Jason Dufner was not the best player on the PGA Tour to never win a major, and he never will be after winning the 2013 PGA Championship by two strokes over Jim Furyk on Sunday.
The game may have owed Dufner a major after he lost the 2011 PGA in heartbreaking fashion to his good friend Keegan Bradley. If there was a moniker in golf for the "player who hadn't won a major but really should have," Dufner would have been on that short list—with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Thomas Bjorn, Jean Van de Velde and Colin Montgomerie to name a few.
But in the competition for the label "best player never to win a major," Dufner started the year behind two of this year's other major victors—Adam Scott and Justin Rose. Now, with them off the list, who's at the top?
Many thought Scott—the 2013 Masters champion—would have won multiple majors by this point in his career. Dufner was probably not in the same category as Rose—the 2013 U.S. Open Champion—either, at least in terms of longevity in his career. Regardless, all three are now immortalized in the annals of major golf (as the British Open winner, Phil Mickelson, already was).
If Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter or Sergio Garcia never win a major, does that change the way history will remember them?
The short answer is no. Since none of those players have won a major, there's nothing for history to change. Perhaps, then, the spirit of the question is how will history remember the top players without a major, especially when compared to the list of those who have one?
Will golf remember Shaun Micheel—the 2003 PGA Champion—more favorably than those without a major?
Tiger Woods thinks it will.
In his pre-tournament press conference, Woods was asked about his season, and if he considers a year with five wins and no major championships a "great year." Woods explained that he thinks he is having a great year himself, but said, "I think winning one major championship automatically means you had a great year. Even if you miss the cut in every tournament you play in; you win one, you're part of history."
In a follow-up question, Woods was asked about someone like Micheel, who really never did much in his career other than win one major. How does a career like his compare to a player without a major championship?
As reported by PGAChampionship.com, Woods said:
It's the biggest events and he won it. He's going to go down in history as a major championship winner. That just puts you automatically into another category.
These are the biggest events with the most pressure, the best fields on the most difficult golf courses.
Winning majors is that important, and one must presume all players feel that way, not just someone like Woods, who has won 14 of them.
Golf's majors date back to the Open Championship in 1860, and since 1934, each of the four current major championships have been held in a season. Since the game began, there have been just 427 major championship tournaments held in the history of men's professional golf.
In history, only 210 players have ever won a major championship.
Spanning more than 150 years, with three majors being held for nearly 100 of those years and all four held for almost the last 80 years, there are just 210 men who have won a major.
That is why the moniker of major champion matters so much in golf.
As Woods suggested with his comments, no matter how mediocre a player's career may have been, nobody can ever take a major title away. We remember Micheel, Rich Beem, Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton in a way we will never remember Bob May or Chris DiMarco.
Lucas Glover is a major champion. So are Y.E. Yang, Trevor Immelman and Michael Campbell…and that's just in the last eight years. Are any of them better players than Westwood, Poulter or Garcia? Their names will be remembered differently, that's for sure.
For years before he won his first major, Phil Mickelson was universally viewed as the best player to never win a major. The moniker became a badge of dishonor for a player as fans and media wondered why someone with that much talent couldn't put it together to win one of golf's four most important annual events.
Mickelson won his first major in 2004, and over much of the last 10 seasons, there really hasn't been a player to take over that unfortunate title from Phil.
Sure, Sergio had it for a while, but it never felt like the name fit him. Westwood clearly has it now, not just because he's one of the greatest champions in the history of the European Tour, but his recent play in major championships constantly has people wondering when he will put together four consistent rounds to win a major.
Westwood, especially after this season when he held a two-stroke lead after 54 holes at The Open Championship, is far and away the best active player to never win a major. The gap Westwood has put between him and the rest of the non-major-winning field is immense. He really needs to win one in the next two or three years before not winning a major is the only thing, like Montgomerie, that defines his career.
Garcia, to some, might still be next on the list of top players without a major, but it hasn't seemed like the Spaniard deserves to be anywhere near the conversation with his play over the last four or five seasons in majors.
Garcia finished tied for second at the 2008 PGA Championship, won by Padraig Harrington, and since that tournament he has as many missed cuts in majors—four—as he has top-10 finishes. Garcia is still a popular player at the majors, in part because he hasn't won one, but few of his supporters really has a sense he will ever win one now.
