Luke Donald and Lee Westwood
There comes a time in every successful golfer's career when, if they have not yet won a major championship, the pressure to do so increases with each passing year.
If a lot goes well, the top 10 finishes begin to pile up. And if a player is really fortunate, the victories begin to accumulate. But let's say those wins are not major-championship wins. That's where the problems begin.
For some players, winning a major comes naturally. It seems like an easy process.
Take reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Keegan Bradley as an example. The first time he played in a major, he won it, at last year's PGA Championship. Immediately, any pressure that might have gained momentum as Bradley enjoyed success from year-to-year without a major win on his resume was erased.
Bradley had the right idea. He just got his first major championship out of the way during his rookie season on tour.
But, for most, that is not a luxury that can be enjoyed. In fact, it's very rare. Only two other golfers aside from Bradley have done it—Ben Curtis at the 2003 Open Championship and Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open. Winning a major is major. It takes incredible skill, of course, but it also takes some luck—you know—right place, right time.
And that brings us to those players who have struggled for a long time—or a short time—to accomplish this fete. Bottom line: they're supposed to win a major and haven't yet.
Here are the top nine golfers that have yet to claim their first major championship.
It's hard to believe the No. 1 player in the world, Luke Donald, hasn't won a major championship yet.
Consider what a tremendous talent he is. The 34-year-old Donald has held the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for 50 weeks (and counting), and he is currently in his fourth go-around at No. 1 as he battles with Rory McIlroy for the title of world's best golfer.
Donald has five PGA Tour wins and seven European Tour victories to his credit during his career. But when it comes to the majors, the best he has managed is a T-3—twice, at the 2005 Masters and the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah. He has six top-10s in majors including four top-five finishes.
My concern is with his major results in 2012: a dismal T-32 at the Masters and a missed cut a few weeks ago at the U.S. Open.
Like Lee Westwood, I believe Donald's time is coming. He's simply too good not to find a way to win a major, but his best chances are now, while he's still in his prime.
When is Lee Westwood going to win his first major championship?
It's a question I've asked a number of times recently—and one that's been floating around since he captured the first of his 37 professional victories in 1996.
If you look back on his outstanding career, Westwood has done everything but win a major.
He's been named Player of the Year three times. He's been on the past seven European Ryder Cup teams. (And I expect he'll be on this year's squad as well.) He's been the No. 1 player in the world. But, oddly, he doesn't have a major championship to his credit.
Westwood has come close. With his T-3 finish at the Masters in April and his T-10 finish at the U.S. Open a couple weeks ago, he now has 14 top-10s in major championships, including two second-place finishes just two years ago—at the 2010 Masters and the British Open at St. Andrews.
He obviously has the talent to win anywhere, but does he have what it takes to play his best when it matters the most?
So far, unfortunately not.
Call it a mental block. Call it fate. Call it bad luck.
At 39 years old, I wouldn't say Westwood's time is running out, but the clock is definitely ticking on his legitimate chances to win a major championship.
Everyone knows that Steve Stricker is one of the nicest guys on the PGA Tour. That's his M.O., and it's a good one to have.
But it also seems to have earned him a reputation of being too soft. Some feel he lacks the killer instinct necessary to win a major championship. Others say his game just isn't built for the pressure of the majors.
I don't know about all that.
Stricker has proven he can win golf tournaments. He has 20 professional victories to his credit, including 12 PGA Tour wins. There was certainly plenty of pressure in those events.
And he hasn't exactly disappeared during the majors. He has nine top-10s in the majors during his career, including a second-place finish at the PGA Championship at Sahalee in 1998.
OK, that was 14 years ago.
And I wouldn't go so far as to say he's playing the best golf of his career right now. But he has had a somewhat limited 2012 schedule—playing in nine events with four top-10 finishes thus far, including a win in Hawaii back in January.
I don't think Stricker is bothered by not having a major victory on his career resume. But he's still due to win one. He certainly has the talent and the experience to pull it off.
Matt Kuchar has been playing solid golf on the PGA Tour for 12 years now. But, it hasn't been until recently that he has started to "find his groove," as they say. And that would include his play in the major championships.
Kucher managed two top-10s in majors two years ago—at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits—and he nearly won the Masters a couple months ago, eventually finishing tied for third at Augusta.
That's why I had such high expectations for him at the U.S. Open a couple weeks ago, but he only managed a T-27 finish.
