5. BRAD FAXON
Playing career: 1983-
True, Brad Faxon doesn't show much bark off the tee, but his putting game packs some serious bite. For proof, look no further than 2000, when Faxon averaged 1.704 putts per greens in regulation, the best putting season ever recorded. "Fax's secret," says Top 100 Teacher and Faxon buddy Brian Mogg, "is his ability to think less and get out of the way more with his putter than anyone in the history of the game. This simple mindset, paired with his creative mind, make him the best putter never to have won a major."
Stroke analysis: Faxon sets up with his right side ultra low and with his head angled to the right. It's not what you would teach, but it's perfect for him. He's very natural and target-oriented. When he putts it looks like he's shooting free throws.
4. BOBBY LOCKE
Playing career: 1938-1959
How good was Bobby Locke? The South African actually came up with the phrase "you drive for show and putt for dough." He was also so good that his fellow competitors on the PGA Tour successfully had him banned after the 1948 season (the ban was lifted in 1951, but Locke had already returned to his home, and in between had bagged two of his four British Opens). In his first 59 events (following an exhibition season in which he beat Sam Snead 12 times in 14 matches), Locke finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd 30 times, and also topped the field at the 1948 Chicago Victory National by 16 strokes (still a PGA Tour record). "No doubt, a lot of people wish Sam Snead had never invited Bobby over," Top 100 Teacher Eddie Merrins says. "He used a 38-inch, hickory-shafted steel-blade putter, which fit in well with his belief that you could move putts to the left or right, just like you can in a full swing. His real gift, however, was his ability to 'read and roll' the ball the right distance to the hole."
Stroke analysis: Locke putted like he swung his irons and woods, from in-to-out (he played a significant draw off the tee and from the fairway). He paired his inside-out stroke with a shut putterface to place hook spin on the ball. His stroke fit the greens he grew up on in South Africa, which were very grainy.
3. BEN CRENSHAW
Playing career: 1973-
The Wilson 8802 blade-style putter has been around for the better part of 60 years, but it's still the one even young golfers crave because "it's the one Ben used." No, not Ben Crane, but rather Ben Crenshaw, who with a few more major victories could have very well topped this list. Crenshaw's instructor growing up, the late Harvey Penick, taught the Texan to putt with a smooth, effortless stroke the perfect mechanics to master even the speediest of greens, especially those at Augusta National, where Crenshaw won twice. During his 1995 triumph at Augusta, "Gentle Ben" either 1-putted or 2-putted all 72 greens not a single 3-putt.
Stroke analysis: I've been fortunate to watch Crenshaw putt many times in person, during both practice and play. Yes, he's smooth, but what's really interesting is that he putts like he's attempting a miniature chip shot. If you fret over your mechanics, you might want to look at your stroke like Crenshaw does instead of trying to follow a robotic sequence of moves.
2. JACK NICKLAUS
Playing career: 1961-2005
Jack Nicklaus' game has always been synonymous with power, but unlike most power players, he was a conservative golfer at heart more strategist than gambler (he was the first one to mark course yardages in his own yardage book). This was especially true on the greens, where the Golden Bear often plotted to avoid three-putting before doing anything else. "I'm one of the greatest two-putters," he once said. But no one can argue that when it came down to the most-heated, most pressure-packed moments, Nicklaus came through more often than not. If he hadn't already beaten you from the tee box and green, he'd break you with a putt out of nowhere. Nicklaus' putting greatness is more about the drama than anything else. He one-putted six of the final nine greens at the 1986 Masters to roar from eight spots back to claim his record-setting 18th major. Each one is a reminder of what legendary putting is all about.
Stroke analysis: Nicklaus never looked very comfortable when he putted, with his stocky frame bunched up in his familiar crouch. But he had a very repeatable stroke. He kept his head very still, and locked his left arm and shoulder in place, then simply pushed the ball to the hole with his right palm and forearm.
1. TIGER WOODS
Playing career: 1996-
According to our voters, consider yourself lucky for the past 14 Tour seasons you've been paying witness to the greatest putter of all time, Tiger Woods. As you sit, you can probably peel off half a dozen highlight-reel putts Tiger has made in his career: The finger-pointing bomb at Valhalla on the first playoff hole against Bob May at the 2000 PGA Championship; the double-fist-pumping birdie on the 72nd hole of the 2008 U.S. Open to force a Monday playoff against Rocco Mediate; the hat-throwing downhill slider to snatch the 2008 Bay Hill Invitational from Bart Bryant; or the original-Tiger-fist-pump-inducing 14-footer on the island green at TPC Sawgrass to finish off his improbable comeback against Trip Kuehne at the 1994 U.S. Amateur. You can bet there's more to come.
Tiger is the greatest putter of all time because he makes the ones he should (he was 1 of only 6 players to make every putt inside three feet last year on Tour), and the ones he shouldn't. From 2004 to 2008, Tiger's Average Distance of Putts Made, a somewhat cerebral stat that calculates the total distance of putts holed for a given tournament, is 6 feet longer than the Tour average. He's an expert at making long putts other golfers miss.
Tiger has always been erratic off the tee. His iron game is elite. When he wins, however, it's because his putting is on. When all three elements come together he laps the field in victories so lopsided the whole course looks like its listing in water.
Stroke analysis: Woods isn't as technical as some other players, but you wouldn't know it by his putting. His setup is fundamentally perfect with everything square, especially his forearms and the puttershaft it looks like they're the same line. I'm sure he practices this a lot. When your setup is this good, you're going to make a lot of putts. And when you combine it with an equally sound stroke (he moves through the ball like it's invisible), you make a lot of history.