Golf Digest editors picks

100 Best Modern Players

View chart: 100 Best Modern Players | The Methodology: How We Ranked The Players

February 3, 2014

100 Best Modern Players


Ranking players in golf has always been problematic. The margins are small, and the variables are big. The fallback position has been to make it all about the majors—golf's CliffsNotes. But only counting majors grossly oversimplifies. 

There's a better standard, the one that athletes themselves use to judge themselves against their peers—day-in, day-out performance. In 1980, the PGA Tour created a database with complete scoring and performance statistics that made "apples to apples" comparative analysis more possible. Thirty-four years later, using those now-voluminous resources, Golf World has created the "100 Best Modern Players," a ranking of the top performers on the PGA Tour since 1980.

Briefly, our Modern 100 sought to:
• Intensely focus on performance, keeping subjectivity to a minimum.
• Give majors 50 percent added value, but reward day-to-day, week-to-week excellence.
• Use a formula designed to highlight a player's best golf.

This last goal is aimed at de-emphasizing the slump-ridden periods that are inevitable over careers of any length. In the process, we wanted to create a statistical chronicle of the best in their prime years, in essence answering the question, "How good was their good?" —Jaime Diaz

VIEW CHART: 100 BEST MODERN PLAYERS

Note: Performance calculations include match-play and modified Stableford formats such as The International, but they were omitted from versus peers calculations. Sources: PGA Tour ShotLink database and the tour's media guides from 1980-2014.

Average point total of the 1,945 individual seasons graded: 3.942. We eliminated from consideration 63 seasons where, regardless of quality of results, players missed significant playing time due to injury. We used the tour's medical exemptions as guidelines on those decisions.

100. DANNY EDWARDS

100. DANNY EDWARDS

Score: 2.630 | Seasons: 1980-85 | Best season: 4.004 (1982) | Stroke differential: 0.744
Shares with No. 79 Nick Watney the distinction of never finishing second during his eligible seasons. Joined brother David, also a Modern 100 candidate, to claim the '80 Walt Disney World Team. Five years after his '77 Greensboro breakthrough Danny returned for another trophy, then added the '83 Miller High Life and '85 Pensacola before shrinking his competitive footprint to concentrate on business ventures.
99. TOM PURTZER

99. TOM PURTZER

Score: 2.651 | Seasons: 1980-91 | Best season: 5.143 (1991) | Stroke differential: 0.910
Four of his five career titles after '80, with his '77 Glen Campbell showdown with No. 33 Lanny Wadkins not part of these computations. Par worked for him twice in playoffs: '89 Gatlin Brothers (Mark Brooks) and '91 NEC World Series (No. 18 Davis Love III, No. 86 Jim Gallagher Jr.), his last. One of the lowest major counts among Modern 100 players of his longevity (24), missing 10 cuts.
98. KEN GREEN

98. KEN GREEN

Score: 2.792 | Seasons: 1985-89 | Best season: 6.775 (1988) | Stroke differential: 0.650
Completed 17 full-time seasons but reached five-year minimum eligibility with five wins in that span. Winner of the inaugural International in '86, played in a modified Stableford format that saw him three points ahead of No. 38 Bernhard Langer. Lost an '88 Greensboro playoff to Sandy Lyle and to No. 11 Seve Ballesteros two months later at Westchester, but returned to North Carolina the following year to collect his fifth title, by two over No. 74 John Huston.
97. STEVE PATE

97. STEVE PATE

Score: 2.907 | Seasons: 1987-98 | Best season: 7.388 (1991) | Stroke differential: 0.770
A pair of traffic accidents, one on-site at the '91 Ryder Cup and another near-fatal wreck in '96, intruded on a career that saw him prevail in the '88 T of C by a shot over No. 84 Larry Nelson and the '92 Buick Invitational. Rallied to post a sixth title at the '98 CVS Charity Classic. Went 0-3 in playoffs by bowing to players higher on this list: No. 65 Wayne Levi ('85 Atlanta), No. 44 Corey Pavin ('91 Atlanta) and No. 50 Loren Roberts (Byron Nelson).
96. SHIGEKI MARUYAMA

96. SHIGEKI MARUYAMA

Score: 2.912 | Seasons: 1999-2003 | Best season: 6.104 (2002) | Stroke differential: 0.712
Only the second Asian in the Modern 100 (No. 70 K.J. Choi) but with '01 Milwaukee became the first Japanese player to win on U.S. mainland and second on circuit (Isao Aoki, '83 Hawaiian). Earned his card with high finishes during the inaugural WGC season in '99 (Accenture Match Play quarters, sixth at NEC Invitational). Added '02 Byron Nelson and '03 Greensboro but never capitalized again, sharing fourth at the '04 U.S. Open. He returned to full-time status on the Japan PGA Tour in mid-'08.
95. FRED FUNK

