All-time Power Rankings: PGA Championship
May 11, 2020
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM
Jack Nicklaus stories from his fellow TOUR pros
When Generation Z arrives at retirement, the youngest adults of the time will turn to their grandparents and ask what happened today. After about 70 years parked in mid-summer, why did the PGA Championship spend one year in May, switch back to August for a year, and then return to May for good? Presuming that there won't be another deviation from long-range scheduling in forthcoming years, and devoid of knowledge of COVID-19, it'll be among countless fair questions about sports and society in 2020.
The 102nd edition of the major originally was planned to be contested this week. Instead, it was moved to August 6-9 due to the pandemic. TPC Harding Park in San Francisco remains the host site.
Before what was intended to be a permanent shift to spring last year, the last time that the PGA Championship was booted from its traditional slot was in February of 1971. Because PGA National Golf Club (now BallenIsles Country Club) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, hosted, the tournament was shifted to accommodate a friendly climate at that latitude. Alas, when the PGA of America selected the Champion Course at PGA National for the 1987 edition in August, sweltering heat and humidity negatively impacted attendance in the final round. These two PGA Championships constitute the only majors ever played in the Sunshine State.
Should the 2020 PGA Championship be played, it'll be the only major of the 2019-20 season. The Masters and U.S. Open were rescheduled for this fall, albeit in reverse order of tradition with the U.S. Open on Sept. 17-20 and the Masters on Nov. 12-15. This means that six majors are scheduled for the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season with consecutive Masters among the set, just as the 1970 and 1971 PGA Championship were held consecutively among the majors, albeit spanning separate seasons.
As unusual as these times and adjustments feel, flexibility and the willingness to evolve are woven deep into the fabric of the PGA Championship. The first 39 editions (1916-1957) used match play to declare the champion. Stroke-play scoring has been used since 1958, but the 36-hole cut wasn't a staple until 1965.
With a century of results reflecting who has clutched the Wanamaker Trophy, you might be surprised that not all of the golfers given attention below are winners of the tournament. Additionally, it's probably unfair to blend scoring eras into this week's installment of our special series, but attention is greatest for those who have dominated in stroke play because it's the current format.
ALL-TIME POWER RANKINGS: PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
20. Steve Elkington
Even newer fans of the sport may have a trace of a memory of him contending as a 47-year-old at Whistling Straits in 2010. That, of course, was where and when Dustin Johnson unwittingly grounded an iron in a bunker. Elk and DJ tied for fifth place, two strokes back of champion Martin Kaymer, who outlasted Bubba Watson in a playoff. It was the Aussie's fifth top five (and eighth top 20) in the PGA Championship, a record highlighted by victory in a playoff (over Colin Montgomerie) at Riviera in 1995.
19. Jason Day
Still only 32 years of age and with "only" one victory in the PGA Championship (2015), his body of work is strong enough to outpace other one-time winners, including Julius Boros, who has four top 10s among 10 top 25s and remains the oldest major champion in history since winning at the age of 48 in 1968. None of the other winners with more than three top 10s (Day has five among eight cuts made, all of which are top 25s) can claim another podium finish, whereas Day can with a solo second in his title defense in 2016.
18. Al Geiberger
It was in the PGA Championship at Firestone in 1966 where he snared his only victory in a major, and his record over time in the tournament was terrific. From 1963-1977, he went 13-for-13 with six top 10s and another four top 20s. Only one of his 581 career PGA TOUR starts occurred after he turned 50 in 1987, and it was when he was 60 years old at the 1998 PGA Championship. He used his lifetime exemption as a former champion when his son, Brent, qualified for the first time. Al didn't make the cut (Brent did), but he and Brent became the first father and son to compete in the same PGA Championship.
