The golf world had never seen a match like this: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, $9 million at stake.
Just for fun, we asked ourselves what the equivalent match would be for each decade. As some general ground rules, the two players had to be active players on the PGA Tour at the end of the decade (we'll assume these hypothetical matches took place in the final year of each decade, so 2009, 1999, 1989, etc.) and two of the most accomplished golfers at the time – not necessarily the two best golfers in the world at the end of the decade.
Also to make things interesting, we're going to refrain from picking the same matchup for any two decades.
Matchup: Tiger Woods vs. Vijay Singh
As tempting as it is to set up a dream matchup of Tiger vs. Jack Nicklaus, Jack's last year playing in PGA Tour events was in 2005, when he missed the cut in all three events in which he competed. The timeline just doesn't quite add up.
The same goes for Tom Watson, who despite finishing second at The 2009 Open Championship missed the cut in 14 of the 28 PGA Tour events he played in from 2000 to 2009.
That leaves us with a handful of players who were three-time major winners as of 2009: Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els and Nick Price.
While Mickelson won one major a year from 2004-2006, along with four runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open during the decade, we're going to go with Singh. Tiger was the PGA Tour's leading money winner in seven of the 10 years in the decade. Singh held the honor in the other three.
He won 26 PGA Tour events from 2000 to 2009, including nine in 2004.
Matchup: Nick Faldo vs. Greg Norman
Nick Faldo was arguably the most accomplished golfer in the '90s with four major championships, 97 weeks atop the OWGR during the decade and the conclusion of the most individually successful Ryder Cup career in the event's history. He was the end-of-the-year No. 1 player in 1992 and 1993.
Plus, the inclusion of a European golfer would also be great for the event's worldwide appeal. Actually, we're going all-in on the international flavor of this match.
Australian Greg Norman only won two majors but he also had eight runner-up finishes in majors in the 1980s and '90s. He finished the year ranked No. 1 seven times in a 12-year period from 1986 to 1997.
Faldo won the 1996 Masters. Norman finished second as Faldo erased the Australian's six-stroke lead entering Sunday to win by five shots.
The pair combined for five wins at The Open Championship in an eight-year stretch. Norman won in '86, Faldo won in '87. Faldo won in 1992, then Norman won in '93.
Matchup: Jack Nicklaus vs. Tom Watson
The Golden Bear's ridiculous pace of winning major championships slowed in the 1980s but he was still competitive, winning three majors in the decade to potentially put his record of 18 majors out of reach.
Nicklaus and Tom Watson, who won five majors in the first four years of the 1980s to give him eight for his career, would have been in a similar age range in 1989 as Tiger and Phil are now (49 and 40 versus 42 and 48, respectively).
Matchup: Jack Nicklaus vs. Gary Player
Nicklaus and Player are the two golfers with the most combined major championship whose primes overlapped. Nicklaus' majors spanned from 1962 to 1986 and Player's stretch was from 1959 to 1978.
In the fall of 1979, the time of this hypothetical showdown, Nicklaus had won 15 majors, while Player had already won the last of his nine majors.
The pair jockeyed for position atop the leaderboard at major championships throughout their careers, including the 1965 Masters, where Nicklaus won and Player finished as a runner-up, and The 1974 Open Championship, where Player won and Nicklaus finished third.
Matchup: Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus wasn't yet Jack in 1969 but he still had already won seven majors, which would rank tied for seventh all-time even if he never played another round of golf after the 1960s. Arnold Palmer also had won all seven of his majors before 1970, including six in the '60s, which would have made this must-see television 50 years ago.
Palmer would have been 11 years Nicklaus' senior but this is likely the only decade where these two golf icons would have matched up on a level playing field.
Matchup: Ben Hogan vs. Sam Snead
Ben Hogan and Sam Snead won their majors in a concentrated period of time in the late 1940s and early '50s. Hogan won nine majors in just eight years and Snead claimed seven major championships in 13 years.
Hogan won five majors in the first half of the decade, including two in both 1951 and 1953. His win at Carnoustie in The 1953 Open Championship completed his career grand slam.
Snead never claimed an elusive U.S. Open victory but he won The Masters and the PGA Championship three times apiece. Hogan and Snead met in Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, which you can see above. Hogan hit every fairway and every green in the two days it took to film the show in 1964 and edged Snead, 69-72.
Matchup: Byron Nelson vs. Sam Snead
Lord Byron ranks sixth all-time in PGA Tour wins with 52, including five majors – three of which he won in the 1940s. Nelson may have peaked in the mid-'40s, when he was both the PGA Tour's leading money winner and the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in back-to-back years in 1944 and 1945.
Snead, the PGA Tour's all-time wins leader, won four of his seven majors by the start of the 1950 season, including a Masters victory and PGA Championship in 1949. He was also the PGA Tour's leading money winner, PGA Player of the Year and Vardon Trophy recipient that year.
These two accomplished golfers from the early-to-mid-1900s were born within four months of each other in 1912.
Matchup: Gene Sarazen vs. Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones had a remarkable start to the decade, winning the U.S. Open, The Open Championship, the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur for a single-year grand slam in 1930 but he retired later that year at 28 years old, making him perhaps the greatest "What if?" player in the history of golf.
Jones founded The Masters later in the '30s and it was the only tournament in which he competed in annually following his retirement.
We're thinking a bit outside the box here but if Jones' final year playing golf was arguably the greatest single season by a golfer ever – at the very least, it's on the short list – and he essentially walked away from playing the sport competitively after that, his return to the links nine years later to play a high-stakes, winner-take-all match against Gene Sarazen, a seven-time major champion, would have been a fascinating event.
Matchup: Walter Hagen vs. Bobby Jones
Hagen won nine of his 11 majors from 1921 to 1929, so no one dominated the decade quite like Sir Walter. The aforementioned Bobby Jones was arguably the greatest amateur to ever pick up a club, proven by his three U.S. Open victories, pair of wins at The Open and four U.S. Amateur titles in the 1920s.
If you include his wins in the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur, Jones won 13 of his era's major championships.
Watching the greatest amateur of the early 1900s (Jones) compete against the greatest professional (Hagen), would have been appointment television.
Matchup: Harry Vardon vs. John Henry Taylor
Harry Vardon would have been 49 years old at the time of hypothetical match in 1919 but he was still winning at the highest level of professional golf in his mid-40s. Vardon, who was from the Bailiwick of Jersey, won The Open Championship six times, including in 1911 and 1914. He also won the U.S. Open in 1900.
Henry, an Englishman, won The Open five times over the course of three decades, including wins at St Andrews, Royal St George's and Royal Liverpool. He also won the German Open in 1912. Henry finished in the top 10 of The Open for 17 consecutive years, 12 of which included top-5 finishes.
Matchup: Harry Vardon vs. James Braid
We've already mentioned Vardon, who used to have the all-time lead for major championships with seven – five of which came before 1909. Vardon's final major championship came in 1914, when Walter Hagen, who later surpassed Vardon with 11 majors, won his first.
The only major that James Braid played in was The Open Championship but he managed to win it five times in 10 years – 1901, 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1910. After his competitive playing days were over, Braid pursued a career in golf course design.
Photos courtesy of The PGA of America archives.
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