95. FRED FUNK

Score: 3.048 | Seasons: 1991-2007 | Best season: 6.406 (2002) | Stroke differential: 0.731
One of two modern era victors beyond a 50th birthday and fifth-oldest victor in tour history thanks to '07 Mayakoba. Followed Craig Stadler ('03 B.C. Open) as the second player to win on the regular and Champions circuits in a season (Turtle Bay). Seven of eight victories in lower-profile events but at '05 Players he edged No. 20 Tom Lehman, No. 25 Luke Donald and No. 68 Scott Verplank. The lowest player on the list sporting double-digit totals of seconds (12) and thirds (10).
94. JODIE MUDD

94. JODIE MUDD

Score: 3.087 | Seasons: 1985-90 | Best season: 4.770 (1990) | Stroke differential: 0.608
Distinctive top-line stats: six seconds in his first three eligible seasons without any victories, four titles in three years where he failed to place second. Missed nine cuts in a lethargic '85 before losing in extra holes at Sammy Davis Jr. (Phil Blackmar) and Texas (No. 78 John Mahaffey). Prevailed at '88 FedEx St. Jude, '90 Nelson (No. 84 Larry Nelson in a playoff), '90 Players and season-ending Nabisco Championship (Billy Mayfair in a playoff).
93. MATT KUCHAR

93. MATT KUCHAR

Score: 3.113 | Seasons: 2002-13 | Best season: 10.755 (2013) | Stroke differential: 0.728
The lowest Modern 100 spot for a player whose best season totals more than 10 points, thanks to posting negative totals in his first six years of eligibility. That includes '02: Honda win but only three other top 20s and missed a dozen cuts. He finally posted his second and third triumphs in playoffs ('09 Turning Stone over Vaughn Taylor; '10 Barclays over Martin Laird). Continued to raise his profile in '13, defeating No. 53 Hunter Mahan in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and adding the Memorial. His stroke differential is 1.535 in all rounds since Turning Stone.
92. ROCCO MEDIATE

92. ROCCO MEDIATE

Score: 3.211 | Seasons: 1991-2010 | Best season: 6.251 (1991) | Stroke differential: 0.688
Collected 24 top 10s in second through fourth seasons before '91 Doral, where he made 10-footers at the last two greens and took down No. 16 Curtis Strange with a Monday playoff birdie. Prevailed twice in Greensboro ('93, '02) and posted his last 19 years after Doral, holing out for eagle in every round at '10 Frys.com Open. The 47-year-old became the oldest known wire-to-wire winner in tour history two years after bowing to No. 1 Tiger Woods in a 19-hole U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines.
91. BILL GLASSON

91. BILL GLASSON

Score: 3.257 | Seasons: 1985-97 | Best season: 7.888 (1994) | Stroke differential: 0.764
Tour's '97 comeback player, who today is closing in on 20 surgical procedures to repair chronic health conditions, rebounded from a curtailed '96 for his final of seven victories ('97 Las Vegas). His first, '85 Kemper Open in his 32nd career start, saw his 66 erase a seven-shot deficit to No. 60 Larry Mize in the last 14 holes. Made just 22 starts in majors in eligible seasons, only one a top 10 (tied for fourth in '95 U.S. Open), missed nine cuts and withdrew twice.
90. GRAEME MCDOWELL

90. GRAEME MCDOWELL

Score: 3.297 | Seasons: 2005-13 | Best season: 7.093 (2011) | Stroke differential: 0.642
The only Modern 100 entrant qualifying under the provision allowing eligibility with two wins if at least one is a major. Only five players have fewer than his 105 eligible starts, a number depressed by a combined seven tournaments in '07-08. His '10 U.S. Open crown at Pebble Beach, which prompted taking tour membership the following month, was Europe's first since Tony Jacklin in '70. The only ranked player with a negative final-round stroke differential (-0.018), he has failed to better the field average by more than a shot in 43 of 67 attempts.
89. JEFF MAGGERT

89. JEFF MAGGERT

Score: 3.327 | Seasons: 1993-2006 | Best season: 10.042 (1994) | Stroke differential: 0.660
Another player with lengthy gaps separating his three wins. After '93 Disney World he had five dry seasons despite 10 seconds and four thirds. Captured the inaugural WGC-Match Play title in '99 at La Costa as the 24th seed, dispatching ninth-seeded Nick Price in the second round and top-seeded Tiger Woods in the quarters. But he endured another six fruitless years, this time with only two seconds and a trio of thirds in 180 starts, before the '06 FedEx St. Jude.
88. BOB TWAY

88. BOB TWAY

Score: 3.480 | Seasons: 1986-2003 | Best season: 8.892 (1986) | Stroke differential: 0.854
Computations use 73 percent of 683 career starts -- he dipped below 25 tournaments only twice from '85 to '07. Bumper crop in '86, his sophomore season, yielded a tour-best four wins (Andy Williams, Westchester, Atlanta, PGA Championship) but only the fourth-best point total in this formula because 12 of 34 starts landed outside the top 25 or the cut. Notched four more wins in next 17 seasons, '89 Memorial and '03 Canadian Open among them. The last ended a seven-year winless span during which he had five or more top 10s all but '00. Tied for fifth in the '91 Open Championship, fifth and third in the '97 and '98 U.S. Opens.
87. KIRK TRIPLETT

87. KIRK TRIPLETT

Score: 3.484 | Seasons: 1994-2006 | Best season: 6.026 (1995) | Stroke differential: 0.903
The rare case of a three-time winner's best season containing nothing better than seconds (Buick Invitational, Hartford). Accumulated 39 career top-10s, with 34 in eligible seasons, before taking '00 Nissan Open by a shot over No. 30 Jesper Parnevik. Lost his lone playoff later that year against Michael Clark II (John Deere), then followed with '03 Reno-Tahoe and '06 Chrysler Tucson. The latter was his final career top 10 as elbow woes reduced him to exercising a major medical exemption.
86. JIM GALLAGHER JR.

