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When golf's best show up hungry

So you've laid in steaks and lobsters and duck and tacos and a little haggis and plenty of sparkling stuff suitable for raising toasts, and you've invited the best golfers in history to dinner. Now comes the hard part - the place cards. Who sits with whom?

Against my better judgment, I'll arrange them for you according to their stature in the annals of the game, as I see it, bearing in mind that it's tricky trying to compare players of different eras. Jack Nicklaus had to beat far more outstanding players than did Bobby Jones but Jones beat whomever there was to beat.

The first four are easy. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods will be seated together at the best table. Jones would tell tales, every bit of the magnolia still in his soft, slow manner of speaking. He might laugh about the first time he saw Nicklaus play, the big blond kid's game going sideways under the eye of the great man.

Next I would group Gary Player, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino. Player won all four majors and three of them at least twice. Snead won 82 PGA Tour tournaments. Palmer won four Masters, two British Opens and a US Open. Trevino won two US Opens, two British Opens and two PGA Championships.

Snead and Trevino would take turns talking, Sam telling his bawdy jokes and Trevino cackling as he recalled days in the Texas dust when he made bets he couldn't pay off.

So you think those four should be ahead of Tom Watson, Byron Nelson, Seve Ballesteros and Walter Hagen? Are you nuts? Well, if I weren't I wouldn't be trying to do this. Hagen would hold forth with stories of glorious days and neon nights.

Sharing the next table are a couple of ancients -Gene Sarazen and Harry Vardon (six British Opens and a US Open, if you're wondering) - with Billy Casper and Nick Faldo. Sarazen's voice would fill the table.

Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Raymond Floyd and Julius Boros follow. Mickelson has an asterisk on his place card. He's still ascending.

Next are Hale Irwin, Ernie Els, Tony Jacklin and Payne Stewart. Jacklin might do his repertoire of various British accents.

Padraig Harrington? He's on the waiting list.

While we're at it, how about a few superlatives? And help yourself to some more haggis.

Sweetest swing: Snead.

Best driver: Nicklaus.

Best putter: Woods, Nicklaus, Casper, Ben Crenshaw.

Short game: Mickelson and Woods.

Bunker play: Player.

Competitor: A long list, one that includes Lanny Wadkins.

Best course management: Nicklaus.

Most underappreciated: Player.

Most underrated: Casper.

Most entertaining: Chi Chi Rodgriguez, Trevino, Mickelson and Ballesteros.

Men to watch just for the fire in their golf: Miller, Greg Norman, Ballesteros.

Unluckiest: Norman.

Most focused: Hogan, Floyd.

Most beloved: Jones, Palmer.

Man you would want to par a hole for you for a million bucks: Nicklaus.

Man you would like to see play one more time, in his prime: Jones, Hogan.

The greatest: Nicklaus.

The best: Woods, before.