6 Greatest Masters Golfers of All-Time

Counting them down to No. 1 ...

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods
Jack Nicklaus is the greatest Masters player of all-time, and Tiger Woods is No. 2. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Who are the best players in the history of The Masters tournament, those golfers who played the best at Augusta National over the years? We bet you already know who holds the No. 1 spot in our (and everyone else's) rankings (his nickname is the Golden Bear).

And no surprise, all six of the golfers on this ranking of Masters greats are, themselves, among the greatest players in the history of the sport.

of 06

Gary Player

Gary Player photographed during the 1968 Masters.
Bettmann/Getty Images

When Gary Player won the 1961 Masters, he became the first non-American to win the tournament. He won twice more, in 1974 and 1978, making him one of seven golfers to win the Masters at least three times. He finished second two other times, with 15 Top 10 finishes and 22 Top 25 finishes.

At the 1978 Masters, Player earned the victory with a final-round 64 that included seven birdies in his final 10 holes. That was probably the most-famous comeback win in Masters history until Jack Nicklaus' final-round charge in 1986.

of 06

Sam Snead

Golfer Sam Snead pictured circa 1960
Joan Roth/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Slammin' Sam Snead is another three-time winner of The Masters, taking the title in 1949, 1952 and 1954. At the 1949 tournament, Snead became the first champion to wear the now-traditional Green Jacket.

Snead finished second twice, in the Top 5 nine times, in the Top 10 fifteen times and in the Top 25 a whopping 26 times. His first Top 25 finish happened in 1937 when Snead was 24 years old; his last, in 1974 at age 61.

His 1954 win was his best — Snead defeated Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff, 70 to 71.

of 06

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson pictured during the 2011 Masters
Phil Mickelson went from best-without-a-major to one of The Masters' bests. Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

For many years, Phil Mickelson was one of those players about whom people wondered, "why hasn't he won The Masters yet?" That first win finally did happen in 2004, and he's since won two more (in 2006 and 2010).

As a professional, through 2017, Mickelson has played in 22 Masters tournaments and finished in the Top 10 in 15 of them — and in the Top 5 in 11 of them. That includes one runner-up finish and five times finishing in third place.

of 06

Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer at Augusta National in the 1961 Masters
Arnold Palmer at Augusta National in the 1961 Masters. Rogers Photo Archive/Getty Images

Arnold Palmer was the first golfer to win The Masters four times.

Arnie's wins came in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964. He won wire-to-wire at the 1960 Masters, and finished as runner-up two other times. Palmer posted nine Top 5 finishes overall.

In his 1962 victory, Palmer beat Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald in an 18-hole playoff.

Palmer set a tournament record unlikely to ever be broken: He played in The Masters 50 consecutive years, from 1955 to 2004.

of 06

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods pictured during the 2012 Masters.
4-time Masters winner Tiger Woods. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In 1997, Tiger Woods burst into the realm of major championship winners with a record-setting victory at Augusta, running away with his first Masters victory. Woods set multiple records that week, just two of which were becoming the youngest-ever Masters winner, and posting the largest margin of victory (12 strokes).

Woods added three more wins in 2001, 2002 and 2005. The 2005 Masters was the site of Woods' famous chip-in on the 16th hole, and he won that tournament in a playoff. Then, 14 years after his last win at Augusta National, Woods got Green Jacket No. 5 at the 2019 Masters.

Woods also has two runner-up finishes. In 18 Masters appearances as a pro through 2019, Woods has 14 Top 10s and 12 Top 5 finishes.

of 06

Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus slips into the Green Jacket (with an assist from Charles Coody) after winning the 1972 Masters
Jack Nicklaus slips into the Green Jacket (with an assist from Charles Coody) after winning the 1972 Masters. Bettman/Getty Images

Who else? Jack Nicklaus donned the Green Jacket as Masters champion six times. His first Masters victory was in 1963 and his last in 1986. In between, he also won in 1965, 1966, 1972 and 1975.

Nicklaus also shares the record for most runner-up finishes with four. The 271 he shot in winning the 1965 Masters was the record until Tiger Woods broke it in 1997. Nicklaus holds the record with 15 Top 5 finishes — four better than the next-closest guys (Woods and Mickelson) on the list. He holds the records for most Top 10 finishes (22) and most Top 25 finishes (29). As late as 1998, at the age of 58, Nicklaus finished sixth.

Three of Nicklaus' Masters wins have become iconic. Following the 1965 Masters — when Nicklaus beat runners-up Arnold Palmer and Gary Player by nine shots — Bobby Jones said that Nicklaus "played a game with which I am not familiar." In 1975, Nicklaus emerged the winner in a great three-way battle with Johnny Miller and 4-time Masters runner-up Tom Weiskopf. Miller and Weiskopf were on the tee at the par-3 No. 16, watching when Nicklaus, on the green, leapt into the air after sinking a difficult 40-foot birdie putt. The nails were in the coffins.

And, of course, there's 1986, when 46-year-old Nicklaus — who hadn't won a tournament in two years or a major in six years — staged one more back-nine charge at Augusta, coming home in 30 for a final-round 65. The Golden Bear went eagle-birdie-birdie on Nos. 15, 16 and 17, setting off what might be the loudest gallery roars in golf history.

And a Few Honorable Mentions

Let's give Ben Hogan a nod. He won "only" two Masters, but he was in contention more than anyone with the exception of Nicklaus. Hogan was runner-up four times.

Jimmy Demaret and Nick Faldo are the other three-time winners of The Masters, but neither excelled much in their other appearances at the tournament.