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The 18 Best Players Ever

10 GARY PLAYER Career victories: 66 Majors: 9
Peak years: 1959-78

He was the best small guy since Hogan. The gritty South African had the career Grand Slam by the time he was twenty-nine years old. Player shot sixty-four on the last day to win the Masters at age forty-two. He won nine majors. He won in America, won in Europe, won the British Open in three different decades.

The king of frequent-flyer miles, Player went toe-to-toe with the best golfers of about three different generations, and he did it with jet lag.

11 GENE SARAZEN
Career victories: 37 Majors: 7
Peak years: 1922-35

The first guy to win all four professional majors. An ex-caddie like Francis Ouimet, Sarazen came from the back of the pro shop to reach for the sky. He had that double eagle at the Masters, still the most famous single stroke in golf history. He also invented the sand wedge. He didn't make great television the way Arnie did—just by tossing a cigarette away—but Sarazen grew the game as a TV sport by hosting Shell's Wonderful World of Golf. When he died in 1999, at the age of ninety-seven, it was one of the great golf upsets. We had all just assumed that the Squire was going to live forever.

12 LEE TREVINO
Career victories: 36 Majors: 6
Peak years: 1968-84

Tom Watson got Nicklaus good a couple of times, especially at Turnberry in the '77 British Open—still the best game of one-on-one a major championship has ever seen. But Nicklaus was thirty-seven by then. Trevino beat Jack when Jack was in his prime. He did it at Merion in the 1971 U.S. Open and at Muirfield in '72, when Jack was going for the Slam. They were basically the same age (Lee's a month older), but Jack was on his way to becoming the best of all time, just as Tiger may be doing now. Trevino showed up full of smart-mouth and sass, absolutely fearless, looked at Nicklaus and said, "What do you want to play for?"

Trevino won two U.S. Opens, two British Opens, two PGAs. You always believed he could rework his game enough to find a way to get it done at Augusta. That never happened, so he never won the Masters. But he did come through with my second-favorite line about golf: "Pressure is playing for five dollars when you've got two in your pocket." The game needed him then and needs somebody like him now.

13 TOM WATSON
Career victories: 44 Majors: 8
Peak years: 1975-84

He was from the class of Byron Nelson, who was one of his mentors. Fast player, fast swing, as tough as anybody in the past thirty years, even if he never won a PGA. That chip shot at Pebble Beach to beat Nicklaus in the Open isn't quite up there with Sarazen's double eagle, but it looked to be impossible. He made it. He shot 65-65 the last two days at Turnberry when Jack was shooting 65-66. Watson stuck a seven-iron to within two-and-a-half feet on the last hole so he could still win after Jack made a putt from the Turnberry Hotel.

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