17. Tom Watson
Like Arnold Palmer, who cashed 24 times with six top 10s and another seven top 20s in the PGA Championship, Watson also didn't win the tournament despite 25 paydays. Both completed their careers this title short of the career grand slam. Palmer settled for a two-way T2 three times. Watson's record is highlighted by a playoff loss (in 1978) among 10 top 10s and another eight top 20s. Incidentally, among active golfers in possession of three-quarters of the career grand slam, Jordan Spieth is next to give it another try when TPC Harding Park hosts in August. (Phil Mickelson will follow at the U.S. Open in September. Rory McIlroy is in the hole for his at-bat at the Masters in November.)
16. Don January
Picked off his lone victory in a major at the 1967 PGA Championship, doing so in a playoff. His impressive record in this tournament also included a playoff loss in 1961, a T2 in 1976 and another four top 10s, the last of which a T7 at Oakland Hills three months before his 50th birthday in 1979. Twelve of his 16 paydays were top 20s.
15. Lanny Wadkins
His only victory in a major occurred at the 1977 PGA Championship, which also was the only edition that Pebble Beach has hosted and the first time that a sudden-death playoff decided victory in stroke-play competition in a major. A playoff loss in 1987 was among three runner-up finishes in the tournament. Altogether, he posted six top 10s and another four top 25s.
14. Vijay Singh
It was at Sahalee Country Club where he busted through for his first victory in a major in 1998. The Big Fijian picked up his second major title at the 2000 Masters and, thus, the last before the Tiger Slam. Singh's age-41 season of 2004 would be one of the best of all-time. He won nine events, including the PGA Championship in a playoff at Whistling Straits. In a total of 27 career appearances in the major, he's registered six top 10s and another two top 20s.
13. Lee Trevino
The Merry Mex won the U.S. Open, The Open Championship and the PGA Championship each twice, but the last two titles of that six-pack of majors occurred in the PGA Championship in 1974 and 1984. The latter was the last of 29 career victories on the PGA TOUR. He was 44 at the time. In his title defense in 1985, he recorded what would be the last of 33 career runner-up finishes. In 20 appearances in the PGA Championship through 1990, he totaled five top 10s, 12 top 25s and 16 cuts made.
12. Brooks Koepka
Assuming the PGA Championship is contested this August, there's a great chance that he's No. 1 in the real-time Power Rankings. In the meantime, it's worthy of a moment to appreciate that he's already inside this version of the all-time top 20. Indeed, the 30-year-old will be the two-time defending champion at TPC Harding Park this summer, but he already had gone for a pair of top fives and another two top 15s previously in this tournament. He's 7-for-7 since debuting in 2013.
11. Phil Mickelson
Before he connected for his only victory in this major in 2005 and before his first major victory of any kind at the Masters in 2004, he checked up one stroke too high to match David Toms at Atlanta Athletic Club in the 2001 PGA Championship. Mickelson added another one-stroke defeat (to Rory McIlroy) at Valhalla in 2014. When he arrives at TPC Harding Park this summer, he'll be gunning to pile on a 24-for-27 record that boasts nine top 10s among 14 top 25s.
10. Rory McIlroy
Even though he has two victories in the PGA Championship, it's his opening salvo of T3s in 2009 and 2010 among six top 10s that lift him into this section. Of course, it also doesn't hurt that his eight-stroke margin of victory at Kiawah Island in 2012 is the tournament record.
9. Nick Price
Broke through in the majors in the PGA Championship with victory at Southern Hills in 1992. He'd go on to win The Open Championship and PGA Championship in 1994 (when he won six times on the PGA TOUR), thus giving him three titles over a span of nine majors. In 20 career starts in the PGA, he managed seven top 10s and another two top 20s.
8. Denny Shute
Among the horses during the match-play era with a pair of wins (1936, 1937), one second and a T3 among 11 top 10s and 15 top 20s. He made only one start in stroke play, finishing T44 at the age of 54 in 1959.
7. Gary Player
Titles in 1962 and 1972 contributed to his career grand slam. He also finished second twice, including at the age of 48 at Shoal Creek in 1984 where he matched what then was the lowest 18-hole score ever in a major with a second-round 63. Overall, the South African went for eight top 10s among 12 top 25s.
