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Out of the Rough: Where does Ernie rank now?

Tue 24th, July 2012

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Ernie Els' victory Sunday at The Open Championship was epic, sad and almost any other adjective you can conjure up.

The Big Easy is already a Hall of Famer. Literally, he's been inducted and that's all done.

The question is, where does this win put Els in the pantheon?

We aren't going to analyze the whole history of the sport. If you aren't aware, the sport dates back quite a while. In fact, one guy's name was actually Old Tom Morris.

For the purpose of this exercise, we are going to rate the best in the Tiger era, which means from the start of the 1997 season. Clearly, Mr. Woods is at the top of that list, but we will rank the next 10 best in the Tiger era.

For years, we've waited for a true rival to Woods. We never got one. The closest we got to challenging Woods' reign has been an Escalade, a fire hydrant and some poor decisions.

When compiling this list, wins out-rank all, especially major ones. Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups appearances are nice, so are FedExCup titles and wins at The Players, but majors rule all.

This list combined both the PGA Tour and European Tour. We actually tried to make it as worldwide as possible. This list is subjective to a degree. There's no math equation to make this work.

10. COLIN MONTGOMERIE

Later, you'll see who narrowly missed the list, but Monty might be a shock when you see it right away. The truth is, Montgomerie won 19 times in Europe since 1997, four Order of Merit titles and three runner-ups in majors. The fact he didn't win a major in that time nearly knocked him off the list, but five Ryder Cup appearances, and in most cases, he was the best player on the course, got him here.

9. DAVID DUVAL

Duval has 13 PGA Tour wins since Tiger burst on to the scene and one major, the '01 Open Championship. His career has fallen off a cliff harder than Thelma and Louise, but what earns him a place on this list is the fact that Duval overtook Woods for the No. 1 spot in 1999. That was as close to the zenith of the Woods era as you get, give or take a year.

8. SERGIO GARCIA

The Spaniard has seven PGA Tour titles, 10 European wins and a handful of other titles in some unofficial, yet spectacular-fielded events. Spoiler alert - he's one of three majorless players on this list, but Garcia has 17 top 10s in majors, including four in 2002 alone, although he only really contended in two or three of them. Garcia's talent level is astronomical, but he hasn't lived up to the hype. He's got a great resume (five Ryder Cups), and gets some extra points for a career Renaissance in the last two years.

7. JIM FURYK

Furyk has 14 PGA Tour trophies on his mantle since 1997, and two more before. His only major breakthrough came at the 2003 U.S. Open. Furyk has made every international team on points since 1997 and that's an awesome accomplishment. The man with the goofiest swing in golf captured the 2010 FedExCup title, then went into a tailspin. He showed his moxie by contending at this year's U.S. Open, but he probably should've won that. He ranks higher than those before him because of his consistency in this era.

6. RETIEF GOOSEN

If Furyk is ahead of who he's ahead of because of consistency, than Goosen is ahead of him because of the major count. Goosen has two U.S. Opens, should've been three, and contended at the Masters to the tune of four top-3 finishes in six years. Goosen has seven PGA Tour wins, 13 European Tour wins since 1997 and six straight Presidents Cup showings. Goosen won the European Tour money title twice. Hard to believe he's not a Hall of Famer.

5. PADRAIG HARRINGTON

The reason Harrington is in this spot and not Goosen is that Harrington has three major titles, including two in a year. He's the last player to do that and it was four years ago. Paddy has five PGA Tour wins and 13 in Europe since '97. Played on six European Ryder Cup teams and won the Order of Merit in 2006.

4. LEE WESTWOOD

This is probably way too high for a guy without a major title, but Westwood has 21 European Tour titles in the last 15 years and two money titles. Unlike someone like Monty, whose career closest parallels Westwood's, Lee won twice in the U.S. It's fair to question if Westwood will ever win a major (perhaps the best ball-striker in the world, but maybe the worst short game), but for the last four years, he's had two top-10s in majors. Westwood got to No. 1, has been on seven Ryder Cup teams and has been the best European player since 1997.

3. ERNIE ELS

So, it turns out Els' win on Sunday didn't move the dial much on him. What hurt his case on this particular list is that one of his majors came while Woods was in college. The Big Easy won 40 times on the two tours since 1997, played on six International Presidents Cup teams (would've been seven, but he was hurt) and has done it throughout this whole era.

2. VIJAY SINGH

Singh has the tour's record for wins after 40. He has 31 PGA Tour titles in 15 years, three major victories, three money titles, one FedExCup championship and spent 32 weeks atop the world rankings in 2004 and 2005. His season in 2004 is the best by a player not nicknamed after a jungle cat in this time span. Singh's relevance has tapered a bit in the last few years, but he made every Presidents Cup team from 1998-2009. What you have to like a lot about Singh is that he wanted to be the best, and went and did it. The only thing that kept him from No. 1 on this list is one major...

1. PHIL MICKELSON

Lefty has the same number of tour wins as Singh in the same time frame, but Mickelson's four major championship beats out Vijay. Mickelson never got to No. 1. He's never won the FedExCup. Furyk may have made every international team since 1997, but Mickelson has too. (Actually, Lefty's made every one since 1994.) Mickelson is still winning in 2012, while Singh is laboring to make cuts. Yes, Mickelson is younger, but he's also been better in the last 15 years.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

- So, did Els win the Open, or did Adam Scott blow it? Generally, I always side with the winner, and it's worth noting that Els was 3-under without a bogey on the back nine Sunday, but Scott blew this one. He said all of the right things afterwards, including how calm he was. But how does a world-class golfer bogey four holes in a row to lose a major without nerves overcoming? There's no rational explanation other than nerves.

- Els was so classy after winning. He opened his acceptance speech saluting Scott and did so in an interview with ABC and with the collected media. Els is such a wonderful statesman for the game. He plays internationally and became the face of autism research in sports after his son was diagnosed. Els can be testy (remember his interview with Steve Sands at the Transitions Championship, or his meltdown on the staff at the BMW PGA), but Els still feels like the game's premiere spokesperson.

- Els made it a point to say Scott would win a bunch of majors, but how does he know? On talent alone, Scott should have won a few by now, but he hit it in the water at the 18th in the final round of his 2004 Players Championship win and he's just not a closer. If I had to lean, I'd say, sure, Scott will win a major, but I said that about Colin Montgomerie, Sergio and Westwood. It's no lock a player wins a major on talent, especially if you consider there have been 16 different winners in the last 16 majors.

- ESPN's coverage is excellent. It's a shame we don't get them often anymore. The guy I like is Tom Weiskopf. His absence of nonsense comes off downright humorous. I can do without some of ESPN's actual talent, but the analysts and reporters are great.

- Hope you like majors, because the PGA is in three weeks.

- Movie moment - Saw "Ted" and forgive me federal government, but it was on the worst bootleg copy of something since Rerun got nabbed taping the Doobie Brothers on "What's Happening!" It's funny. Even though I contend I've seen the movie for the last 12 years on TV, turns out vulgar teddy bears have their moments.

- TV moment - The Emmy nominations crack me up. Can someone honestly say that Kathy Bates, or Edie Falco belong on these lists anymore? I like "Modern Family" more than most people, but it was uneven this year. "Parks and Recreation" was the best show on television this season and no nomination? "Downton Abbey" may be the best thing the British have brought us since the Gallagher Brothers, but come on?

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