The color green is important to professional golfers and not just because it's the color of money or the color of the perfectly manicured golf courses they play week-in, week-out. More so, the color green represents arguably the most prestigious tournament in golf--The Masters. The winner of The Masters not only gets a fat check worth $1.44 million and a lifetime exemption into the event, but also a coveted green jacket. It likely sounds hokey to an outsider that a green blazer can be so hotly desired, but in the golf world that article of clothing changes a player's career, not to mention his bank account.
However, The Masters--and golf in general for that matter--hasn't always been as financially profitable for professional golfers as it is these days. Back when former Masters' champions like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper and Jack Nicklaus were playing on the PGA Tour regularly, it took them most of their careers to get over the $1 million earnings benchmark. Nowadays golfers can surpass that mark with a single week of great golf. And it's not just solely inflation from 40 years ago that's responsible for the large discrepancy in money. Within the past 20 years, shortly after the arrival of Tiger Woods in late 1996, prize money has shot up astronomically. To prove that point, not only do the four aforementioned greats not even come close to sniffing this list, but Nick Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, who won in 1996, the year before Woods won in record-breaking fashion in 1997, doesn't even crack the top-10 of this list. Consequently here are the top 10 highest career PGA Tour money leaders who have won the Masters through the week of March 30, 2014.
10 Trevor Immelman (2008) - $12,411,516
The 2008 Masters champion just edged out two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal (1994 & '99) to make this list as Immelman has made $124,806 more than the Hall-of-Famer. Immelman and Olazabal rank 109th and 110th on the all-time money list, respectively. However, Immelman's career doesn't even compare to Olazabal as the South African is arguably one of the flukiest Masters champions ever. After three exceptional rounds in the 60s, Immelman fired a 75 in the final round of the 2008 Masters to win by a comfortable three-stroke margin over Tiger Woods with a 72-hole score of 8-under-par. In his nine total full-time seasons on the PGA Tour the 34-year-old has won only one other PGA Tour event, the 2006 Cialis Western Open.
9 Mark O'Meara (1998) - $14,189,882
Mark O'Meara won the Masters in 1998 rather unsuspectingly, similar to his under-the-radar career. Going into the 1998 Masters Tournament, O'Meara had won 14 times on the PGA Tour, but never a major championship. That all changed in 1998 when he not only won the 1998 Masters, but followed it later that summer with The Open Championship, giving him two majors and the PGA Tour Player of the Year honor. In the 1998 Masters O'Meara turned it on late in the round making three birdies over the final four holes to win by a single stroke over David Duval and Fred Couples. In fact, most everybody thought the tournament would go to either Duval or Couples as O'Meara didn't tie the two players at 8-under-par until a birdie on the 17th. Then on the 18th he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt to finish with a 9-under-par total and win the green jacket to everyone's surprise.
8 Bubba Watson (2012) - $21,631,925
7 Fred Couples (1992) - $22,494,714
In 1992 Fred Couples was at the top of his game and had his best season ever on the PGA Tour, winning the money title with $1.34 million in earnings and three tournaments, none bigger than the Masters. Couples got a fortuitous break on the par-3 12th in the final round of the '92 Masters when his ball stayed dry when it easily could have gone into Rae's Creek, which guards the front of the green. With the ball staying up on the bank, Couples was able to get up-and-down for par, which ultimately proved to be the difference as he finished with a 72-hole score of 13-under-par, two strokes better than runner-up Raymond Floyd. Couples' career never got better than 1992 when he was 32 years old, but his popularity never waned proving him to be a fan-favorite wherever he went, which is true still to this day. Adding another six PGA Tour victories after the 1992 season, Couples went on to be elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013 and also captained the United States to three straight Presidents Cup victories (2009, '11 & '13).
