Phil Mickelson and 10 Modern Golfers Who Underachieved

Mike LynchContributor IIIAugust 20, 2011

Phil Mickelson and 10 Modern Golfers Who Underachieved

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    Phil Mickelson has had a Hall of Fame career with 39 PGA Tour Wins and four major championships.  He was easily capable of much more.

    There have always been golfers who didn't live up to their capabilities.  Tommy Bolt, Gene Littler and Lanny Wadkins all should have won multiple majors.  Johnny Miller flashed talent to compete with a prime Jack Nicklaus but fizzled out.

    The all-time greats have had a number of close calls, but they get excused.  Tiger Woods has 14 top five finishes in majors that he didn't win.  Jack Nicklaus finished second or third 27 times in majors.  Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson had numerous close calls.  However, they are in such elite company that it's not a case of underachieving.

    Fair or unfair, major championships often define the legacy of a golfer.

    The list includes enigmatic golfers, consistent winners and flashes in the pan.  They all had talent to win more majors.

10. John Daly

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    Daly may seem an odd choice, considering he won two majors in an otherwise unremarkable career. He never made a Ryder Cup team.  The five-time PGA Tour winner only recorded one top 10 in majors excluding his two wins.

    He is on the list because of freakish talent.  Daly battled problems with alcohol addiction, finances and weight.  His personal demons along with a lack of dedication robbed golf of a special talent.  

    His famous long swing was a couple of tweaks away from being more consistent and hitting the ball even further.  He had a soft touch around the greens and could get hot with the putter.  In 2005, he took Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh to playoffs.  It really is a shame that his career was more of a sideshow to his outrageous behavior.

9. Padraig Harrington

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    Yes, Tiger Woods was sidelined for two of his three major championships.  Still his three majors in six starts tops anyone but Woods since Tom Watson.  

    He won all three in come from behind fashion shooting 60's in the final round each time.  He won the 2007 British Open, then won it again in 2008 along with the PGA Championship.

    Since the 2008 British Open, he's missed cuts in six majors and has one top 10.

     It's really a bizarre scenario with Harrington.  

    You don't win three majors in two seasons by getting lucky or hot. Players who have stretches like that need incredible talent.

8. Ernie Els

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    Els had the misfortune of running into a prime Tiger Woods.  Still, he finished second or third 11 times in addition to his three major championships.  He has 21 top 10's in majors.  Els was also extremely inconsistent earlier in his career.  His two US Opens in 1994 and 1997 were sandwiched in with missed cuts and being out of contention.

    Considering Els has won 64 worldwide tournaments, he should have topped three majors.  He had the talent to win even during the Woods era.  In 1994, he blitzed Greg Norman by six strokes in Dubai.  He won the 1996 Buick Classic by eight shots.  He made Woods settle for second place in 1999 and 2002.

    Els was nicknamed the "Big Easy" due to his smooth, well tempo'd swing.  However, a close look at it reveals that it requires a lot of hand action to work.  It betrayed him in the 2004 and 2010 US Opens.  Even during good rounds, it has cost him.  

    For instance in the 2004 Masters, he shot a 67 on Sunday after bogeying the first two holes.  In the British Open that year, he made two birdies down the stretch to force a playoff.  However, he over shot a par three, bogeyed the hole and lost. 

7. Vijay Singh

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    Singh racked up 34 PGA Tour wins and spent 32 weeks as the top ranked player in the world in 2004 and 2005.  He totaled three majors in his career.  Oddly, Singh won two of them before his best stretch as a pro, which was 2002-2008 when he won 25 PGA Tour events.

    He suffered from poor putting, had he only been average his career would have been legendary.  He beat Tiger Woods in three straight years from 2003-2005 and displaced him as the top ranked player in 2004.  

    Singh had a career to be proud of, but despite all his practice, he never could cure the putting woes.

6. Nick Price

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    Nick Price looked poised to become a star in the early 1980s.  He finished second in the 1982 British Open, losing the lead on the final nine holes.  He joined the PGA Tour the following year, recording a victory over Jack Nicklaus by four strokes as well as being named rookie of the year.

    Price would not win again on the PGA Tour until 1991.  He went on a tear, winning 14 tournaments in four years.  He won the 1992 PGA Championship and won the British Open and PGA again in 1994.  During this stretch, Price rose to No. 1 in the world, besting Nick Faldo and Greg Norman.

