COMMENTARY | With his impressive come-from-behind victory at the 2013 Open Championship for his fifth major, Phil Mickelson once again showed why he is one of the game's all-time greats.
However, where does this place Phil on the pantheon of golf's all-time legends?
To answer this question, we have to look at the numbers. As mentioned, Mickelson now has five major championships to complement his 51 wins as a professional (42 on the PGA Tour, 9 on the European Tour). Domestically, he is now No. 9 on the all-time PGA wins list, a mere three victories behind Walter Hagen and six behind Billy Casper.
In terms of major victory comparisons, Mickelson has joined an elite group of players who have at least five titles on their career resume. With the obvious inclusions of Jack Nicklaus (18 majors) and Tiger Woods (14), the only players with more major wins than Lefty include Hagen (11), Ben Hogan (9), Gary Player (9), Tom Watson (8), Bobby Jones (7), Arnold Palmer (7), Sam Snead (7), Gene Sarazen (7), Harry Vardon (7), Nick Faldo (6), and Lee Trevino (6).
It should be noted that Jones' major total is a bit skewed on the low end, but more on that later.
That's a pretty impressive list.
The comparisons get even more interesting when you look at the list of players with exactly five majors. Mickelson has now tied the likes of Seve Ballesteros, James Braid, Byron Nelson, J.H. Taylor and Peter Thomson. Including Mickelson, every player on that short list is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Now that we know the names included in the "where does Phil fit?" discussion, let's start ranking players. Does Mickelson fit in history's top 10?
Personally, the "Big Three" players atop my list of all-time legends have to remain Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Sam Snead, in that order. Snead may be a surprising choice for third, but his 165 professional wins -- including the all-time PGA Tour wins record of 82 -- speaks for itself. The Golden Bear and Tiger get the nod over Snead purely based on major victory totals.
Next, we have to list Hogan, Player, Palmer and Watson to round up the top seven players of all time. I struggle a bit with placing these guys in a specific list slot, but Hogan and Palmer have to be ranked in the top 5 in my mind, in that order. Player gets the slight nod over Watson because of that ninth major win.
This is where things start to get a bit cloudy.
Walter Hagen earned 75 wins as a professional (45 on the PGA Tour) and will forever be remembered as the greatest American Ryder Cup captain of all time. His 11 majors simply add to his mystique and legend, but I simply cannot put him above any of the other names on my list due to overall talent pool during his time (even though he played against guys named Hogan, Jones and others) and his career win total. Hagen gets the eighth spot on my list.
Bobby Jones is considered by many to be the forefather of modern golf. By far the greatest American amateur player to ever live, Jones only accumulated nine professional wins in his short career. Still, Jones did win seven majors still included on the "modern" list (four US Opens and three British Opens). Furthermore, Jones won five US Amateur titles and one British Amateur, all of which were considered majors during his time. Jones takes the ninth spot on my all-time list without question.
So that leaves us with one more slot in the top 10 and a slew of big names to consider, including Mickelson. This is going to be tough.
As much as I am a fan of his, Trevino has to fall outside the top 10. Even though "The Merry Mex" has 89 wins as a pro, the majority of those came outside of the PGA and Euro Tours. Sarazen managed 43 professional wins -- 39 of which on the PGA Tour -- but Mickelson has more in both cases. Braid, Thomson, Vardon and Taylor also fall outside the top 10 for similar reasons.
Now we are left with Seve Ballesteros, Byron Nelson and Phil. Lord Byron accumulated 64 wins as a pro, 52 coming on the PGA Tour. That's 10 more than Mickelson's tour total of 42 and one more than his grand total of 51 professional wins. Similarly, Seve's astonishing 91 professional victories include 50 on the Euro Tour (most all-time), which is only one less than Phil's overall win total.
Simply stated, I cannot find a way to place Mickelson above either Nelson or Seve on my top 10 list. Seve probably gets that final slot because of his pro wins, but Nelson is an extremely close second. That means Mickelson's ranking is somewhere around Nos. 11 or 12 on the all-time list, which is likely to change in the coming years.
Adam Fonseca has covered professional golf since 2005. His work can also be found on the Back9Network and ChicagoDuffer.com. Follow Adam on Twitter at @chicagoduffer.
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- Sam Snead