Ranking the Top Performers at the 2013 Major Championships

James McMahonContributor IAugust 14, 2013

Ranking the Top Performers at the 2013 Major Championships

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    It’s not a terribly difficult task to identify the best of the best from this year’s 2013 majors—just start with the golfers who won them.

    Ranking them in order of performance, however, is a little more difficult.

    Adam Scott inspired an entire continent by donning a green jacket. Phil Mickelson drank from the fountain of youth—otherwise known as The Claret Jug.

    Justin Rose and Jason Dufner validated their careers with unexpected victories in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, respectively.

    If that's not enough, there are other golfers who played well enough to contend multiple times in this year’s majors despite falling short to that fantastic four. The way we see it, they deserve some love as well.

    So read on to see how we tier the top four golfers who challenged but failed to win a major this year followed closely by the celebrated champions who achieved golf’s greatest glory in 2013.

8. Angel Cabrera

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    If not for a scintillating putting performance by Scott down the stretch at Augusta National, Angel Cabrera would have won his second green jacket in the 2013 Masters.

    Instead, the Argentine was forced to settle for a runner-up finish in which he perhaps gained more respect in defeat than he would have in victory.

    Cabrera fell to Scott on the second playoff hole but was quick to embrace and congratulate the first-time major winner. To be sure, the jovial golfer didn't lose the Masters; his opponent won it.

    While no doubt disappointing, Cabrera didn't let the loss simmer long. The 2007 U.S. Open champion played his way into contention at the British Open four months later on the strength of an opening-round 69 and a gutsy one-over 71 in treacherous conditions late on Friday.

    Cabrera was one of the few golfers to finish the first 36 holes under par at Muirfield, yet like many others, he couldn't keep it going over the weekend. The 2009 Masters champion shot 73-74 in the final two rounds to finish in a tie for 11th.

     

7. Hunter Mahan

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    Not once but twice this summer, Hunter Mahan played in the final pairing on Sunday.

    He didn't get the job done either time, but that doesn't diminish the accomplishment or suggest the American isn't ready to win his first major title.

    Making his performances all the more impressive, Mahan played from the last group at both Merion and Muirfield, by far the two toughest tests of the 2013 majors.

    At the U.S. Open, he fought his way into the final grouping with Mickelson on the strength of back-to-back 69s. Like Mickelson, Mahan struggled with the difficult conditions on Sunday, stumbling to a five-over 75 that landed him in a tie for fifth.

    Given a second chance to win a major from the final game at Muirfield, things unfortunately went just as poorly for the five-time PGA Tour winner.

    This time alongside Lee Westwood, who would also struggle, Mahan got off to a rough start with three bogeys in his first six holes and never recovered.

    Just as in the U.S. Open, he shot a final-round 75 and this time slipped to a tie for ninth. Perhaps easing the pain of that performance, Mahan would become a father for the first time a week later.

    In addition to his Merion and Muirfield performances, Mahan played well through 36 holes at Oak Hill before a third-round 78 rendered him a non-factor in the season’s final major.

6. Henrik Stenson

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    It wasn't all that long ago that Henrik Stenson was struggling mightily with his golf game.

    Today, the Swede is a significant threat to win a major each time he tees it up.

    Stenson finished second in the Open Championship to Mickelson and then followed that performance with a third-place showing at the PGA Championship last week.

    At the Open Championship, Stenson was the model of consistency, shooting a trio of one-under 70s to challenge for the Claret Jug throughout the entire event.

    In the end, a Saturday 74 and a final-round surge by Mickelson proved his undoing.

    The pure-swinging Stenson carried that same form with him into the PGA Championship, where three rounds in the 60s, including a 66 on Friday, sent him into the final round just a couple shots off the lead and with a second opportunity to claim that elusive first major.

    The 2009 Players Championship winner couldn't get anything going on Sunday, however, shooting an even-par 70 and settled for third-place, three shots back of Jason Dufner and one ahead of fellow countryman Jonas Blixt.

    In addition to his PGA and Open Championship showings, Stenson finished in a tie for 21st at Merion and a tie for 18th at Augusta National.

5. Jason Day

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    Jason Day still lacks a major championship in his budding career, but not for a lack of trying in 2013.

    Headlined by a tie for second at the U.S. Open and a third-place finish at the Masters, Day posted top-10s in three of the year's four majors.

    In doing so, he served notice that it’s only a matter of time until he joins fellow countryman Scott as a major champion.

    Beginning with his second top-five in the past three years at Augusta National, Day was a common sight around the lead in majors all year. Day briefly held the lead on the back nine Sunday, before two late bogeys left him two shots shy of the playoff between Scott and Cabrera.

    The determined young golfer was solid in the U.S. Open, building on a strong third-round two-under 68 to challenge down the stretch before finishing two shots shy of Rose. 

