The Real Cut Streak Forget what the PGA Tour says. The record held by Byron Nelson should belong to Ben Hogan

May 11, 2003

Tiger Woods made a three-footer for bogey on the 36th hole of
this year's Masters to avoid missing the cut, and immediately
the nation's news media breathlessly reported that he had
extended his streak for consecutive cuts made to 102, inching
closer to Byron Nelson's DiMaggio-esque record of 113. One
problem: An investigation by SI has revealed that Ben Hogan
should hold the record, at 177. A case can also be made that
the record, as currently defined, is bogus, and that Jack
Nicklaus is the leader in the clubhouse for consecutive cuts
made, with 101. (More on that later.)

The trouble begins at the most basic level: how to define a made
cut. What the Tour calls consecutive cuts is, according to the
PGA Tour's director of information, Dave Lancer, "really
consecutive tournaments in the money." During Nelson's and
Hogan's heyday, in the 1940s and '50s, some tournaments had
36-hole cuts--about half the field was sent home for failing to
shoot a low-enough score--but the rest had no cut at all. Among
these, every player teed it up for four rounds, but only a
certain number (typically the low 15 or 25) were paid. According
to Lancer, Nelson's streak of earning a paycheck began at the
1941 Crosby Clambake and ended at the 1946 World Championship of
Golf, but details are sketchy as to how many of those 113
tournaments had a true cut. Although it can trace its roots to
the early 1930s, the PGA Tour split from the PGA of America in
1968, and many documents were lost in the transition. "The
records we have now were inherited from the PGA," says Lancer.
"There's no question there are some missing pieces.
Unfortunately, our sport is not like baseball." (Of course,
baseball once had its own problems, which it addressed by hiring
the Elias Sports Bureau in the 1920s to research and oversee its
statistics.) Having examined all of the available records, SI
estimates that only 30% of Nelson's 113 straight tournaments had
a 36-hole cut. The 91-year-old Nelson, reached at home last week,
said, "I can't even guess how many had a real cut. The thing of
it is, I didn't keep track because I didn't really have to worry
about it."

The 1959 PGA media guide, the first in which scoring and
miscellaneous records were printed, listed Nelson's streak under
the category, "most consecutive tournaments in the money." The
wording was inexplicably changed in the '79 PGA Tour media guide
to "most consecutive events without missing cut," and that is how
it appears today. But using the original criterion--consecutive
tournaments in the money--SI has uncovered a streak that dwarfs
Nelson's: From the 1939 PGA Championship through the '50 L.A.
Open, there is no evidence that Hogan ever missed a paycheck, a
staggering run of 177 tournaments. When this was brought to
Lancer's attention, he said, "But how do you know you haven't
missed one?" As Lancer explains it, Hogan could have shown up at
a tournament somewhere, shot four 78s and failed to make a cent,
but if that tournament recorded only money-earners and not the
entire field, as occasionally happened, this phantom "missed cut"
would have ended his streak, and we would be none the wiser.

What makes this argument specious is that the same scenario could
have occurred with Nelson, yet the Tour continues to recognize
his tally as the gold standard. According to Lancer, Nelson's
streak was originally adopted after considerable lobbying by Bill
Inglish, a longtime sportswriter for the Daily Oklahoman. Inglish
was a stats fanatic who forged a close relationship with Nelson
and kept records throughout Lord Byron's career. (Inglish was
also the official statistician of the Masters for more than 30
years, until his death in 1998.) Ten years ago the Tour brought
in statistician Pat Leahy to audit its record books. Leahy
largely relied on the Tour's own bookkeeping and a handful of
secondary sources, the same resources available to SI.
Unfortunately, Leahy died several years ago, so there's no way of
knowing if he was aware that Hogan might be the record holder.
Pressed on the matter, Lancer says, "You're talking about
adopting a new record, and Pat was confirming an existing record.
It's not the same thing. There's no way to be 100 percent certain
that there is not a tournament missing during the Hogan years."
Since the same holds true for Nelson, the Tour would be wise to
acknowledge that either streak, or both, comes with an asterisk,
Roger Maris be damned.

