Golf’s Greatest Escape Artists

1 of 27 Reuters, Keystone/Getty Images, Al Tielemans/SI
We polled Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers and asked them to name their top scramblers of all time, across all eras. They were free to choose any player and could consider any factor they believed to be key to a player's success. Here are their choices, beginning with players who earned honorable mention and finishing with the eight greatest escape artists of all time.
2 of 27 REUTERS/Mike Segar
Jim Furyk Jim Furyk has been a consistent, grinding force during his 20 years on the PGA Tour. One key to his remarkable longevity is his ability to recover from trouble. That's helped him earn more than $60 million, good for fourth all-time on the Tour money list.
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Raymond Floyd "His short game under pressure was second to none," said Top 100 Teacher Bill Moretti. Floyd won four majors: the 1969 and 1972 PGA Championship, the 1976 Masters, and the 1982 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills (left).
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Brian Gay Said Top 100 Teacher Dom DiJulia: "While he has played more for a living than for championships (though I'd happily take his nearly $18 million in earnings!) his appearance in the Top 10 for scrambling eight of the last nine years is quite impressive." Indeed it is. So are Gay's three career PGA Tour victories and 37 top-10 finishes in his 15 years on Tour.
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Walter Hagen The legendary Hagen essentially invented the role of a touring professional golfer. "In consummate skill and high living, no one could match the flamboyant Walter Hagen, who changed the rich-man image of golf while courting the company of princes," wrote Sports Illustrated's Ron Fimrite. Top 100 Teachers agreed, voting Hagen, who won 11 major titles, one of the game's greatest scramblers.
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Brad Faxon Long considered one of the best putters in golf, Faxon used his scrambling ability to help win eight times on the PGA Tour. His best year came in 2003, when he recorded eight top-10 finishes and made $2,718,445.
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Fredrik Jacobson You'll find Freddie Jacobson near the bottom of the driving distance category and near the top of strokes gained putting and scrambling. The Swede turned pro in 1994 and has one once on the PGA Tour and three times on the European Tour. He was also the player least likely to three-putt during the 2014 season.
8 of 27 Phil Bath/Sports Illustrated
Phil Rodgers Golf's "brashest" player made the cover of the Jan. 14, 1963, Sports Illustrated after a successful amateur career and two wins during his rookie season on the Tour. He never reached the heights predicted for him in that SI article. As he told Golf Magazine's Alan Bastable in a 2008 interview: "I probably talked myself out of being a great champion more than I talked myself into it." He transitioned into a career as one of the game's great teachers. "Phil totally revamped my short game and gave me confidence," Jack Nicklaus told Bastable. "It was a significant part of why I won the U.S. Open in 1980.
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Gary Player The Black Knight won nine majors in a globe-spanning career that continues to this day. "His awesome short game, work ethic and attitude were second to none," Top 100 Teacher Bill Moretti said. "He was successfully competing against Palmer, Nicklaus and Casper in their primes despite lacking their distance."
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8. Corey Pavin "He used his wedge and putter to be able to compete at the highest level," says Top 100 Teacher Mitchell Spearman. Pavin, voted the eighth-best scrambler of all time by the Top 100, parlayed his scrambling ability into 15 PGA Tour wins, including the 1995 U.S. Open.
11 of 27 Jacqueline Duvoisin/Sports Illustrated
8. Corey Pavin Pavin was also a member of the 1991 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Pavin helped the America team retain the cup in the bitter "War By The Shore" at Kiahwah Island, South Carolina.
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7. Arnold Palmer The King's freewheeling style of play meant he'd sometimes find himself off the beaten path, as he did when winning the 1961 British Open at Royal Birkdale (left).
13 of 27 Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated
7. Arnold Palmer Playing his last Masters in 2002, Palmer remembered his father Deacon's advice: "When I was a youngster, he showed me how to grip the club and told me to hit the hell out of the ball.” That occasionally led to finding trouble, which Palmer handled on the way to his seven major victories.
14 of 27 Gary Newkirk /Allsport
6. Tom Kite The consistent Kite was one of the original best players to never win a major until he captured the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He said his chip-in for a birdie on the seventh hole (left) was the best shot of his career. That effort was part of a scrambling 72 during the final round of the Open, played in howling winds on dried-out greens.
