Race for Best Player Never to Win a Major Heating Up After 2014 Masters

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Race for Best Player Never to Win a Major Heating Up After 2014 Masters
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While Bubba Watson stalked his second green jacket and 20-year-old Jordan Spieth solidified his claim as one of the best young players in professional golf at the 2014 Masters, others flailed away in all-too-familiar territory only to come up short like they always do.

We're talking about the likes of Matt Kuchar, Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rickie Fowler. All came into the final day at the Masters looking to make a move that would remove them from golf's "Most Unwanted" list of candidates for "Best Player Never to Win a Major" (or BPNTWAM).

As usual, they all failed.

When it comes to trying to determine the best player out there never to win one of golf's four major championships—the Masters, British Open, U.S. Open and PGA Championship—there is no shortage of otherwise fine players to choose from.

Call them choke artists or call it bad luck or call it something else, but these guys just haven't been able to get it done on golf's biggest stages, despite seemingly having an ample amount of tools in their golf skill sets to do so.

As the years pass and the missed chances pile up, it becomes almost unfair to them.

For instance, Jimenez played well enough to finish fourth at four-under par after 72 grueling holes—yet we still bring him up in this conversation because he's never won a major. The same is true for Kuchar and Fowler, who tied for fifth at two under, and Westwood, who finished alone in seventh at one under.

Unfortunately for them, that is their blessing and their curse. They seem plenty good enough to contend in majors, so why haven't they ever won one? There are so many of these fellows whom we now must separate into the following categories:

USA TODAY Sports

 

Senior Citizens

This is for the old guys who, when they were Spieth's age, seemed destined to win multiple majors. Now, in some cases, their hair is thinning or gone, and they're inching ever closer to having a better chance to win a major on the Champions Tour than one of the ones folks will actually remember.

This group is headed up by Steve Stricker, who now claims to be "semi-retired," at age 47, according to Alex Myers of Golf Digest, and therefore could stand accused of almost giving up on his majors quest. Others who belong here are Jimenez (age 50), Lee Westwood (40), Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson (both 38).

It seems cruel and a little unjust to place the spectacular Jimenez with these other underachievers. After all, he not only has no thinning hair but, in fact, possesses flowing locks, even a ponytail, and yet none of it seems out of place.

He seems as cool as the dude in the beer commercials who has unofficially become the "Most Interesting Man in the World" (or MIMITW). Jimenez enjoys a fine cigar, even on the practice range, and certainly is among the most interesting men in professional golf.

Top-Ranked Players Without a Major Championship
Player World Ranking Best Finish in a Major
Henrik Stenson No. 3 2013 British Open (2nd)
Jason Day No. 4 2011 Masters (Tied for 2nd)
Sergio Garcia No. 6 2007 British Open (Lost in playoff)
Matt Kuchar No. 7 2012 Masters (Tied for 3rd)
Dustin Johnson No. 11 2010 PGA Championship (Tied for 5th)
Steve Stricker No. 15 1998 PGA Championship (2nd)
Brandt Snedeker No. 19 2008 Masters (Tied for 3rd)
Ian Poulter No. 20 2013 British Open (Tied for 3rd)
Luke Donald No. 27 2011 Masters (Tied for 4th)

Official World Golf Rankings

But he also lacks a major, despite still possessing the ability to put together four days of solid golf like he did at the latest Masters. So this remains his fate.

Stricker, meanwhile, apparently had his best chance to escape this kind of unwanted notoriety in 1998, when he played in the final group at the PGA Championship and shot 70 to finish runner-up, two shots behind Vijay Singh. Then, he contended last year in the U.S. Open at Merion, only to crash and burn on the final day.

Poulter has a reputation as a clutch putter in team events such as the Ryder Cup, and he always speaks highly of himself and his game, but he may have squandered his best chance when he cooled off down the stretch of the 2013 British Open, after going on a tear that pulled him to within two shots of the lead.

Westwood has the opposite reputation as a putter and hasn't won a major, despite finishing in the top three in all four during his career. Now, time is running out.

As for Stenson, he seems to be enjoying a middle-aged resurgence in his game and finished third in last year's PGA Championship three weeks after finishing second to winner Phil Mickelson in the 2013 British Open.

Darron Cummings

 

Stuck in the Middle

These golfers seemed young just yesterday. But now they've been around for a while, and they still haven't been able to win a major.

The poster childno, he only acts like a child sometimesso let's call him the poster man for this group, is Sergio Garcia. It's hard to believe he's 34 now and still can't seem to sniff a major championship on a Sunday because he usually has some kind of mental meltdown on Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

Actually, Garcia did win a "Masters" earlier this year. He won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, defeating the renowned Mikko Ilonen, who will never be confused with Tiger Woods or Mickelson, in a playoff. Sorry, buddy, but that doesn't count.

While we're at it, let's throw Hunter Mahan (he'll be 32 next month), Brandt Snedeker (33), Kuchar (soon-to-be 36) and Luke Donald (36) in this group.

Mahan played in the final group with Mickelson at the 2013 U.S. Open and was in the final group again one month later at the British Open, but he came up empty both times. Prior to playing the final four holes with a four-over par to finish tied for fourth at that U.S. Open at Merion, however, Mahan had gone a remarkable 29 consecutive starts in majors without a single top-five finish, according to Golf Digest.

Snedeker played in the last group on a Sunday at the Masters in 2008, but he shot a 77, while Kuchar was tied for the lead at the 2012 Masters with three holes to go in the final roundonly to finish in a tie for third.

Donald finished fourth in the 2011 Masters and has spent time as the No. 1-ranked player in the world. But when it comes to majors, he's usually been a minor presence.

USA TODAY Sports

 

Potential is a Dirty Word

These guys are still young, but the pressure is mounting. They don't want to reach stages two and/or three of this dreaded BPNTWAM evolution.

Dustin Johnson (he'll turn 30 in June and is close to moving into the middle group), Jason Day (26) and Fowler (25) head up this relatively small class. The sands of time already are running hard against these great young players, as their swings-and-misses (some of them admittedly near-misses) in the majors add up.

Johnson contended at the 2010 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Open and the 2011 British Open, coming up short each time for wildly varying reasons. He missed out on a playoff in the PGA, for instance, when he was assessed a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the final hole of regulation.

He blew up with a keep-moving-there-is-nothing-to-see-here 82 in the U.S. Open that same year. At the British Open a year later, he hit a ball out of bounds late on Sunday to cost him a chance at winning.

Day had a share of the lead at several points in the 2011 Masters and can't be accused of choking when he finished birdie-birdie in the final round—but he had to settle for a tie for second because winner Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes in a row to overtake him.

He's finished second in three majors and was third in the 2013 Masters. If he's healthy (he underwent back surgery just seven weeks ago and only recently started playing again), it seems only a matter of time until he finally wins one.

And Fowler? Well, he's certainly colorful with his clothing, and he can make a splash with his game as well. But is there enough substance under all the flash?

Beware, young Jordan Spieth. The same expectations and harsh scrutiny thrust upon all these men—young, somewhat old (by golf standards) and in between—will soon be hoisted upon your youthful shoulders, never to be removed until you win a major championship.

It is a heavy burden that some obviously bear better than others.

 

Joe Menzer hacks his way around golf courses wherever he can when he's not writing about golf, college basketball, NASCAR or other sports for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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