It should be noted that neither Hogan's nor Nelson's tally
includes a British Open, an event that has a complicated place in
the Tour's accounting system. Golf's oldest championship was not
considered an official PGA Tour event until 1995. Last year the
Tour retroactively made all Open victories before '95 official,
but starts and cuts made--the key qualifying criteria for the
Tour's pension plan--are not counted. So Nicklaus's official
tally of 73 career wins includes his three British Open
victories, but his streak of 105 cuts (from the 1970 Sahara
Invitational to the '76 Hall of Fame Tournament) does not include
six British Open appearances, an indefensible inconsistency.
After crunching all of this information, SI believes that the
Tour's record for "consecutive events without missing cut" (what
we know to be consecutive cuts in the money) should be
drastically overhauled. The new leader board: Hogan 177, Nelson
113, Nicklaus 111, Woods 102.

But even these revised numbers don't seem quite right since they
include tournaments without a 36-hole cut. Perhaps the Tour
should have two records, defined by more precise language:
consecutive cuts in the money and what we would call "most
consecutive cuts made at tournaments with a 36-hole cut." A
logical line of demarcation would be 1957, the year the Masters
instituted a 36-hole cut, which spurred virtually every other
tournament to follow suit. In this new category Nicklaus and
Woods are the only serious contenders. To come up with their true
figures, it is necessary to toss out events that don't have a
36-hole cut. During Nicklaus's streak of 111, he played in 10
such events. Woods annually plays in five; of the 102 tournaments
in his streak 21 have come without a 36-hole cut. Leader board:
Nicklaus 101, Woods 81.

The big loser in all of this, unfortunately, is Nelson, the
quintessential golfing gentleman who has enjoyed the
consecutive-cut record for nearly a half century. All the years
have given his streak of 113 added weight, which may be why the
Tour is reluctant to rewrite history. "It's the number we will
stick with," Lancer says, "unless we have proof the record is
wrong." Clearly that depends on how you define proof. Hogan or
Nicklaus, or both, could be said to own the record that now
belongs to Nelson. Lord Byron took the news in stride last week.
"Well, this certainly surprises me," he said. "I will be
interested to see what the Tour does with this information."

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CORBIS [INSIDE COVER] Is Byron's Streak Bogus? Nelson's Record Of 113 Straight Cuts Doesn't Add Up G11 LORD HELP HIM The actual record is held by a lifelong rival of Nelson's (circa 1943). B/W PHOTO: CORBIS/BETTMAN A NEW LORD With 177 straight tournaments in the money, Hogan again tops his old rival Nelson (left). B/W PHOTO: AP [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: TONY TRIOLO JACK'S BACK A more precise accounting has Nicklaus on top.

A RECORD REVISITED

In the 1940s and '50s many tournaments did not have a cut, but
after four rounds only the top finishers were paid. Byron
Nelson's streak is not for cuts made but rather for finishes in
the money. Using this criterion, SI has discovered a much longer
streak by Ben Hogan, spanning 12 seasons.

Tour Says...
Most Consecutive Cuts:

NELSON 113
NICKLAUS 105
WOODS 102

Tour Should Say...
Most Consecutive Tournaments In the Money:

HOGAN 177
NELSON 113
NICKLAUS 111
WOODS 102

THE REAL RECORD

In its current numbers for consecutive cuts made, the Tour
recognizes many tournaments that do not (or did not) have a
36-hole cut. The record needs a more precise definition, which
drastically curtails Hogan's and Nelson's tallies.

SI Says...
Most Consecutive Cuts at Tournaments with a 36-hole Cut:

NICKLAUS 101
WOODS 81

*SI estimates that Hogan would have 67 and Nelson 48 under this
criterion

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)