Nevertheless, he has five top-10s in 12 events this year, including a win at what many consider the year's fifth major, The Players Championship.
That's some impressive golf.
Thus, he is currently the No. 7 ranked player in the world with a PGA Tour-leading scoring average and more top-10s than any other player so far this year. And yes, without question, he has the game to succeed at any of the majors.
Ever since his T-4 performance at the 1998 British Open at Royal Birkdale, Justin Rose has been discussed as a major championship contender.
Of course, it's one thing to be talked about as a contender and quite another to fulfill those expectations.
Rose was the low amateur in '98, and since he turned professional shortly thereafter, he has managed five more top-10 finishes in majors, including two at the U.S. Open.
Rose worked his way into the top-10 on the Official World Golf Ranking with a win at the WGC-Cadillac Championship and a T-8 at the Masters this year. He also finished in eighth place at the Memorial Tournament.
Rose is a player that is improving with age. And like Lee Westwood, he has wins all over the world—just not as many of them. He's developing a real consistency in his game, and he's my early favorite to win the upcoming Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
There is no question he is one of the best players without a major championship victory. But I don't think it's a label that will stick with him for much longer.
Hunter Mahan had been rather quiet since his T-12 at the Masters Tournament back in April, but with an incredible final round 61 at the Travelers Championship last week, he finished T-11 and regained some of the momentum he had lost.
Hunter Mahan is one of only three players with two victories in 2012—the others are Tiger Woods and Jason Dufner—and he has five other top-20 finishes so far this year.
Tee to green, he's as solid as any player on the PGA Tour. He's No. 2 in Ball Striking, and he hits his greens in regulation 70 percent of the time, good for fourth place on tour. Plus, his Total Putting numbers are improving.
As far as major championships go, Mahan is due for a breakout win—soon.
He has four top-10s during his nine-year career, with his best finish being a T-6 at both the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie and the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He's playing the best golf of his career right now, so it would behoove him to take care of his major championship business sooner than later.
It's well known that Dustin Johnson has the talent to take over the PGA Tour. He just hasn't done it yet.
What he does have is a pretty decent track record so far. Johnson has six PGA Tour victories, including a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic just a few weeks ago and four top-10s in as many years at the major championships.
That's impressive, especially considering his age. Johnson is only 28 years old.
And if it weren't for that now infamous ruling on the final hole at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, he might already have that first major championship under his belt.
Johnson does a lot of things really well. And when he's healthy and on his game, he can compete with the best. He's too young to feel the pressure of having to win a major just yet, but you know he'd like to get the job done before it becomes an issue he really doesn't want to deal with.
Rickie Fowler has been dealing with expectations his whole life.
And just when the chant of "overrated" had reached a fever pitch from his critics, the PGA Tour's 2010 Rookie of the Year finally got the monkey off his back with his first PGA Tour victory, a playoff win over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points at the Wells Fargo Championship last month.
Now, there's really no telling how far this talented and very popular young player can go from here. But I'm guessing there are a lot more wins where the first one came from.
Fowler had collected 19 top-10 PGA Tour finishes prior to his debut win at the Wells Fargo, including five in second place and a win on the OneAsia Tour. So, he is capable of competing with the best players in the world.
But major championships? Well, that's a different story, but his T-5 finish at the British Open at Royal St. George's last year showed that he can get his name on the weekend leaderboard at the biggest events in golf.
Fowler isn't feeling the pressure of having to win a major yet, but I'm guessing it won't be long before he does. Because of what he's already been through, however, I don't think it will ever be an issue for him. I look for Fowler to win a major soon.
Until last year, I barely even knew who Jason Dufner was. Now he's the hottest player on the PGA Tour.
After kicking it around between the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour) since 2004, Dufner ironically got his name on the world golf map with two playoff losses in 2011—at the Phoenix Open and the PGA Championship.
Dufner carried that momentum into 2012 and has been playing well this year, but things really started clicking for him a couple months ago in a playoff victory, his first on the PGA Tour, at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Then, amidst getting married and simply having a week of distractions at the Players Championship in a T-68 ending, Dufner has recently managed a win at the Byron Nelson, a runner-up finish at Colonial and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open.
To a lot of golf fans, Dufner seems like a rookie, but he's 35 years old. He's been battle-tested, and he has proven he can compete in the majors. The next logical step is a victory in one of them.