Would Tiger beat the Golden Bear in golf's ultimate big-game battle? Is Tiger Woods's dominance over the past 13 years a greater feat than Jack Nicklaus's over 25 years? While we're at it, who had the better career, Sam Snead or Arnold Palmer? Annika Sorenstam or Old Tom Morris? Who's to say?
We assembled a stellar blue-ribbon panel to say. Each of our expert judges listed his or her top 20 golfers of all time, in order. Panelists were free to consider only on-course achievements—or to factor in character or other contributions as they saw fit. Players earned 20 points for each first-place vote, 19 for second and so on, down to one point for a 20th-place vote. The results are sure to start arguments.
With 15 judges, 300 points was the maximum. Nicklaus, with 290 points, and Woods, with 283, came close. Bobby Jones collected 265. Almost every panelist put those three players at the top. Beyond that towering threesome only Ben Hogan, Snead and Palmer got a single top-three vote. Byron Nelson, Mickey Wright, Sorenstam, Young Tom Morris and Babe Zaharais each received at least one fourth-place vote, but three of them finished outside the top 10. Nicklaus's rivals Lee Trevino—who tossed Jack a toy snake before their 1971 U.S. Open playoff—and Billy Casper snagged two of the last three spots.
Who missed the cut? Nick Faldo (34 points) with his six majors fell just short of No. 20 Casper with his three. Next came Peter Thomson (28), Greg Norman (27), Kathy Whitworth (26), James Braid and J.H. Taylor (tied at 16) and Phil Mickelson (15). Francis Ouimet rounded out the balloting with a single 20th-place vote.
Let the arguments begin....
TIM FINCHEM, Commissioner, PGA Tour
DAVID FAY, Executive Director, USGA
PETER DAWSON, Chief Executive, Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews
CAROLYN BIVENS, Former Commissioner, LPGA
JOE STERANKA, CEO, PGA of America
JACK PETER, COO, World Golf Hall of Fame
DOUG FERGUSON, President, Golf Writers Association of America
RAND JERRIS, Director, USGA Communications and Museum
DEANE BEMAN, Former Commissioner, PGA Tour
JAMES P. HERRE, Golf Editor, Sports Illustrated
DAVID CLARKE, Editor, Golf Magazine
MICHAEL BAMBERGER, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated
ALAN SHIPNUCK, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated
GARY VAN SICKLE, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated
JOHN GARRITY, Special Contributor, Sports Illustrated
Open the gatefold to see the 20 Greatest Golfers of All Time
Photo Illustration by AARON GOODMAN