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Top Ten Golfers of the Modern Era

#1: Jack Nicklaus

Born: January 21 1940
Nationality: United States
Turned pro: 1961
Career wins: 115
Major championships: 18 (The Masters 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986; US Open 1962, 1967, 1972, 1980; The Open Championship 1966, 1970, 1978; PGA Championship 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980)

Indisputably the greatest golfer of the modern generation, Jack Nicklaus holds the record for the most major championships, with 18 in total. He won each major at least three times during his career, and even managed to pick up a few others along the way. He claimed 115 professional wins, including an astounding 73 on the PGA Tour alone.

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Perhaps his best off-field contribution to the game has been his instructional book Golf My Way, which is known to have influenced the likes of Greg Norman, amongst others. While Tiger Woods may only be four wins away from equaling Nicklaus’s major championship record, we still regard him as the best golfer of this era – for now.

#2: Tiger Woods

Born: December 30 1975
Nationality: United States
Turned pro: 1996
Career wins: 97
Major championships: 14 (The Masters 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005; US Open 2000, 2002, 2008; The Open Championship 2000, 2005, 2006; PGA Championship 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007)

There is no doubting that Tiger Woods is the best golfer currently playing on the professional circuit, and he may well take the number one spot as the greatest golfer of all time some day. But for now, he will have to increase his professional and major championship wins if he wants to achieve such a goal.

A two-year-old Tiger Woods caught the world’s attention when he appeared on the Mike Douglas show in 1978. Since then, Woods has gone on to spend more than 600 weeks as the World No. 1, winning 97 events, and 14 majors – and he’s still only in his mid-thirties.

#3: Gary Player

Born: 1 November 1935
Nationality: South Africa
Turned pro: 1953
Career wins: 165
Major championships: 9 (The Masters 1961, 1974, 1978; US Open 1965; The Open Championship 1959, 1968, 1974; PGA Championship 1962, 1972)

Gary Player’s travel record puts Ernie Els to shame. The South African great has participated in arguably the most professional tournaments of the modern era, and has collected an astonishing 165 professional wins since turning pro in 1953.

Player is amongst an elite group of golfers that have earned the title of grand slam winners, after picking up victories on each of the four major championships throughout his career. With nine majors under his belt, and recognition as a World Golf Hall of Famer since 1974, Gary Player is a legend in every sense of the word.

#4: Arnold Palmer

Born: September 10 1929
Nationality: United States
Turned pro: 1954
Career wins: 94
Major championships: 7 (The Masters 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964; US Open 1960; The Open Championship 1961, 1962)

When you get down to the best four golfers of the modern era, there is always going to be conflict in deciding who goes where. Arnold Palmer is a household name in the golfing world, and over his incredibly lengthy career he has amassed 94 professional wins and 7 major championships.

Perhaps most remarkable about Palmer’s career is that he played alongside two of the greatest golfers who have ever lived: Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. The Big Three, as they were known, as largely responsible for the popularity of modern golf, and Palmer himself could be considered an icon that players like Tiger Woods were able to aspire to be like as youngsters.

#5: Tom Watson

Born: September 4 1949
Nationality: United States
Turned pro: 1971
Career wins: 68
Major championships: 8 (The Masters 1977, 1981; US Open 1982; The Open Championship 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, 1983)

Having been a professional golfer for nearly four decades, Tom Watson is still able to pull out a brilliant performance every now and then. The eight-time major championship winner produced an incredible effort at the 2009 Open Championship, managing a runner-up finish 26 years after his last major victory.

In a time when Jack Nicklaus was master of the course, Tom Watson was something of a Phil Mickelson, constantly nipping at the legend’s heels. He continues to play on the PGA Tour to this day, making him one of the oldest professionals on the Tour. But Watson is no senior citizen, and you can expect him to challenge for big titles for years to come.

#6: Greg Norman

Born: 10 February 1955
Nationality: Australia
Turned pro: 1976
Career wins: 88
Major championships: 2 (The Open Championship 1986, 1993)

Greg Norman is Australia’s greatest professional golfer, and spent an incredible 331 weeks as the top ranked player in the world. The Shark only won two major championships in his career – both at the British Open – but amassed 88 professional victories, and 23 achievements and awards over just a few decades.

Since the introduction of the latest ranking system, only Tiger Woods has exceeded Greg Norman’s record number of weeks as World No. 1, and in 2008 he proved once again why he is such an exceptional player, finishing third in The Open Championship almost a decade after his last top ten finish in a major.

#7: Seve Ballesteros

Born: 9 April 1957
Nationality: Spain
Turned pro: 1974
Career wins: 91
Major championships: 5 (The Masters 1980, 1983; The Open Championship 1979, 1984, 1988)

Seve Ballesteros was one of the most respected golfers throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and held the mantle of World No. 1 for 61 weeks in the late 1980s. A young Ballesteros made his mark on the golfing world when, at age 19, he finished second at The Open Championship. The Spaniard would go on to win that major three times in his career.

With a career that spanned more than three decades, Ballesteros has an incredible collection of victories, including 50 on the European Tour – the highest of all time. After overcoming a brain tumor in 2008, Ballesteros has continued his brilliant work both on and off the golf course.

#8: Nick Faldo

Born: 18 July 1957
Nationality: England
Turned pro: 1976
Career wins: 40
Major championships: 6 (The Masters 1989, 1990, 1996; The Open Championship 1987, 1990, 1992)

Nick Faldo has the honour of being the only British golfer to make it onto this list. The sturdy Pom has long been regarded as England’s greatest golfing export, and his penchant for winning on any Tour has captured the attention of much younger compatriots of the sport.

Faldo has only had nine wins on the PGA Tour, but, incredibly, six of those were major championships throughout the 80s and the 90s. His record on the European Tour is much stronger, and altogether he has collected 40 professional wins – and he’s still competing in three Tours every year.

#9: Vijay Singh

Born: 22 February 1963
Nationality: Fiji
Turned pro: 1982
Career wins: 58
Major championships: 3 (PGA Championship 1998, 2004; The Masters 2000)

The Big Fijian spent 32 weeks at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings during 2004-05 – admirable when you consider that this was during Tiger Woods’s period of domination. At 47, Singh was something of a late bloomer on the professional tour, only winning his first event at the age of 30.

Since that time however, Singh has picked up three major championships and spent the better part of a year as the number one golfer in the world. Similar to Ernie Els, Singh is a machine when it comes to competing on the PGA and European Tours, and his 58 professional wins are representative of that fact.

#10: Ernie Els

Born: 17 October 1969
Nationality: South Africa
Turned pro: 1989
Career wins: 62
Major championships: 3 (US Open 1994, 1997; The Open Championship 2002)

Ernie Els makes our list simply for being the epitome of a Tour player. The big South African is a former World No. 1, has won three major championships, and still continues to compete in every event he can. Els is a true golfer that loves the game, whether he’s taking part in the US Open or a small European tournament.

At only 40 years of age, Els has already picked up 62 professional wins, 43 of those on the PGA and European Tours, and currently holds the 7th most European Tour wins of all time. His last major win may have been back in 2002, but Els is still taking it to the big guns, winning both the WGC-CA Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2010.