15 of 27 Darren Carroll
6. Tom Kite Kite won the Vardon Trophy (for lowest average score) in 1981 and 1982.
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5. Tom Watson "He was great under pressure," said Top 100 Teacher Kellie Stenzel. "Too bad he didn't have one more (major) in him." Watson won eight of them, including the British Open in 1975, 1977, 1980, 1982 and 1983 when his scrambling skills were on full display. The near-miss Stenzel refers to came in 2009, when he nearly won the Open at Turnberry.
17 of 27 Richard Mackson/Sports Illustrated
5. Tom Watson Watson's greatest scrambling moment came at Pebble Beach in 1982 when he holed a chip from a seemingly impossible lie at the par-3 17th hole. The birdie pushed him to a two-stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus.
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4. Paul Runyan Fellow players nicknamed the diminutive Runyan "Little Poison" because he killed them around the greens. Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Runyan won 29 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1934 and 1938 PGA Championship. "I don't think anybody ever got more out of his short game than Paul Runyan," Sam Snead said. "He could get the ball up and down out of a manhole." He was also a pioneering instructor and the author of
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4. Paul Runyan Runyan played alongside Bobby Jones in the 1934 Masters, then known as the Augusta Invitational Tournament. Runyan was said to shoot in the mid 70s even into his 80s. A 90-year-old Runyan shot a 9-over-par 36 during the par 3 tournament at the 1999 Masters -- a few months before his 91st birthday.
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3. Phil Mickelson "It's fun to watch his disregard for playing safe," said Top 100 Teacher Kellie Stenzel. That's what Phil was doing hitting from the pine needles on the 13th hole during the final round of the 2010 Masters Tournament. He missed the putt for eagle, but still made birdie on the way to his third green jacket.
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3. Phil Mickelson "He can hit it in some crazy places -- but he can hit shots no one else can attempt!" said the Top 100's Jim Murphy. That's what Phil did when he threaded an approach through a narrow opening in the trees to birdie the 18th hole at Colonial and win the the 2008 Crowne Plaza Invitational.
22 of 27 Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated
2. Tiger Woods "He has hit some of the most incredible shots in the history of the game," Top 100 Teacher Jim Murphy said of Tiger Woods, who was voted the second greatest scrambler of all time. One of them was the winding chip he holed on the 16th during the 2005 Masters (left). The birdie helped Tiger secure his fourth green jacket.
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2. Tiger Woods "You can't score if you can't scramble," Top 100 Teacher David Wright said. Tiger has won the Vardon Award for lowest scoring average nine times.
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1. Seve Ballesteros The overwhelming choice as the greatest scrambler of all time is, of course, Seve. The charismatic, freewheeling Spaniard learned the game hitting pebbles on the beach with a discarded 3-iron tied to a stick. He won five major championships: the 1980 and 1983 Masters and the British Open in 1979, 1984 and 1988.
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1. Seve Ballesteros His feats of prestidigitation have become legendary. The greatest may have been the birdie he made from a parking lot next to the 16th fairway during his 1979 British Open victory at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. He finished three shots ahead of Ben Crenshaw and Jack Nicklaus. "I won the Open … in a different way from most people that have won the Open,” he said. “I was right, left, in trouble most of the time. But I finished the hole quicker than the rest of the field. That was the name of the game.”
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1. Seve Ballesteros "He was a man who got into trouble. Only for Seve, there was no such thing as trouble,” Gary Player said. Seve followed his 1979 British Open victory with a victory at the 1980 Masters. At 23, he was the youngest champion until Tiger Woods won as a 21-year-old. Seve mastered Augusta's tricky greens, leading by as many as 10 strokes on the way to a four-shot victory over Gibby Gilbert and Jack Newton.
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1. Seve Ballesteros Ballesteros won 91 times around the world and played on eight Ryder Cup teams. His last Ryder Cup match was in 1995, a 4 and 3 loss against Tom Lehman. Seve didn't hit a fairway through nine holes but was only one down. Lehman said it was the greatest nine holes he had ever seen.