Players Championship

The 50 greatest players of the last 50 years, ranked by their best season

March 05, 2024

To mark the 50th playing of the Players Championship, the founding of which in 1974 coincided with the dawn of what we might call golf’s modern era, we crunched some numbers. Our goal was singular: to rank the 50 best players of the past five decades by their best single season.

Why, you say? Isn’t longevity and the breadth of a player’s accomplishments more important? Isn’t Jack Nicklaus placing fifth on any list of golfers inherently absurd? Sure, but finding new ways to identify greatness across eras is an inescapable part of being a golf fan.

Weighted most heavily toward performance in majors (acknowledging our “big-game hunters”), our formula also accounted for total wins, top-10s, scoring titles and player-of- the-year awards.

We also gave a slight advantage to players who won in multiple countries, denoted by our “global conqueror” icon. Strength of the competition was not factored because, after all, you can beat only what’s in front of you.

What follows are golf’s Roman candles. There’s something deeply compelling about considering who burned brightest when.

You can read this article as it originally appeared in our archive right here.

The Top 10 Players

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11. Mark O'Meara, 1998

At 41, O’Meara became the oldest to win two majors in a season, highlighting his remarkable 1998 hot streak.

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12. Seve Ballesteros, 1988

Ballesteros scored seven wins in seven countries: Spain, England, the U.S., Sweden, Germany, France and Japan.

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13. Ian Woosnam, 1987

He was bombing-and-gouging before it was cool, launching 300-yard drives with a persimmon and balata.

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14. Luke Donald, 2011

Short-game wizardry helped Donald finish inside the top 10 in nearly 75 percent of his starts in 2011.

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15. Brooks Koepka, 2018

He was the first since 1989 to defend the U.S. Open and first since Tiger in 2000 to follow with a PGA win.

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16. Sandy Lyle, 1988

His 72nd-hole birdie made him Great Britain’s first Masters champ and the first Scot to win a U.S. major in more than 50 years.

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17. Jose Maria Olazabal, 1994

The Spaniard paired his first green jacket in 1994 with a win at the European Tour’s flagship event.

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18. Bob Tway, 1986

He squeezed the most out of his career year, playing 37 tournaments—more than anybody else on this list.

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19. Padraig Harrington, 2008

He became the first player since Tiger Woods to win two majors in a season. Interestingly, those were Harrington’s only two wins that year.

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20. Lee Westwood, 2000

Westwood ended Colin Montgomerie’s seven-year reign atop the European Tour’s Order of Merit money list.

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21. Johnny Miller, 1974

With a 21-percent win rate, he shattered Nicklaus’ money record during a year he said he wouldn’t trade for another major.

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22. Jason Day, 2015

Riding a hot putter, Day finished sixth in strokes gained/putting in 2015 and then led the tour in 2016.

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23. Davis Love III, 1997

His consistent power through the bag helped him lead the tour in par-5 birdies and par-4 bogey avoidance.

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24. Dustin Johnson, 2016

The ever-dependable ball-striker converted more than 35 percent of his birdie putts this season.

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25. Fred Couples, 1992

He won twice and finished second twice during the five weeks leading up to the Masters, then slipped on the green jacket.

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26. Scottie Scheffler, 2023

He gained more strokes tee to green than any player since the stat was created.

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27. Jon Rahm, 2023

His Masters-winning season began with three victories and five top-seven finishes in seven starts. Then he cashed in for LIV.

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28. Justin Thomas, 2017

He shot 59 in January, 63 at the U.S. Open in June and lifted the PGA Championship trophy in August.

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29. Hal Sutton, 1983

He won the Players and PGA, marking the high point of a career that included another Players win in 2000.

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30. Martin Kaymer, 2010

He was the first since Tiger Woods to win three consecutive tournaments and ascended to World No. 1 in 2011.

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31. Cameron Smith, 2022

With the best putting average (1.68 per hole) on the PGA Tour, Smith won the 150th Open, then joined LIV.

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32. Retief Goosen, 2001

The U.S. Open win was in the middle of a run with one international victory from 1995 to 2007 except for 1998.

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33. Tom Lehman, 1996

After years of toiling on the satellite tours, Lehman had his hottest year with two of his five PGA Tour wins, including his lone major.

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34. Colin Montgomerie, 1994

His seven-year run atop the Order of Merit money list was marked by many major near-misses.

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35. David Duval, 1999

Duval overtook Tiger Woods as World No. 1 while winning four times and shooting a 59 at the Bob Hope.

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36. Phil Mickelson, 2004

A Masters win and three near-misses in majors highlighted the greatest season of many for Mickelson.

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37. Curtis Strange, 1988

Two wins in May and one in June—the U.S. Open—made him the first player to win more than $1 million in a season.

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38. Adam Scott, 2013

Scott snapped years of shoulda-coulda when his strokes gained/putting got to within a whiff of tour average.

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39. Jim Furyk, 2003

Forced into a last-minute putter change when his gamer was declared nonconforming the week before, Furyk tied the U.S. Open’s 72-hole scoring record.

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40. Ray Floyd, 1981

He won across four decades and claimed four majors in his career, with his 1981 Players victory coming during his most solid season in our 50-year snapshot.

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41. Lee Trevino, 1980

Trevino’s early years didn’t make the 1974 cutoff date for our ranking, but his stellar 1980 season did.

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42. Mark McNulty, 1990

McNulty’s career year came during a stretch when he spent 83 weeks inside the top 10 of the World Ranking.

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43. Tom Kite, 1981

Kite finished inside the top 10 in more than 80 percent of his starts during his most consistent season.

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44. Ben Crenshaw, 1976

He grabbed the first of five runner-up finishes in majors before eventually winning one in 1984.

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45. Henrik Stenson, 2016

He hit more than 70 percent of his fairways and greens and gained 1.55 strokes from tee to green.

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46. Paul Azinger, 1993

Three wins and a major was the zenith of a career that was soon sidelined by a cancer diagnosis.

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47. Corey Pavin, 1995

Among the shortest drivers on tour at 254 yards, Pavin slayed mighty Shinnecock Hills for his U.S. Open win.

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48. Craig Stadler, 1982

Stadler got putting advice from pal Dave Stockton, then nabbed four of his 13 career wins, including the Masters.

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49. Bill Rogers, 1981

In an era of limited travel, Rogers won in England, the United States, Australia and Japan.

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50. Sergio Garcia, 2002

Three wins and four top-10s in majors left many wondering if Garcia would be Europe’s counterpart to Tiger Woods.

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Icons Key

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