This sounds like a trick question: Is Tiger Woods the best golfer of the 21st century?
The short answer: Yes. The long answer: Duh … yes, obviously.Based only on results from 2000-on—spoiler alert—Woods still reigns supreme. But who else would make a list of this century’s finest male golfers, The Ranking wondered?
This 23-year span has given us Phil Mickelson’s breakthrough major win, plus five more; the Rise and Fall of Jordan Spieth; Masters wins for The Gang That Couldn’t Putt Straight—Vijay Singh, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia; Chapters 1 and 2 of The Brooks Koepka Saga; the Bryson DeChambeau comet; Retief Goosen proving that lightning can strike twice; surprises such as Trevor Immelman, Wyndham Clark, Ben Curtis and Brian “The Deer Hunter” Harman.
So how do this century’s winners stack up? Good thing you asked, otherwise there would be a large blank space on this website under the heading “For office use only.”Here are the century’s best, based on The Ranking’s complex calculations using Advanced Metrics obtained from the Internal Revenue Service’s tax workbook …
10. Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas (field entry)
These guys seem joined at the hip in Ryder Cups and President Cups. They’re buddies, unlike Spieth’s previous other hip, Patrick Reed. Plus, these two have similar records. Thomas has 15 PGA Tour wins, including two PGA Championships, and Spieth has 13 wins, including three majors (all but a PGA). They’re 30 so they’ve got plenty of years to pile up more major wins. Of course, we said the same thing after Rory McIlroy got his fourth major in 2014 and, nine years later, he’s still on hold at four. Thomas is currently in a minor slump, no biggie. Spieth last won a major in 2017—the British Open where he went on a safari adventure on the practice range in the final round—and he’s managed only two Tour wins since then. Still, if they were stocks, The Ranking would be buying.
9. Sergio Garcia
Your cup-spitting, shoe-heaving, tantrum-throwing favorite Garcia never truly lit up the PGA Tour. He won 11 times, including that Masters. But it’s easy to forget he was a superstar on the artist formerly known as the European Tour (what, golf is played outside the U.S.?), where he piled up most of his 20 other international victories. And give him credit, he was the biggest Ryder Cup pest ever. Heck of a career, honestly.
8. Padraig Harrington
The fast-talking Irishman is still winning on PGA Tour Champions, although he just lost the Senior British Open to Alex Cejka in a playoff at Royal Porthcawl in Wales last weekend. Harrington won only six times on the PGA Tour but three of them were majors—back-to-back Open Championships and one PGA Championship. Harrington tore up the European circuit with 20 wins. He can probably recount every shot from each of those wins, too, so don’t ask him to do so. It’ll take awhile.
7. Vijay Singh
He never got full credit for taking the world No. 1 ranking away from Tiger Woods in Tiger’s prime, mainly because he liked talking to the media as much as he liked having sharp bamboo sticks shoved under his fingernails. Remember, Singh had a nine-win season during TigerMania. This century, Singh had 26 tour wins and two major titles, a Masters and a PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. That’s why he was rightly rubber-stamped into the Hall of Fame.
6. Ernie Els
You’re excused if you thought Ernie was a man of the 1990s. No, he and his languid swing had longevity, even if his putting stroke didn’t. Els won a pair of U.S. Opens in the ‘90s, which don’t count on this list. But he won a pair of Open Championships this century, including the one where Adam Scott collapsed on the last four holes (costing The Ranking chief a big payday on a 27-1 odds wager … but he’s almost over that loss more than a decade later). Els won 12 other tour events and 22 international events, a regular Gary Player-world traveler (not that anyone matched the boundless Mr. Player in frequent-flyer miles).
5. Brooks Koepka
There is no doubt that Koepka is a big-game hunter, hence his “Major Brooks” nickname. He just gets that steely Terminator look in his eye when a major championship rolls around. The rest of the events? They’re just the undercard. Which is why Koepka has won five major championships and only four other tour events, although he has also won seven assorted international titles. Koepka makes the list with only nine wins because The Ranking figures five majors equal about 20 regular wins. Plus, is there anyone in this post-Tiger world (sorry, Tiger) that other players less like to chase in a major than Koepka? With apologies to Harman, nope.
4. Dustin Johnson
He survived that 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont and snagged the only November Masters likely ever to be played. His most impressive feat is that, since 2008, he has won at least one tournament every year for 16 years. Of course, to keep that streak alive, that means counting his Saudi International victory in 2021 and his LIV Golf victories the last two years. The Ranking will concede the Saudi win—wouldn’t Jay Monahan agree?—but not the cute little LIV Golf outings. No matter what you count, the streak is Johnson’s most impressive accomplishment.
3. Rory McIlroy
Raymond Floyd, Greg Norman, Davis Love III, Els, Lanny Wadkins and Dutch Harrison (The Ranking just wanted to throw his name in there) have fewer PGA Tour wins than McIlroy, who has won 24, featuring four majors. Don’t forget his nine international wins. He’s the only player to win the FedEx Cup and the DP World Tour Race to Dubai titles in the same year. That’s a lot of zeroes in the bank account. He is golf’s super-est superstar (without Tiger and Phil playing on tour) and he’s only 34, the same age Mickelson and Ben Hogan won their first majors. We’re still waiting for his second act.
2. Phil Mickelson
He managed to carve out 32 wins and six major titles during Tiger’s Era, no small feat. He never went deep in a season the way Woods did. Phil twice won four times in a year, which lost its wow-factor after Woods had seasons when he won nine, eight, seven, six (twice) and five (four times). He also never won the money-list title (ah, those were the days) or got to No. 1 in the rankings. Thanks for that, Tiger. Mickelson came up big when he scored an Open Championship, an event he wasn’t expected to land, and bigger when he captured a PGA Championship at age 50, a month before his 51st birthday, making him the oldest major winner.
1. Tiger Woods
Golf’s greatest won 67 of his 81 titles in this century and 13 of his 15 major championships. Where would he rank among 20th century golfers? Maybe you can do a book report on that. His next comeback, if there is one, will be the most shocking and amazing of his career. And if he doesn’t come back, that’s all right, he doesn’t owe us anything. He had one hell of a run for almost three decades.