The 12 Best Men's Majors Of All Time

Nick Bonfield sifts through the history books to bring you a list of 12 of the best men's Majors of all time

British Open, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus embrace after tournament on Sunday at Turnberry
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In golf, the four Majors stand alone in terms of significance and prestige. Winning just one is enough to define an entire career and earn the victor a place among the greats of the game. It's for that reason they are so fiercely contested and often produce drama that transcends the sport. 

Here, we pick out 12 of the most memorable men's Majors in history...

1950 US Open

Ben Hogan with the trophy after winning the 1950 US Open at Merion

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Winner: Ben Hogan

The fact Ben Hogan was even playing in the tournament was a small miracle in its own right, given that he’d almost died 16 months previously when his car was hit by a Greyhound bus. He broke multiple bones and suffered a serious blood clot some months after the accident, leading to a permanently closed vein that left him struggling to walk, let alone play golf.

He remarkably made his way back to professional golf, and was in good form before heading to Merion for the 1950 US Open. In those days, the final 36 holes were played in one day. Hogan had to soak his legs in epsom salts before each round and they were cramping so badly it later emerged he told his wife, Valerie, he didn’t think he’d be able to finish. The event also went to an 18-hole play-off, but Hogan still emerged victorious – a mark of his sheer will, determination, skill and high pain threshold.

1970 Open Championship

Open Championship 1970 at Old Course at St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland, held 8th - 12th July 1970. Pictured, Doug Sanders congratulates Jack Nicklaus as they walk off the 18th green.

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Winner: Jack Nicklaus

Even those who weren’t born at the time know the story of Doug Sanders’ excruciating finish at the 1970 Open. After a gutsy up-and-down from the Road Hole bunker on St Andrews’ Old Course, he stood on the 18th tee with a one-shot lead over Jack Nicklaus. However, he took four shots from just 74 yards, including that infamous missed two-footer. Unsurprisingly, he went on to lose the resulting play-off.

1973 US Open

Johnny Miller competing in the 1973 US Open, at the Oakmont Country Club

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Winner: Johnny Miller

Johnny Miller admitted he found a ‘sort of golfing Nirvana’ in the mid-70s. Indeed, from 1973 to 1976, he won two Majors and 15-plus PGA Tour titles. In the 1973 US Open at Oakmont, Miller started the final round six shots off the lead. But he compiled a sublime 63 – the lowest ever score in a Major and widely considered to be one of the finest rounds in the history of the sport – to win by one stroke from John Schlee.

1977 Open Championship

Tom Watson celebrates after holing the winning putt at the 1977 Open Championship

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Winner: Tom Watson

The ‘Duel in the Sun’ is generally considered as the best Major in golf’s history. Why? Because it featured the sport’s two biggest stars at the peak of their powers going head-to-head. 

Starting the third round in a tie for second, Nicklaus shot 65-66 over the weekend at Turnberry and still finished one behind Watson. It went right down to the wire, and while the contest was fiercely competitive, it was played in an exemplary spirit. The duo finished 10 and 11 shots ahead of Hubert Green in third place.

1982 US Open

Tom Watson celebrates after chipping in for birdie on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach during the final round of the 1982 US Open en route to victory

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Winner: Tom Watson

Nicklaus and Watson did battle once more at Pebble Beach in 1982. With Nicklaus safely in the clubhouse on four-under and Watson two holes from home on the same score, the tournament couldn’t have been more up in the air, especially with Pebble Beach’s notoriously intimidating final two holes. 

Watson pulled his 2-iron to the par-3 17th and looked odds-on to drop a shot, but he produced one of the best chip-ins of all time to open up a one-shot lead. He also birdied the 18th for good measure to finish two clear of Nicklaus.

1986 Masters

Jack Nicklaus celebrates after holing a putt at the 17th hole during the final round of the 1986 Masters

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Winner: Jack Nicklaus

Nicklaus was already the most prolific Major winner in history before he set foot on the hallowed turf of Augusta National for the 1986 Masters. Starting the final round four shots off the lead, he compiled a sublime 65 to finish one clear of Tom Kite and Greg Norman, who bogeyed the last hole. In doing so, he registered his 18th Major title and became the oldest winner of The Masters.

1997 Masters

Tiger Woods during the final round of the 1997 Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 13, 1997

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Winner: Tiger Woods

In 1997, at the age of just 21, Tiger Woods announced himself on the world stage with a record-breaking 12-shot victory at Augusta National. Remarkably, he played his first nine holes on Thursday in four-over-par 40, but came home in 30 before a second-round 66 put him in control at the halfway stage. A Saturday 65 opened up a nine-shot lead and a closing 69 secured his place in the annals of golf history.

2000 PGA Championship

Tiger Woods (R) of the US shakes hands with fellow countryman Bob May (L) after their final putts on the 18th hole 20 August 2000 to force a playoff in the 82nd PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club

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Winner: Tiger Woods

The 2000 PGA Championship will go down as one of the best head-to-head duels in Major history. Woods, enjoying a phenomenal season, went up against little-known Bob May, who refused to back down. 

Woods and May both separated themselves from the field during an enthralling Sunday back-nine tussle, which culminated in Woods responding to May’s 15-footer for birdie on 18 with a five-foot birdie putt of his own. In the resulting play-off, Woods walked a 25-footer into the cup at the first extra hole and parred the next two to secure his third Major of the season.

2011 Masters

Masters champion Phil Mickelson of the United States helps 2011 Masters Tournament winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa at the Green Jacket ceremony after the final round of the 2011 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club

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Winner: Charl Schwartzel

The eventual champion might not have been the most charismatic player in the field, but what preceded his crowning was one of the most exciting two hours in recent memory. As many as eight players were still very much in contention during the back nine on Sunday, including Adam Scott, Jason Day and Tiger Woods, who turned in 31. Schwartzel, though, held them all off by birdieing his final four holes to register his maiden Major title.

2016 Open Championship

Henrik Stenson (right) hugs Phil Mickelson (left) after winning the 2016 Open at Royal Troon

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Winner: Henrik Stenson

Some observers described Henrik Stenson’s victory over Phil Mickelson in the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon as the most impressive display of golf they had ever seen, and it’s hard to disagree. Stenson broke the record for the lowest 72-hole score in Major history and equalled the lowest final round in a Major. Had he and Mickelson been playing better ball, they would have shot 59.

2019 Masters

Tiger Woods celebrates on the 18th at Augusta National after winning the 2019 Masters

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Winner: Tiger Woods

The 2019 Masters was one of those rare golfing 'where were you when?' moments as Woods won his 15th Major and first since his iconic 2008 US Open triumph. After countless surgeries and lengthy spells on the sidelines, many had written off Woods' hopes of adding to his Major haul and chasing down the record of Jack Nicklaus. However, he proved at Augusta National in 2019 he was far from a spent force as he beat one of the strongest field in golf to land a fifth Green Jacket.

2021 PGA Championship

Phil Mickelson of the United States celebrates after winning during the final round of the 2021 PGA Championship held at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island Golf Resort

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Winner: Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson turned back the clock to produce one of the greatest performances in the sport's history at the 2021 PGA Championship. At the age of 50, 'Phil The Thrill' added to his legacy by taking down Brooks Koepka at Pete Dye's iconic Kiawah Island to become the oldest Major winner in history, eclipsing the previous record set by 48-year-old Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship.

Nick Bonfield
Features Editor

Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, writing, commissioning and coordinating all features across print and online. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x