Up for grabs: The four biggest prizes in Golf
One of the most exciting aspects of the sport of golf is its hugely competitive nature, with any single player in an single tournament having the ability to win. Yes, it is true that some players win more than others and every now and again a "Tiger Woods" appears on tour and dominates for a spell.
However, with the Tiger seemingly on the wane, 2011 looks like it could be a reasonably level playing field with several golfers, including Tiger, looking to bring home some of the sport’s top prizes, including, of course, at least one of the four major tournaments.
It is interesting to study the end of year world golf rankings and to note that only eight of the top twenty players in the world have ever won a major and of those eight, only four, Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, have won more than one.
This effectively leaves 12 players in the top 20 alone who will be big contenders for a major this year as well as a good many from its outside. They will be looking to join Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen, who were all first-time major winners in 2010.
The following 10 players are those who can be expected to be in the hunt for a first major title in 2011...
World No.1 Lee Westwood
There is no doubting that the world No. 1 has the game to win a major in 2011, perhaps even more than one if he continues the excellent form he has shown in the world’s biggest tournaments over the last two or three years.
Runner up in the US Masters and Open Championship in 2010, Westwood also finished tied third in the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2009, as well as third in the 2008 US Open.
Steve Stricker will be looking to build on his John Deere Classic & Northern Trust Open wins in 2011
Although ranked No. 6 in the world, 43-year-old Stricker does not have the best record in majors, although he has been a consistent winner on the US Tour for the last few years. His best major performance, in fact, was his second place in the 1998 PGA Championship, but since then he has only managed six top 10 finishes.
Nonetheless, Stricker is one of the most level-headed golfers on tour and is well overdue a big win that his normal consistency has deprived him of; if he can get amongst the leaders early in any of the 2011 majors, then he can win his first!
Consistent European performer, Miguel Angel Jimenez, holds claims of ending his 29 year wait for major glory.
Jimenez is one of the European Tour’s most consistent players, who won three events in 2010, but his form in the majors deserted him. In fact, Jimenez, in his long career, has only finished in the top 10 of major tournaments seven times and missed five cuts in his last 10 tournaments, hardly the statistics to recommend him as a potential major winner in 2011.
However, like Stricker, once he gets amongst the leaders he is a very dogged golfer who knows what it takes to win as he showed when winning the Dubai Desert Classic last year and a bit of luck in one of the four majors in 2011 could see him end his wait for a major honour.
A waiting game: It's only a matter of time before Rory McIlroy wins his first major.
There is not a golfer or golf plaudit in the world who would not have McIlroy on their list as a potential 2011 major tournament winner. The young Ulsterman has already established himself as one of the World’s elite players and in eight majors, played as a professional. He finished in the top 10 in four of them, including tied for third place last year in the Open and PGA Championships.
Improving on those efforts can only be a matter of time and there's no reason why that can't be over the next twelve months.
Adam Scott has the ability to join an elite group of just nine Austalian golfers to win a major.
This Australian was in the top five in the World four years ago, but a huge dip in form saw him tumble down the rankings and almost into golfing ignominy. However, with an improved swing and an apparent new desire to get back to the top, he won twice in 2010, including the Texas Open and put together a run of consistency which has shot him back up the rankings. He has proven in the past that he has the game for a win in a major and 2011 will be the perfect time to deliver it!
Ian Poulter: time to put his talking to action.
"Poults" has never been shy about letting the world know about him having the ability to win a major or to be the No. 1 golfer in the world, and 2011 could well be the year that he proves it. He certainly has the game to win at the highest level, and he's now known for his ability on the course rather than his once outlandish playing attire.
He also has the temperament these days too, proven by his Ryder Cup performances and his win in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship last season. It may not be too long before he begins to "walk the walk."
Knocking on the door of a major win: Will it open for Dustin Johnson in 2011?
Dustin Johnson will believe he should already have his first major after looking like the winner of the 2010 US Open, but his disastrous final round cost him the victory. However, he showed great character in the wake of that disappointment, by finishing tied for 14th at St Andrews in the Open Championship and tied fifth in the PGA Championship in August. He also had two wins on the US Tour in 2010, including the BMW Championship and only missed three cuts all year! Another big year awaits and one of the likelier first time major winners in 2011.
Paul Casey will look to better his Open Championship 3rd in 2011.
Casey had a big chance of major success in 2010, when going out in the final pair, albeit four shots adrift, with Louis Oosthuizen in the Open Championship at St Andrews. However, he finished in disappointing fashion ending up having to settle for third place, which to date is his best performance in a major.
Although he had no tournament wins in 2010, Casey showed an incredible level of consistency, only missing three cuts and achieving 11 top 10 finishes and further improvement together with that same level of form should see him emerge as a contender in at least one of the majors in 2011.
Hunter Mahan is a good bet to be in the 'hunt' for his first Major in 2011.
Winner of the 2010 Phoenix Open, Mahan has long been regarded by his peers as a potential major winner, but as yet he has only a best finish of a tied sixth position, which he achieved in the 2007 Open Championship and the 2009 US Open. He also achieved successive top 10 finishes at Augusta in the 2009 and 2010 US Masters, a course which clearly suits his style of play. A good bet to be there or thereabouts once again come April and could kick on from there for the remaining three majors.
Matt Kuchar: consistent in his Major performances in 2010, can he go one better in 2011?
Kuchar is a player who seems to have finally come good in the top tier of the world golf stage with a fantastic year in 2010 after only returning to the PGA Tour in 2009. The year saw him win the Barclays Championship in August, finish the year as the leading money winner as well as receiving the Byron Nelson Award for the lowest scoring average on the PGA tour. He also showed up in all four majors in 2010, with best finishes of tied sixth in the US Open and tied 10th in the PGA Championship. His consistency has seen him finish the year at No. 13 in the world golf rankings.