Masters 2012: Matt Kuchar & 15 Others Who Could Earn First Major Victory
Part of what makes major golf tournaments fun is seeing whether someone can win their first major. For players such as Phil Mickelson, David Duval and a handful of others, that question wore on them. But it continued to drive interest for even the most casual of golf fans.
As that generation of players is mostly behind us, it's time to turn over a new leaf and look to the new generation of players with great talent who have yet to win their first major tournament. Which ones will get over the hump sooner than later? And which, if any, will get over the hump this week at Augusta?
The first player of note is Matt Kuchar. He may not be the most prominent young player in this category, but many would say he is the most likely of the group to capture this year's Masters Tournament.
He is 18th in the Official World Golf Rankings. The Winter Park, Florida native and Georgia Tech graduate is now 33 years old. He has three PGA wins in his career and was once the low amateur in 1998 at Augusta.
His biography and history are sound. In other words, it is time for the Yellow Jacket to bring some hometown expertise to the cusp and win it all. Could Kuchar make 2012 his tournament?
Here are 15 other promising players looking for their first major victory who figure to stand in his way and make the task a more difficult one.
Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world. If that doesn't blow your mind, I don't know what will. Maybe it's my inability to understand the rankings or my inability to understand what makes a great golfer, but Donald's inclusion baffles my mind.
Nonetheless, the Englishman has 12 professional victories—six on the PGA Tour and six on the European Tour.
Despite small stature, Donald excels at the American game because of a fine short game and an acute knowledge of how to play the game.
Donald's game may not make him the most likely to win at Augusta, but as the No. 1 player in the world, he figures to stay in contention one of these days.
Few players are as decorated as Lee Westwood, with 37 professional wins split between the European Tour, PGA and other international affiliations. Because of that high number, Westwood is the third-ranked player in the entire world.
Yet with all the money, rankings and overall success Westwood has had, one thing he does not possess is a major championship.
He has come close several times, but each time found some way to lose or simply got beat.
But his successful appearance at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, where he finished in fourth place, is cause for hope for the Englishman as he goes for his first major in 2012. The Masters event is probably the major best fit for Westwood's game other than the British Open in his native land.
Westwood has to be among the favorites in this tournament, if you ask me.
Steve Stricker doesn't have the win total of Lee Westwood, but he is among the winningest players on the PGA Tour to have never won a major. Stricker's 20 professional wins have mostly come at the back end of his career, with nine of his 12 PGA Tour victories coming 2007 or later.
His best major finish came in 1998 at the PGA Championship when he finished second, and his best Masters finish was tied for sixth in 2009.
The success hasn't been great in majors, though Stricker has played well through Saturday in many majors and fell off on Sunday. Perhaps if he can just stay close 'til Sunday, this year Stricker might be able to put together a winning round on Sunday.
Justin Rose has four PGA Tour wins and 11 total professional victories to his credit. The South African-born Englishman currently ranks No. 9 in the world.
He has struggled mightily in the Masters, but finished tied for fifth in 2007. At the age of 31, Rose is much more mature than in previous years and figures to be ready to truly compete at Augusta. A first major championship is within the realm of possibility for a man who has been a consistent threat in golf.
If he can channel his inner-2007, it's not unrealistic to think Rose could claim the green jacket.
Webb Simpson is just 26 years old, and he's already won two tournaments. In his short major career, he has finishes of 14th and 16th place.
The Wake Forest product isn't seasoned by the standards of many of the golfers on the tour, but his talent and No. 10 world ranking prove he has something better than experience. He's got game.
That game makes him a prime suspect to be a surprise Masters winner in 2012.
Though Jason Day only has two professional victories to his credit, he also has two second-place finishes in majors, including his second-place tie in last year's Masters.
The No. 11 player in the world is plenty talented, and features the kind of game needed for success at Augusta (a theme we'll see more as we go along).
At just 24 years of age, Day is an Australian who has the chance to be among the best to ever come from his country. That's the kind of talent this kid has.
A Masters win this year could catapult a career that finds him consistently in the top-five of the World Golf Rankings.
As I began research on this project I almost failed to look up Adam Scott's credentials, because we all assume he's won a major at this point, with 18 career wins and multiple top-five major finishes (including tied for 2nd in the 2011 Masters).
In fact, his 13th spot in the world rankings is hugely surprising. In my mind he is one of the five finest golfers in the world, and definitely among the greatest active players yet to capture a major championship.
Again, his game fits well at Augusta and makes him one of my favorites in 2012.
Bubba Watson is undoubtedly the best lefty on the tour who has yet to win a major title. Heck, according to the World Golf Rankings he is the 16th best player overall.
He has five professional wins to his credit, including three on the PGA Tour.
His best Masters performance is a tie for 20th place, but in 2010 he finished second at the PGA Championship, and tied for fifth at the US Open in 2007.
Watson is both talented and a character. And he has the kind of character necessary for Masters success.
Nick Watney is a 30-year-old PGA veteran from Henderson, Nevada. He has seven professional wins, including four on the PGA Tour.
He has finished seventh in two major tournaments—the 2010 Masters and the 2010 Open Championship. While that doesn't guarantee success at this year's Masters, it proves he is capable of playing well at Augusta.
Clearly he is able to win this year's Masters.
I admit Sergio Garcia is my favorite golfer. I will root for him over every other player.
And in many ways his career has been disappointing and seems hopeless to produce a major victory.
But Garcia is still No. 21 in the world and has 17 professional wins. He may be the most talented player on the tour. And he has finished fourth or better at every major at least once.
Few players on the tour possess the portfolio of Garcia. His game fits Augusta well and if he is only able to put it all together, a major victory is inevitable. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as inevitability in golf.
Brandt Snedeker doesn't just have a hard name, he has a hard game. The 31-year-old native of Nashville has had great success at The Masters, finishing tied for third in 2008.
That was just a year after winning PGA Rookie of the Year in 2007.
With three PGA wins and his 22nd world ranking, Brandt is among the finest players in the game currently without a major title.
The 2012 Masters is the time for him to erase that, if he is ever going to.
Aaron Baddeley is much lower down on the food chain of the world rankings than the players listed above him, and he has little success in majors.
But Baddeley has rare talent and despite great experience is still kind of figuring his game out. He does have seven career wins to his name and has to be a favorite in most tournaments he tees up in.
Sean O'Hair is still just 29 years old. Despite his being on tour for what seems like forever, he is still a rather inexperienced player.
The 2005 Rookie of the Year has four PGA victories and countless other close calls. I maintain he is one of the least consistent, yet most talented players.
When he's on, he's as good as anyone. Unfortunately those instances tend to be few and far between. If O'Hair can be on four days in a row at Augusta, a place where he's had some success, the Texan could capture a green jacket.
Charles Howell III
For several years now, golf experts have considered Charles Howell III to be one of the most talented players in all of golf. Big things have always been expected of him.
He hasn't quite lived up to it—and at 32, inexperience is no longer a valid excuse.
By now he's off most people's radar, but he's exactly the kind of player who could sneak up and steal away a green jacket in a year where there's no obvious choice for the favorite.
Rickie Fowler may be as well known for his Baylor-type shirts and bro caps, but below the surface is an immensely talented golfer. At just 23 years of age, Fowler would be among the youngest winners in the tournament's history if he were to pull the upset.
But his play in the 2011 British Open shows he is capable of making a legitimate run in a major tournament.
Truthfully, calling a Fowler win an upset is a misnomer, as he was the 2010 PGA Rookie of the Year. That kind of award brings expectations for major victories. Maybe the 2012 Masters will be the first of those.