86. JIM GALLAGHER JR.

Score: 3.529 | Seasons: 1990-95 | Best season: 6.288 (1995) | Stroke differential: 0.753
Contended in the '91 and '92 PGA Championships, solo third behind John Daly at Crooked Stick and then tied for second behind No. 14 Nick Price at Bellerive. That was part of a busy six-year stretch that brought double wins in '93 (Anheuser-Busch, Tour Championship) and '95 (Greensboro, FedEx St. Jude). His opening 63 at Olympic Club in the Tour Championship was 8.067 shots better than the field average that day, remarkable considering he opposed the season's other 29 best players.
85. JEFF SLUMAN

85. JEFF SLUMAN

Score: 3.560 | Seasons: 1986-2002 | Best season: 5.794 (1992) | Stroke differential: 0.897
A three-hole playoff loss to Sandy Lyle at the '87 Players signaled he was ready for his initial victory, which came on a closing 65 in the '88 PGA. That beat the field average at Oak Tree that day by 7.746 shots. He then went eight winless seasons, piling up eight runner-up showings including the '92 U.S. Open on another brutal closing round (Pebble Beach), before winning in five of his last six eligible years. He lost six playoffs through the '01 Nissan Open before a two-hole triumph over Paul Gow at the '91 B.C. Open.
84. LARRY NELSON

84. LARRY NELSON

Score: 3.705 | Seasons: 1980-88 | Best season: 8.005 (1988) | Stroke differential: 1.047
Another player losing a notable season because these computations begin in '80, the year after he secured the Jackie Gleason and Western Open. There are eight remaining titles that include three majors ('81 and '87 PGAs, '83 U.S. Open), two Atlanta Classics ('80 and '88) and 41 other top 10s. Lowest-ranked player with an all-rounds stroke differential exceeding 1, but his overall score is deflated by ranking 96th in percentage of missed cuts (28.9), which carry a small penalty in the formula.
83. STEVE JONES

83. STEVE JONES

Score: 3.723 | Seasons: 1988-98 | Best season: 5.796 (1989) | Stroke differential: 0.888
Eligibility spans 11 seasons but he counts only seven, thanks to sharing the most number of injury seasons with No. 68 Scott Verplank and No. 92 Rocco Mediate (four each). Won the '88 AT&T Pebble Beach and three in '89 (T of C, Bob Hope, Canadian) before severely injuring his left ring finger in a late '91 dirt-bike accident. Did not compete in '92-93 and made two late starts in '94 but burst forth with a tie for fourth at '95 Phoenix. The next year his surprise '96 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills made him the first champion out of sectional qualifying since Jerry Pate in '76. Three more titles through the '98 Quad Cities saw him rolling, but injuries returned in '02 and allowed only two top 25s the rest of his career.
82. PETER JACOBSEN

82. PETER JACOBSEN

Score: 3.763 | Seasons: 1980-2003 | Best season: 7.906 (1984) | Stroke differential: 0.781
Only four players among the Modern 100 own more than his 560 eligible starts, although only No. 42 Craig Stadler can match his 24 seasons. The '77 rookie rallied from six back the last day for his first win ('80 Buick-Goodwrench Open). Possesses two multiple-title seasons ('84 Colonial, Sammy Davis; '95 AT&T Pebble Beach, Buick Invitational) but went at least three winless years in the gaps -- and eight until concluding at '03 Hartford. There were plenty of chances, though: 15 seconds with three playoff losses, dropping the '85 Honda and '89 Western to pars, and solo thirds in the '83 and '86 PGA.
81. BOB ESTES

81. BOB ESTES

Score: 3.768 | Seasons: 1993-2002 | Best season: 8.134 (1994) | Stroke differential: 1.033
Had a six-season gap between his inaugural title ('94 Texas Open, wire-to-wire after an opening 62) and next three ('01 St. Jude, Las Vegas, '02 Kemper). The strongest performance in the interim was '98, when he took seven top 10s as he shared second at Bay Hill and held 54-hole leads at Greensboro and St. Jude. Twice posted multiple top 10s in a season, '95 and '99, the latter when he had two career records: high major finish (Masters, tie for fourth) and overall top 10s (nine). Placement improved by having the sixth-best final-round stroke differential in second 50 (0.976).
Photos by Getty Images/AP
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