6. Raymond Floyd
Just as it was illustrated at No. 4 in last week's all-time Power Rankings for the AT&T Byron Nelson, his endurance yielded another sparkling record at the PGA Championship. Two of his four career victories in majors occurred in this event in 1969 and 1982. He also finished T2 in 1976 and totaled eight top 10s, the last of which a T7 at the age of 48 in 1991. He added another nine top 20s among 27 paydays, a record he shares with Jack Nicklaus.
5. Gene Sarazen
He was there almost from the beginning with a fifth-place finish in his debut in what was the fourth edition in 1921. He won the following year at the age of 20 years and five months. He's remained the youngest champion in tournament history. The Squire successfully defended his title in 1923 and added a third and final W in 1933. Along the way, he also scattered one runner-up finish (1930) and three thirds en route to 18 top 10s. His T9 in 1956 at the age of 54 was the last of 185 career top 10s on the PGA TOUR.
4. Sam Snead
A handful of golfers performed well when match play ruled and since stroke play was introduced, and while no one won the PGA Championship in both formats, no one comes close to The Slammer's career record in the tournament. He won three times (1942, 1949, 1951) and finished second twice, T5 four times and totaled 16 top 20s … and that's only in his 17 appearances in match play from 1937-1957. He launched stroke play with a solo third in 1958 and totaled seven more top 10s. With a T3 at the age of 62 in 1974, he's the oldest ever to have finished inside the top 10 in a major, and with a T42 as a 67-year-old in 1979, he's the oldest ever to make a cut in a major. In a combined 34 paydays, he recorded 19 top 10s and 26 top 20s.
3. Tiger Woods
Despite four wins and three seconds in the PGA Championship, Woods himself would understand why he slots one behind The Haig, who has five Ws. Of course, only Woods will have a chance to build on his record. All told, he's 16-for-20 with nine top 10s among 11 top 25s.
2. Walter Hagen
He's the answer to the modern-day trivia question of who captured the most victories in a major behind Jack Nicklaus (18) and Tiger Woods (15). Hagen's 11 boasts five at the PGA Championship, including four in a row from 1924-1927. Young Tom Morris is the only other golfer in history to win any major four consecutive times, but his set at The Open Championship spans five years (1868-1972) since the tournament wasn't held in 1871. Hagen also finished second once and third twice at the PGA. He rattled off nine straight top fives in the event from 1916-1929.
1. Jack Nicklaus
Five times the champion for career major victories Nos. 3, 9, 12, 14 and 17 from 1963-1980. Also logged four of his 19 runner-up finishes (from 1964-1983) in this major. Added three thirds en route to 15 top 10s and 23 top 25s. Shares the record with Raymond Floyd for cuts made in stroke-play competition with 27. Nicklaus' last was a T67 as a 55-year-old at Riviera Country Club in 1995.
In 10 appearances, all during the match-play era, he won twice, including during his 18-victory season of 1945, finished second thrice, third once and T5 three times.
Upended Byron Nelson in 38 holes for victory in the 1941 edition. It was one of eight top 10s (and 16 top 20s) in 21 appearances from 1932-1957. He'd make three starts in stroke-play competition, the last of which resulting in a T49 as a 54-year-old in 1965.
Made only 13 cuts and recorded only two top 10s in 27 appearances, but both were victories. After prevailing by four at Atlanta Athletic Club in 1981, he emerged in a playoff in the sauna at PGA National in 1987.
Authored essentially the same all-or-nothing record as Larry Nelson in this major. Stockton's only top 10s among 17 cuts made in 23 appearances were victories in 1970 and 1976.
Cashed 20 times but with no better than a trio of runner-up finishes, each by two strokes. Posted another three top fives, including a T5 at age 44 in 1975. Totaled eight top 10s and 13 top 25s.