    At the PGA Championship, Day began the final round nine shots behind leader Jim Furyk at even par, but charged up the leaderboard and into contention at Oak Hill.

    At one point on the back nine, the 25-year-old got as low as six under and within three shots of the lead before falling back late and closing with a three-under 67, good enough for a tie for eighth. 

    It was a fitting close to a stellar major season that has many expecting a breakthrough victory in 2014 for the one-time PGA Tour winner.

4. Justin Rose

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    For the majority of his 15-plus years as a professional, Justin Rose had fallen short of expectations in golf’s biggest tournaments. With his sterling performance in the U.S. Open at Merion, the Englishman changed all of that.

    Rose scratched and clawed his way to a final-round 70 on the treacherous course to capture his first major title.

    The effort, which included a clutch birdie on the 16th and a pair of gutsy pars to close, was good enough to pass Mickelson, who was the leader by a single stroke when the day began.

    Throughout the difficult week, Rose was among the steadiest golfers at Merion, avoiding a single double bogey while he hung around the lead long enough to finally steal the tournament from the popular Mickelson.

    Aside from a struggle at the British Open just a month after his U.S. Open triumph, Rose was solid throughout the 2013 major slate. He finished tied for 25th at Augusta National and then challenged in the first couple rounds at Oak Hill this past week.

    In fact, Rose was only three shots off the lead heading into the third round of the PGA Championship after a second-round 66 that featured a 29 on the front. A disastrous 77 on Saturday, however, knocked him out of contention.

    The U.S. Open champion followed with a final-round 72 to finish in a tie for 33rd.

    Solid performances to be sure, but when you capture a first major crown at the U.S. Open, everything else is just gravy really.

3. Jason Dufner

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    Jason Dufner didn't just win his first major championship at Oak Hill this past weekend; he absolutely imposed his will on the historic layout.

    The popular-yet-understated Dufner fired a final round two-under 68 to outlast 54-hole leader Furyk in an entertaining Sunday battle to capture the PGA Championship by two shots at 10-under.

    In doing so, Dufner not only posted the lowest 72-hole winning score at Oak Hill by a good measure, but he crafted one of the best 18-hole scores in the history of majors.

    With his second-round seven-under, he became just the 26th golfer to ever shoot 63 in a major championship, and just missed a putt on 18 to become the first to reach 62.

    The victory also earned the former Auburn standout a measure of redemption. Leading the 2011 PGA Championship by four shots with four holes to play, Dufner collapsed down the stretch and ultimately lost the tournament in a playoff to Keegan Bradley.

    In addition to his masterful Oak Hill performance, Dufner finished in a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open, four back of Rose. His final-round 67 tied for the lowest of the day and sent the three-time PGA Tour winner surging up the leaderboard.

2. Adam Scott

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    Less than a year after a crushing collapse in the 2012 British Open, Scott finally realized his significant potential with a stirring Masters victory in a playoff over Cabrera this past April.

    Starting the day in the second-to-last group, Scott fired a final-round 69 and bested Cabrera with a birdie on the second playoff hole to win his first career major.

    In doing so, the popular golfer became the first Aussie to win a green jacket, making him an instant national hero Down Under. If not for Mickelson’s triumph in the Open Championship, Scott’s victory at Augusta National would easily have been the most significant of the year.

    Scott, however, wasn't done challenging in majors when he left Augusta.

    After a poor showing in the U.S. Open, Scott briefly held the lead on the back nine Sunday at Muirfield before settling for a tie for third, four shots behind Lefty.

    Less than a month later, Scott was a central figure in the PGA Championship, finishing in a tie for fifth at five-under after enjoying a share of the first-round lead at that very same figure.

    With three top-10s in majors, Scott crafted a career year and has cemented himself among the sport's elite.

1. Phil Mickelson

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    Phil Mickelson didn't start or end the 2013 majors in very good form. In between, however, he was without question the year’s most significant golfer.

    In fact, in classic Mickelson form, the popular American suffered the most painful loss of the season at the U.S. Open and followed it with the year’s most exhilarating triumph at the British Open just a month later.

    Five shots back to begin the final round of the Open Championship, Mickelson pulled off one of the most stirring Sunday rallies in recent major memory to win his first career Claret Jug at Muirfield. 

    After starting the day as an afterthought at two-over, Mickelson fired a five-under 66 over the tournament’s final 18 holes to win the fifth major of his storied career.

    If not for yet another heartbreaking loss a month earlier in the U.S. Open, Mickelson’s Muirfield mastery would have earned him a historic career grand slam.

    Despite starting the final round at Merion Golf Club with a one-stroke lead, Mickelson managed to finish second in the U.S. Open for a sixth time. Lefty limped to a final round four-over 74 and watched as the previously-winless Rose surged past him.

    The Moby Dick to Mickelson’s Ahab, the U.S. Open is the only major Lefty hasn't won, and now more than ever the one he desires the most.