2006 Masters? Not quite. The list of the 10 greatest Nationwide Tour graduates is pretty strong. Major champions and tour money leaders dominate the list, leaving Kooch and Clark, and the aforementioned Palmer, on the honorable mention roll.

In our view, the list of the 10 best Nationwide Tour graduates in PGA Tour history should read as follows:

10. Shaun Micheel. Class of 1999. Wins: 1. Majors: 1. Highest World Rank: 34, 2004.

Admittedly the résumé is a little thin, but just as winning one Pulitzer trumps a plethora of local writing awards, Micheel's 2003 PGA Championship win at Oak Hill surpasses Clark's eight tour runner-ups and Palmer's three wins (and even Camilo Villegas' two playoff victories in 2008). Micheel's biggest challenger for the 10 spot might be Jeff Maggert, the three-time tour winner who contended in several majors. Nothing against Maggs, but the nod goes to the major champion. The 41-year-old Micheel no longer has full-time tour status, having finished 180th in earnings in 2009 after suffering shoulder injuries in 2008.

9 . Lucas Glover. Class of 2003. Wins: 2. Majors: 1. Highest World Rank: 15, 2009.

Like Micheel, Glover graces our list because he won a major, the 2009 U.S. Open, but he has clearly produced more during his six years on tour. The major title helped him climb to ninth on the 2009 money list and he has played in three Tour Championships, the first two in 2005-06, prior to the implementation of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Glover went through a downward spiral after that strong start to his career, even distancing himself from the game for a few months late in the 2008 season. But he sparkled in 2009, finishing T-2 at Quail Hollow and T-3 at the Buick Invitational before winning the U.S. Open.

8. Chris DiMarco. Class of 1993 and 1997. Wins: 3. Majors: 0. Highest World Rank: 6, 2005.

It's hard to imagine now just how much game DiMarco had from 2000-2006 given how far he has fallen in the three years since. Unfortunately he was golf's "nearly man" in the middle part of the last decade, finishing second in a major in three straight years, including the 2004 PGA and 2005 Masters, when he became the first person in more than 25 years to lose consecutive majors in a playoff. Given that he should have won the second of those two playoffs -- it took one of the most incredible shots of all time and later a clutch 15-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole for Tiger Woods to defeat DiMarco -- and his impressive performances in the 2004 Ryder and 2005 Presidents Cups, he gets a boost ahead of Micheel and Glover. DiMarco's failure to turn one of his 12 seconds into his fourth victory is what keeps him from climbing higher on our list.

7. Chad Campbell. Class of 2001. Wins: 4. Majors: 0. Highest World Rank: 9, 2004.

As it happens, Campbell was second when Micheel won at Oak Hill, but the 35-year-old Texan has clearly done more with his career. So while we haven't exactly created a standard -- four wins trumps one major -- it's hard to argue that he shouldn't be ahead of Micheel. Campbell's wins include two pretty impressive titles: the 2003 Tour Championship and the 2004 Bay Hill Invitational. Campbell won the latter by six strokes, ending Woods' four-year winning streak at Bay Hill. He also has 11 second-place finishes, including last year's playoff loss in the Masters. He gets no bonus points for having one of the most engaging wives on tour in singer/songwriter Amy Lepard.

6. Stuart Appleby. Class of 1995. Wins: 8. Majors: 0. Highest World Rank: 8, 2004.

A five-time member of the International Presidents Cup team, Appleby hasn't missed a major championship since 1996, having played 52 in a row. That streak is in jeopardy as Appleby hasn't yet qualified for the 2010 Masters, but the streak isn't why he ranks sixth on our list. Appleby's eight wins include three straight Mercedes Championships titles (2004-2006). He also had a near miss in the 2002 British Open, losing a four-way playoff to Ernie Els.

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