6 6. Mike Weir (2003) - $27,064,446
Don't let Mike Weir's current world ranking of 690 fool you as the now 43-year-old was a top-5 player only a decade ago. When Weir won the Masters in 2003 at the age of 32 in a playoff over Len Mattiace after both players finished with a 72-hole score of 7-under-par, it was Weir's third victory in a three-month span, vaulting him into the top-five world rankings. However, since his Masters victory the Canadian golfer has only won twice more on the PGA Tour with his last victory coming in 2007. A battle with injuries has knocked the left-hander off of his game, but having accrued more than $27 million in his career puts Weir in the top-25 all-time money leaders (he's currently 22nd) giving him exempt status on the PGA Tour. It's doubtful that Weir will add to his eight PGA Tour victories and will hold onto his top-25 career earnings spot, but he'll always have an invitation to Augusta National no matter what.
5 Zach Johnson (2007) - $32,409,494
4 Adam Scott (2013) - $34,109,215
Last year's Masters win meant a lot to Adam Scott, not only for his career expectations, but also for lifting a burden off of decades worth of Australian golfers who couldn't close the deal at Augusta. Greg Norman was effusive with praise of Scott winning the green jacket, something that he was never able to do even though he came awfully close on a couple different occasions (1987 & '96). Despite eight career victories going into last year's event, Scott to that point had an underwhelming career in the view of many critics, especially because of his lack of a major victory. Now, however, Scott is seen as one of the world's best, having added another victory in 2013 at the Barclays to give him 10 career PGA Tour wins at the age of 33. If Scott can keep pace, he'll not only add to his bank account and his current top-10 standing on career earnings (9th), he very well could end up in the World Golf Hall of Fame one day.
3 Vijay Singh (2000) -$68,290,632
With 34 career PGA Tour victories, Vijay Singh has had many years with multiple victories, but in 2000 he only had one and it was the one he likely wanted more than any other--The Masters. Singh was able to outduel two of the game's top golfers in 2000, David Duval and Ernie Els, as both players were right there going into the weekend with the native Fijian. However, Singh capitalized the final two days firing rounds of 70 and 69 on Saturday and Sunday to post a 72-hole score of 10-under par and win by three strokes over Els. Since his win in 2000, the now 51-year-old has gone on to accrue the third largest sum of money in a PGA Tour career and was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. However, Singh has most recently been in the news because of his ongoing legal battle with the PGA Tour, which involved him taking deer-antler spray.
2 Phil Mickelson (2004, 2006 & 2010) - $73,505,913
For several years Phil Mickelson was bombarded by the media about when he would finally break through and win his first major. Well, in the spring of 2004 at 33-years-old, Mickelson no longer had to answer critics as he donned a green jacket for the first time, and it wouldn't be his last. Two years later Mickelson won a second green jacket and then added a third in 2010 when he pulled off a spectacular shot on the par-5 13th from the trees. Mickelson's career has been quite impressive, as he won 42 times on the PGA Tour and claimed five major championships (Masters (3), The Open Championship and PGA Championship). Furthermore, the 43-year-old has made over $70 million on the golf course alone (2nd all-time), but still his Hall-of-Fame career in many aspects has been overshadowed by one player, who just happens to be No. 1 on this list.
1 Tiger Woods (1997, 2001, 2002 & 2005) - $109,591,058
No player has reached the level of Tiger Woods in modern day golf as he's amassed more than $100 million in earnings, 79 career PGA Tour victories and 14 major championships. Furthermore, his first time playing at Augusta National as a professional in 1997, Woods obliterated the field winning by 12 strokes with a 72-hole score of 18-under-par, a tournament scoring record that has yet to be sniffed by other competition. Woods' impressive play in 1997 actually was the impetus for the Augusta National brass to lengthen the course and add rough to it, something coined "Tigerizing." Still, in spite of the changes, Woods has proven to still be quite successful at Augusta, just not as of late having last won in 2005, his fourth green jacket. Unfortunately for patrons walking the hallowed grounds this week or watching on television, they'll have to watch without the game's most recognizable player as he recently withdrew because of a back operation.