Top 10 Golfers of All-Time at the British Open

The British Open (or "Open Championship," for you sticklers) is the oldest of the four professional major championships in men's golf. It was first played in 1860, the year before the American Civil War began. So when we consider the "all-time" greats in this tournament, that's a lot of years to cover.

Which golfers have performed the best over their years playing the Open? Let's count them down. These are the top 10 golfers of all-time in the British Open:

01
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Tom Watson (5 Wins)

5-time winner Tom Watson holds the Claret Jug following the 1977 British Open
Tom Watson is No. 1 on our list of the Top 10 golfers at the British Open. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Surprisingly, outside of his five Open Championship wins, Tom Watson finished in the Top 10 in only five other Opens. But he's the last (so far) of the 5-time winners, which means he did it against deeper, stronger fields.

Watson won the first British Open he played, in 1975. He packed his five wins into a stretch of nine Opens, from 1975 through 1983.

One of those victories is iconic in golf history: the so-called "Duel In the Sun" against Jack Nicklaus at Turnberry in 1977. Playing together over the final two rounds, Watson shot 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66 to win by a stroke. It was one of the greatest performances in major championship history.

Watson also won in 1980, 1982 and 1983. Going for three in a row in 1984, he finished second, two strokes behind Seve Ballesteros.

Watson had another runner-up finish ... 25 years later. At the 2009 Open, at age 59, Watson led for most of the tournament and nearly all of the final round. He would have been the oldest winner, by far, in major championship history. And Watson had a putt to win on the final hole. But he missed, then lost in a 4-hole playoff to Stewart Cink.

02
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Peter Thomson (5 Wins)

Golfer Peter Thomson in 1967
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Peter Thomson replaced Bobby Locke as the tournament's dominant player in the mid-1950s, then continued as a contender for many years to come.

A 5-time champion, Thomson is the only golfer since the dawn of the 1900s to win three consecutive Opens, doing so in 1954-56.

From 1952-58, Thomson finished first or second every year. And in the 21 Opens from 1951 through 1971, he was outside the Top 10 only three times.

Thomson's wins in 1954-56 and 1958 were discounted by some at the time because few top American golfers played the British Open in those days. But in his final Open win, in 1965, Thomson beat all the best.

03
of 10

Jack Nicklaus (3 Wins)

Jack Nicklaus following his win at Muirfield in the 1966 British Open
Jack Nicklaus after winning the 1966 Open Championship. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jack Nicklaus won "only" three Opens (his fewest wins in any of the majors), so why do we have him ahead of, say, Harry Vardon, who won six?

Timing. Vardon played in the 1890s through the 1910s, a period when there was far, far less depth and quality in professional golf. But Nicklaus' three wins are joined by a streak of incredible performance over time in the British Open.

In the 20 Opens played from 1963 through 1982, Nicklaus finished outside the Top 10 just twice, with a worst showing of 23rd.

From 1966-80, Nicklaus was in the Top 10 every year, and in the Top 5 all but one year. In addition to his three wins, Nicklaus was runner-up a tournament-record seven times.

Although Nicklaus doesn't make the top of the list of golfers with the most wins in the British Open, few golfers in any of the majors can match his consistently great play in the Open over an extended time.

04
of 10

Harry Vardon (6 Wins)

Harry Vardon photographed in 1927
Six-time British Open winner Harry Vardon. Central Press/Getty Images

Harry Vardon is the all-time leader in British Open wins with six. From 1894 to 1908, a span of 15 tournaments, Vardon won four times and finished no lower than ninth.

He added two more victories in 1911 and 1914. Vardon was 44 years old for that last one, which remained the tournament record for oldest winner until 1967. He also finished second in four other Opens.

Between them, the three members of "The Great Triumvirate" - Vardon, J.H. Taylor and James Braid - won 16 Opens in the late 19th/early 20th century.

05
of 10

Tiger Woods (3 Wins)

Tiger Woods at the 2007 Open Championship
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Through the 2013 Open, Tiger Woods played the tournament 15 times as a pro and finished in the Top 10 in nine of those starts. That included three victories, in 2000, 2005 and 2006.

And Woods set some scoring records in those wins. In 2000, Woods' 19-under final score set the tournament record for lowest score in relation to par (he was 18-under in winning the 2006 Open); his margin of victory in 2000 was eight strokes, tying the best since 1900.

And that makes Woods a Top 10 golfer at the British Open. Woods' run in the tournament appears to have been a relatively short one (assuming injuries and other issues prevent him from ever regaining his previous form), but it was brilliant.

06
of 10

Henry Cotton (3 Wins)

Henry Cotton (watched by Walter Hagen) at the 1929 British Open
Henry Cotton tees off at the 1929 Open. Puttnam/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Henry Cotton won the Open three times in the 1930s and 1940s - he finished in the Top 10 in 12 of the 13 Opens played from 1930 to 1948 - but it well could have been more: In six of Cotton's prime years the Open wasn't played because of World War II.

He won twice before the war and once after. Following his final win, in 1948, Cotton skipped five of the next six Opens; in the one he did play in that stretch, he finished fourth.

His first British Open Top 10 was in 1927, and his last in 1958. When Cotton won his first, in 1934, he shot a then-record 65 in the second round. That score was so famous in its day that it inspired the naming of one of the best-known golf balls of its time, the Dunlop 65.

07
of 10

Nick Faldo (3 Wins)

Nick Faldo on the Swilcan Bridge at this final Open Championship in 2015
Three-time champ Nick Faldo says his goodbye from the Swilcan Bridge in 2015. Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Nick Faldo's 13 Top 10 finishes in the British Open spanned a long time period: His first was in 1978, the last in 2003. He had three victories in there (in 1987, 1990 and 1992), and five Top 5s, including one runner-up finish.

Before Tiger Woods came along, Faldo held the tourney record for lowest winning score in relation to par.

08
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J.H. Taylor (5 Wins)

1913 British Open champion J.H. Taylor
J.H. Taylor was a 5-time winner of the British Open. Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

From his first tournament appearance in 1893 until his 17th appearance in 1909, John Henry Taylor did not finish outside the Top 10 in a British Open.

His five wins were spread over a longer period than those of his Great Triumvirate fellows; in fact, he holds the British Open record for longest span between first and last wins (19 years).

Taylor also shares the post-1900 tournament record for largest margin of victory; and had six runner-up finishes, second-most. His five Open victory came in 1894, 1895, 1900, 1909 and 1913.

09
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Bobby Locke (4 Wins)

Bobby Locke with the Claret Jug in 1952
Bobby Locke with the Claret Jug in 1952. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bobby Locke was a 4-time British Open champ from the late 1940s into the 1950s, and he also recorded eight other Top 10 finishes in the tournament, including a pair of second places.

He went head-to-head with Peter Thomson for tourney domination in the 1950s, but Locke came out second-best in that showdown.

10
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James Braid (5 Wins)

5-time British Open champion James Braid
Thiele/Getty Images

James Braid, along with J.H. Taylor and Harry Vardon, made up the "Great Triumvirate" of British golfers in the late 19th/early 20th century. Between them, they won 16 Open Champions in a span of 21 tournaments from 1894 through 1914.

Braid was the late bloomer of the trio, and packed his five Open wins into the shortest span - 1901 through 1910. He also had four runner-up finishes over his Open career.