    For some reason, Price was never able to be a consistent player.  He had a few strong showings at majors in the late 1980s but also missed many cuts.  Even during his good years, he missed cuts in 1993 and 1994.  

    It's puzzling that Price was unable to find his game until he was in his mid 30s.  He won tournaments over other top players by large margins.  He was six strokes better than Corey Pavin at the 1994 PGA Championship.  Faldo was three strokes back at the 1992 PGA Championship.  Norman finished second by six strokes to Price as well.  

5. Tom Kite

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    Tom Kite won 19 times on the PGA Tour.  His only major was the 1992 US Open, which he won at age 42.  Kite won consecutive Vardon trophies in 1980 and 1981.  He was a two-time money leader and was the 1989 player of the year.

    From 1974-1989, he finished in the top 10 in at least one major.  He had three runner-up finishes during this stretch.  Three of Kite's early wins on tour came at the expense of Jack Nicklaus.  He played on every Ryder Cup team from 1979-1989.

    Kite was past his prime when he captured his only major.  He was a top player on the tour for a decade and won big events.  It's also puzzling that he never won the Masters, he finished in the top five on nine occasions.

4. David Duval

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    Duval won 13 tournaments from 1997-2001.  He reached No. 1 in the world in 1999 after winning the money title, and Vardon Trophy the previous season.  The 2001 British Open was the last time he won and marked the beginning a downward spiral.  He had also finished runner-up twice during his hot streak.

    In addition, Duval fired a memorable final round 59 to win the 1999 Bob Hope Classic by one shot. He also won the Mercedes Tournament that year by a whopping nine strokes over Mark O'Meara.

    By 2003, Duval failed to crack the top 200 of the money list.  No one is exactly sure what caused him to fall apart so suddenly and drastically.  He finished second in the 2009 US Openhis only serious contention in an event since 2001. 

3. Fred Couples

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    Fan favorite Fred Couples was the first American to reach No. 1 in the world rankings.  His only major victory came at the 1992 Masters.  He had seven finishes of second or third in majors and won 15 PGA Tour events.  He was the 1991 and 1992 PGA Tour player of the year.

    Couples lacked consistency, and it took him many years to win his only major.  He finished third at the 1982 PGA Championship.  He won three times in the 1980s but it wasn't until 1990 that he started to win on a more regular basis.

    Unfortunately, Couples swing caused a serious back injury in 1994 that affected the rest of his career.  He never reached his potential; some say due to a lack of dedication, then the back injury robbed him of ability.  

    Despite this, he made a serious run at a PGA Tour win this season at age 51.  He had a sixth place finish at the 2010 Masters.  He clearly had the talent to win multiple majors.

2. Phil Mickelson

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    Mickelson has had a remarkable career.  His 39 PGA Tour wins are 10th all time, and he has four major championships.  However, he had three majors that he clearly choked in.  The 2006 US Open, 2009 US Open and 2011 British Open all should have been wins.  

    The 2006 US Open is the worst of the three, as Mickelson double-bogeyed the last hole needing only par to win.  Had he won that event, it would have been his third consecutive major.  This alone would have raised his career to another level.

    Mickelson has finished second place in the US Open a record five times.  He has 13 finishes of second or third in majors.  He won his first PGA Tour even as a 20-year-old amateur but could not capture his first major until he was 33.

    Mickelson should have had a better career, even if already was a great one. 

1. Greg Norman

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    Expecting someone else?

    Greg Norman spent 331 weeks ranked No. 1 in the world.  In 1986, he had the lead in every major after 54 holes.  He finished runner-up eight times and third four times.  Four times, he lost in a playoff.  In 90 career major starts, he finished in the top 10 an astounding 30 times.

    Norman was the recipient of bad luck along with being a choker.  Augusta National was particularly cruel to him.  Jack Nicklaus shooting a 65 to win by one stroke in 1986.  Larry Mize with a miracle hole out to beat him in the 1987 playoff.  Of course, everyone remembers his 1996 final round 78, blowing a six-shot lead.

    He was crushed by Fuzzy Zoeller in the 1984 US Open playoff, losing by eight strokes.  His poor weekend cost him the 1995 US Open.

    In the end, Norman wound up with only two majors:  The British Open in 1986 and 1993.  The failures of 1984 and 1986 crushed Norman's confidence forever.

    He was fine in regular tournaments, winning a total of 88 worldwide with 32 coming on the PGA or European Tours