Best Championship Players without a Major
When Jason Day earned the title of PGA Champion on Sunday he relinquished another: Best Players without a major.
Day’s tenure at the top of that dubious list was always thought to be temporary. His form in the big events, not to mention his youth, suggested that sooner or later he’d join the ranks of the great golf players who were golf major champions.
That inevitable trophy doesn’t always come, though, for the perennial also-rans. Consider it took Phil Mickelson 17 top-10’s in majors and 22 professional victories before he finally claimed a major title, the 2004 Masters. Colin Montgomery, the great Scot, failed to ever get over the hump. His three majors came on the Champions Tour.
It’s not easy and for us the fan, it’s unpredictable as well. There are too many off-the-wall major-winners to name and more could still join the ranks. Webb Simpson and Jason Dufner have both struggled since their major championships. Meanwhile, the likes of Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, and Henrik Stenson among others continue to contend year in and year out.
Day always seemed to be a step above that group in talent and drive. He proved it Sunday. Now, who takes his mantle? And, more importantly, who will follow him as a first-time winner next? My top five with honorable mentions first:
Best Players Without a Major, Honorable Mentions:
At 23, he’s almost too young to put on this list, but his talent merits a mention. Matsuyama is currently ranked 16th in the world. He’ll be a fixture in the top-10 soon enough and for years, and years to come.
Similar to Matsuyama, Reed is still very young. His window is wide open and won’t be closing anytime soon.
I get the feeling that Walker’s day is coming perhaps as early as next year. He simply putts too well. Among non-major champions, Walker is the fifth-highest ranked player in the world.
5. Matt Kuchar
The word consistent comes to mind when thinking about Kuchar. That could be as much about his appearance—generic Caucasian male who looks like a 9-to-5er—as his game.
But Kuchar has been one of the few American players you could count on over the last six seasons. In that span, he’s claimed seven top-10’s in majors to go with seven PGA Tour victories. The 2006 season was the last time Kuchar failed to register a top-3 finish. At 37, however, his window is closing and fast. There are too many good, young players who will have a stranglehold on trophies.
With a major victory, Kuchar would join the ranks of Davis Love III, Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk. Very good American players who broke through once on the big stage.
4. Rickie Fowler
How good really is Rickie Fowler? It’s tough to say and it depends on whom you ask. In 2014, he put together one of the more remarkable major championship seasons. He finished top-5 in all four, led the PGA on Sunday, yet failed to capture a title.
As a 25-year-old, he seemed to find the breakthrough that most predicted for him. And still, he boasts just two career victories, a paltry total for someone who was billed as America’s answer to Rory McIlroy. Now Fowler has fallen behind another one of his contemporaries in Day.
We know what Spieth did this year and Rory is Rory. Fowler showed at the Players Championship that he has the talent to keep up with the world’s top three.
3. Sergio Garcia
This is sort of a lifetime achievement award for Sergio at this point, because, let’s be honest, the Spaniard has been surpassed by a slew of prodigies in recent years.
At 19, he chased down Tiger Woods at the PGA.
Sixteen years on, most feel that the glory we all predicted for Garcia will elude him like Woods did in 1999. Sergio has become a bit of a tragic figure despite being one of the championship best players. His failures are more famous than his successes.
He choked at the 2008 PGA. Padraig Harrington, the winner of that tournament, admitted that he stole it. The same could be said of the 2007 Open Championship, when Garcia held a three-shot lead entering the final round and a six-shot advantage over Harrington. The Irishman, though, caught Sergio at -7 and bested him in a playoff. Garcia still has plenty of years left, but his results haven’t kept pace.
As it stands now, with 27 professional wins and six top-10’s in majors, he’s about as accomplished as you can be without being one of the all-time great golf major champions.
2. Henrik Stenson
The third-highest ranked player in the world without a major, Stenson remains as colorful as he is talented.
Who can forget the time he stripped to his skivvies to hit a shot?
The Big Swede put together a special campaign in 2013. He won the FedExCup and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai on his way to an enormous pay day. Stenson also flirted with the number one world ranking.
His resume can’t match Sergio’s for quality, but there’s something about Stenson that puts him ahead in my rankings. I feel like he finds ways to win tournaments whereas Sergio finds ways to lose them. With a tremendous gift for long iron shots, Stenson should contend into his 40’s as golf courses continue to expand.
1. Dustin Johnson
Simply put, DJ is the most physically gifted golfer in the world. That includes everybody, not just non-major winners.
He’s 6-4, 190 pounds and can dunk a basketball. Johnson hits the ball a mile—a PGA Tour-best 318.5 yards off the tee—and can putt to match. He’s seventh on tour in putts-per-round. That combination of power and finesse puts Johnson in contention as one of the best championship players every week.
Once he’s there, though, is when DJ runs into trouble. He led at the PGA. He led at the Open Championship. Most famously, he led at the US Open and had a 15-footer to win and a 5-footer to force a playoff. He missed both putts. Johnson has a firm grasp on this title. He’s also the most likely to escape this list entirely.
Bet on DJ to become one of the golf major champions at your own peril.