Greatest Golfers in Masters’ History Begins with The Golden Bear

This week Tiger Woods returns to the site of his very first major tournament victory, Augusta National. Some golfing fans consider the Masters Tournament to be the most important of all of the four majors. It certainly has that feeling about it. In 1956 it was the first major to be broadcast on national television. It has the most recognizable traditions including the green jacket offered to the winner of the Masters by the previous year’s winner and the Champions Dinner that is hosted by the previous year’s winner.

These traditions, and the fact that the Masters is played on the same course, Augusta National, each and every year, makes the tournament one of the most watched each and every year. The Masters has also been won by some of the greatest names in golf. Below is a list of the greatest golfers to ever wear the green jacket.

Greatest Masters Tournament Golfers

Jack Nicklaus “The Golden Bear”

Masters Victories: 6

The Golden Bear dominated Augusta National for a number of years. His first victory occurred in 1963 when Jack was only 23 years old. Nicklaus had been on the PGA Tour for only one year yet there he was, receiving the green jacket from the most popular golfer in the world at the time, Arnold Palmer.

Jack won again two years later in 1965. Again, he received the green jacket from Palmer. Jack followed up his 1965 victory with victories in 1966, 1972 and 1975. In his 1975 victory, The Golden Bear shot an amazing 17 under. He beat his nearest opponents, the venerable Palmer and the well known Gary Player, by 9 strokes. The record 17 under lasted until 1997 when Tiger Woods shot an 18 under to win the Masters.

In 1966 Nicklaus won in a playoff against Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer. In 1972 he won by 3 strokes and then, three years later in 1975, he beat Johnny Miller by a single stroke when shooting a 12 under, but with all of his Masters success it wasn’t until 1986 that the legend of The Golden Bear really came into focus.

Jack used talk of his golfing demise, Tom McCollister from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had written that Nicklaus was “washed up”, to shoot a 9 under to beat Greg Norman and Tom Kite by a single stroke in the 1986 Masters. It was The Golden Bear’s greatest moment as a golfer and one of the greatest moments in both Masters and golf history. Nicklaus wouldn’t win another major in his career but his legend had been solidified. Six Masters Tournament victories…that’s still a record that stands today.

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Tiger Woods

Masters Victories: 4

Tiger’s first Masters victory in 1997 might be the greatest moment in professional golf. It’s certainly the greatest moment in Masters’ history.

A lot was expected of Tiger after he won two PGA Tour events in 1996, his first year on the Tour, but nobody expected him to do what he did in the 1997 Masters Tournament. Woods dominated the field, shooting a 70, 65, 66, and 69 on his way to 270 and an 18 under par. He broke Jack’s 17 under par record by a single stroke, became the youngest person at the age of 21 to ever win the Masters, and became the first African and Asian American to win a major tournament.

He won again in 2001 when he beat rivals David Duval and Phil Mickelson by 2 strokes and 3 strokes respectively. Tiger shot a 16 under in that Masters giving him 2 of the top 3 best scores in Masters’ history. In 2002, El Tigre shot a 12 under to beat Retief Goosen by 3 strokes. Then in 2005 Woods beat Chris DiMarco in a playoff by a single stroke to capture his fourth green jacket.

What will 2010 bring? That’s the biggest question as Tiger returns to competitive golf after being out of action since Fall of 2009. Woods is the favorite to win his fifth green jacket at the 2010 Masters Tournament but he will be facing pressure that he’s never had to face before. Because of that, this year’s Masters figures to be one to remember.

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Arnold Palmer “The King”

Masters Victories: 4

The King, as he was called, might be the most important figure in golf’s history because the peak of his career occurred as golf came into the television age. Palmer is one of the most beloved sports figures in American history, that’s a fact. He’s so beloved that a popular drink, the Arnold Palmer, which is half-lemonade and half-iced tea, is named after him.

Palmer’s Masters history began in 1958 when Palmer shot a 4 under to beat Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins. His rivalry with The Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, started in 1960. Palmer won the Masters that year by beating Ken Venturi and then beat Nicklaus a month later in the U.S. Open by 2 strokes.

In 1962, Palmer won the Masters while Nicklaus won it in 1963. Palmer won it in 1964 while Nicklaus won it in 1965 and 1966. The rivalry between Jack and Arnold didn’t end at the Masters Tournament, however.

Palmer didn’t win another Masters after his victory in 1964 but 9 years later, in 1973, he won his last tournament, the Bob Hope Classic, by shooting a 17 under. Who finished second to him by 2 strokes? The Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus.

Gary Player

Masters Victories: 3

Player is arguably the fourth greatest golfer to ever live after Nicklaus, Woods and Palmer. It’s hard to argue with that fact as Player definitely held his own against the likes of Nicklaus and Palmer in the Masters Tournament.

The South African born Player won his first Masters in 1961 when he shot an 8 under to beat Charlie Coe and Palmer by a single stroke. He won again in 1974 when he shot a 10 under to beat Dave Stockton and Tom Weiskopf by 2 strokes. Four years later, the terrific Player shot an 11 under to beat the new kid on the block, Tom Watson, as well as Rod Funseth and Hubert Green.

1978 was Player’s last major tournament victory. Considering the fact that Player’s first major championship victory, a win in the The Open Championship (the British Open) occurred in 1959, the 1978 Masters win 19 years later was pretty incredible.

Player holds the record for most consecutive cuts made in the Masters Tournament when he made the cut 23 times, when he entered, he skipped the 1973 Masters, from 1959 thru 1982.

Nick Faldo

Masters Victories: 3

Out of Faldo’s 6 total major championships, 3 of them were Masters Tournament victories. Faldo won his first Masters in 1989 in a playoff over Scott Hoch. In that Masters, Faldo, who had become a professional in 1976, shot a 5 under including a 65 4th round in order to force the playoff.

Faldo won again in 1990 making him a back-to-back winner of the Masters Tournament. Then in 1996 he beat Greg Norman by 5 strokes when shooting a 12 under. Faldo hasn’t played in a Masters since 2006 when he missed the cut and more often than not can be found in the television booth.

Masters Records

Most Victories: 6, Jack Nicklaus

Best Score: -18 Tiger Woods, 1997

Widest Winning Margin: 12 strokes, Tiger Woods, 1997

Age of Youngest Winner: 21, Tiger Woods, 1997

Age of Oldest Winner: 46, Jack Nicklaus, 1986

Most Top Tens: Jack Nicklaus, 22

Most Cuts Made: Jack Nicklaus, 37

Most Consecutive Cuts Made: 23 - - Gary Player 1959 thru 1982 (didn’t play in 1973)

Fred Couples 1983 thru 2007 (didn’t play in 1987 and 1994)

Course Record For a Single Round: 63 - - Nick Price in 1986

Greg Norman in 1996

Highest Winning Score: +1 - - Sam Snead in 1954

Jack Burke Jr. in 1956

Zach Johnson in 2007

Most Birdies in a Round:11, Anthony Kim, 2009

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