Matt Kuchar is another player who people may look at as one of the best to never win a major. As well liked as Kuchar is and as popular as he has become on tour the last four years, his career before 2010 was non-existent, certainly in the majors. Kuchar is currently the sixth-ranked player in the world, but over the course of his career, it wasn't until recently where anyone thought Kuchar would win a tournament, let alone a major.
In many ways, Steve Stricker's career is a lot like Kuchar's, where Stricker was nothing more than a run-of-the-mill tour player until a ridiculous surge put him near the top of the list of golf's best players. Stricker is the quintessential grinder, so his performances in majors lately has caught people's attention.
Still, despite contending in the 2013 U.S. Open until late in the tournament, he finished tied for eighth, which was his best chance to win in some time. He has just two top-10 finishes in majors in nearly five years, and being a part-time player these days, it's hard to put Stricker on any realistic list of those one might expect to win a major moving forward.
Luke Donald, to some, deserves to be on the list of best players without a major and yet, despite being previously ranked No. 1 in the world, it's hard to understand why.
Donald, who is currently 11th in the world rankings, had an unbelievable season in 2011, winning four tournaments and losing in a playoff in a fifth, finishing first on the money list on both the PGA Tour and European tour that year.
And yet Donald has just two top-three finishes in his career in majors, coming in the 2005 Masters and 2006 PGA Championship. Since 2010, Donald has more missed cuts in majors (5), than he does top-10 finishes (4). Donald's career says more about the problems with the World Golf Rankings than it ever has about the likelihood of him winning a major.
Of any Englishman other than Westwood, Poulter has to be the player people look at and wonder why he hasn't won a major. Poulter, at 37 years old, has 16 professional wins and has been a key figure for Europe's Ryder Cup teams, but he has never been able to secure his own major championship despite coming close several times.
Poulter's best chance was a second-place finish at The Open in 2008, finishing four back of Harrington. He also finished tied for third in the 2012 PGA, nine shots back of Rory McIlroy and tied for third at this year's Open Championship, four strokes behind Mickelson. Of his seven top-ten finishes in majors, four have come in the last two years, which gives him hope in the next few seasons to finally win his first major.
Is that it? Is that the entire list? It might be. There have been so many different major champions over the last five years, it really might be.
Dustin Johnson could be on some people's list because of his near misses in majors to this point in his career, but D.J. still feels too young to have the "best to never win" moniker stick like it might for more seasoned players.
In a way, Johnson being considered the best to never win a major would be a positive thing for him. He's played in just 20 major championships in his career and already has six top-10 finishes, including that horrible loss at the PGA Championship in 2010 when he had a one-shot lead entering the final hole before carding what appeared to be a bogey to fall back into a playoff before being given a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker, dropping him to fifth.
Johnson should have won that major, but it's hard to saddle him as the best to never win just yet.
The same would go for a player like Jason Day, who people feel has the game and temperament to eventually win a major but doesn't have the experience in his career with just 10 starts in majors over the last four years.
Until this season—playing in the final group in both the U.S. and British Open tournaments, finishing tied fourth and ninth, respectively—Hunter Mahan has had a tumultuous time at majors, missing half the cuts of events he entered throughout his career. Mahan has the skills and demeanor to eventually win a major, but to put him on a short list still seems…odd.
So, really, is that it? Brandt Snedeker might make the list after winning the FedEx Cup last season. As well as he has played over the last few seasons, is anyone shocked that Snedeker hasn't won a major? It won't be surprising for him to win one, but it's equally unsurprising that he hasn't.
Wait, we didn't mention 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler. (I'm kidding. I'M KIDDING.)
Parity in the game has given fans a chance to see 11 of the last 12 majors won by different players, nine of which were won by first-time winners. Since the season Woods last won a major—2008—golf has featured 21 different winners in 24 events.
This is great for the game, and it's just as great for those top players who never had to tee it up burdened by the moniker of the world's best without a major. Mickelson was able to shake it, and as the tournaments pass on, we wait to see if Westwood or Poulter or Donald and Garcia, perhaps, will follow in Phil's path, or Monty's.
In some ways, Tiger is the best player to have never won a major…at least since 2008.
On the heels of a great 2013 without a major, it will be interesting to see if Woods can win another before Westwood, Poulter, or a host of players who should have won at least one major, wins one first.
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