Now that Sergio has won the Masters, who has taken over his long-held unofficial title as the “Best Player Without a Major”?
The question is somewhat complicated by the fact that in the last 15 years—covering 61 majors—there have been 39 separate winners of the four events. This, with at least 30 of those players notching their first “big win” during that time.
Of those 39 pros, 27 have won only one major title. So the list of players who have won one of golf’s big 4 has grown significantly since 2002, a year when Tiger Woods won the Green Jacket and US Open, Ernie Els took the Claret Jug, and Rich Beem hoisted the Wannamaker Trophy.
Remember that dance?
Just in the last two years, the contenders’ list for best not to have won a major has been whittled down as Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Henrik Stenson all became major champions for the first time.
So, as we head to the U.S. Open June 15—18 at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, who is the best player not to have won a major? Who is “Golf’s Best Without a Major?”
We’re going to dive into golf’s annals to find 5 current players and 1 (one) from history.
Here are two threesomes (aka 6 golfers) that could qualify for the dubious honor.
1. Rickie Fowler
Fowler is in his prime at age 28 and has four PGA Tour victories plus three international wins so far since turning pro in 2009.
His record in the Majors, also shows that he’s capable of good golf in the face of intense pressure as he has a top 5 finish in each of the big four events.
Overall, all of his best finishes were in 2014 when he tied for second in both the US and British Opens, tied for third in the PGA and tied for fifth in the Masters.
Since then his record has been a little less stellar. He hasn’t had a top-10 finish in the last nine Majors (he ended up T-11 at Augusta this month) and three times he’s failed to make the 36-hole cut.
Still, Fowler is currently 9th in the World Golf Rankings and no one will be surprised if he wins one of the year’s final three Major titles, especially since the PGA is being played at Quail Hollow this year, the site of Fowler’s 2012 Wells Fargo win.
He’s among the best in the world to not yet claim one.
2. Hideki Matsuyama
If you go solely by the current World Golf Rankings, Matsuyama, this week’s No. 4 in the world, is the top ranked player to not have won a Major.
The 25-year old Japanese star is second in the Fed Ex Cup race and has two wins, a second place and six top-10s in 13 official events this year. He finished tied for 11th at Augusta and also won the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December.
His four career wins include both the 2016 and 2017 Waste Management Phoenix Opens, the 2016 WGC HSBC Champions in China and the 2014 Memorial Tournament.
So far this year, his PGA Tour performances include 28 rounds in the 60s to 17 in the 70s (plus one round of 80).
Matsuyama’s Majors record isn’t quite as outstanding as Fowler’s. This, even though he does have four top-10s in 18 events with a tie for fourth in the 2016 PGA, his top finish. While he was in serious contention in last year’s PGA, and tied for seventh last year at Augusta, he missed the cut in both the 2016 US Open and British Open.
Still, don’t be surprised if Matsuyama is in contention on Sunday at Erin Hills, Royal Birkdale or Quail Hollow later this year. His ball striking is simply too good.
3. Justin Thomas
He’s young, yes. But he’s so talented.
A 23-year old from Louisville out of the University of Alabama, Thomas has won three times already on the PGA Tour’s 2016/17 wrap-around schedule and is currently third in the Fed Ex Cup standings.
He’s also ranked #10 worldwide and has four PGA Tour wins since he turned pro in 2013 marking him as a likely strong contender in the Majors.
However, so far, his performances in golf’s big events have been less than he would have hoped for.
Thomas has only had one season (last year) where he played in all four Majors and in all he’s only teed it up twice in the Masters, US Open and PGA. He’s played once in the British Open. He made the cut in six of the seven Majors he’s played, but he hasn’t cracked the top-10 yet and his best finish is a T-18 in the 2015 PGA.
His three wins this year (CIMB Classic, SBS Tournament of Champions and Sony Open in Hawaii) and his recent tie for 22nd at Augusta where he played both weekend rounds under par suggest that Thomas is in the ascendency and it won’t be a total surprise when he joins the club of golf’s Major winners.
4. Lee Westwood
The venerable English Ryder Cupper, Westwood is 43-years old and has played 76 Majors in his career without a victory. (Sergio’s “finally” Masters win came in his 74th Major start.)
Westwood’s Major career began with the 1995 British Open (T-96th), but by his fifth Major he recorded his first top-10 finish. Since then Westwood has 19 top-10s including three times a runner-up and six times in 3rd place. Balancing that, however, are 18 missed cuts.
Outside of the Majors, Westwood has been a frequent winner. His 41 victories on five continents includes two on the PGA Tour, which, throughout most of his career, he hasn’t played regularly.
Westwood is the golfer who dethroned Tiger Woods as the No. 1 ranked player in the world in 2010. Though he held the No. 1 spot for only 22 weeks, overall he’s spent over 300 weeks ranked in golf’s top-10.
And of course, there’s the Ryder Cup. Westwood has excelled with a 16 win, 9-loss, and 6-ties record (16-9-6) in 9 appearances. He’s been on more winning Ryder Cup teams (7) than any other European.
But can he still win a Major?
He’ll turn 44 before the US Open so the window is definitely closing, but it’s not shut yet. He tied for 18th at this year’s Masters and while he’s not a favorite to win anymore, if Westwood is in contention at Royal Birkdale this summer he’ll be the sentimental favorite.
Last summer at the storied Oakmont, Westwood was in contention late. A Sunday 80 took him out of relevancy.
Now, there are a bunch of current players who could take the number 5 spot in this list of the top six players not to have won a Major.
Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker (who’ll have home-state advantage at the US Open in Wisconsin), Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker, among others have yet to claim thiers.
But for this No. 5 spot we’re selecting based on future potential rather than past career achievements.
He may be better than them all…
5. Jon Rahm
One year ago Rahm wouldn’t have made this list.
The 22-year old Spaniard who played collegiately at Arizona State and only graduated last May, hasn’t even been a professional golfer for a full year. Yet Rahm has quickly become one of the fastest-rising stars in the sport. If his career fulfills its current trajectory, he’ll end up as a multiple winner of golf’s Majors.
Rahm is currently fourth in the FedEx Cup standings based on one win, one second-place and one third-place in 11 events this year. He also has two other top-10 finishes and overall eight top-25s while not yet missing a cut in a PGA Tour event this season.
As far as the tournaments that count, Rahm has only played in three Majors but made the cut in all three, finishing T-23 in his Majors debut at the 2016 US Open, T-59 at the British Open and T-27 at this year’s Masters.
Right now Rahm is ranked No. 13 in the world but, because of the fierce competition, it may be awhile before he is a favorite to win one of golf’s big four events. Still, it won’t be a complete and total surprise if Rahm wins a Major before he finishes his first full season on the PGA Tour.
History’s Greatest Without a Major…
For this category, we consider players like Colin Montgomerie, Miller Barber, Doug Sanders, Christy O’Conner, Sr., Lighthorse Harry Cooper, Graham Marsh, Isao Aoki, Jumbo Ozaki and Bruce Crampton.
The choice is Cooper, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who won 31 times on the PGA Tour between 1923 and 1939 but didn’t win a Major (remember, the Masters didn’t exist until 1934).
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Cooper was the Tour’s leading money winner and Vardon Trophy winner in 1937 and he ranks 16th all time in Tour victories. The next player on that list without a Major is Cooper’s contemporary, Macdonald Smith, who’s tied with Gary Player for 25th place in PGA Tour wins with 24.
While Cooper never won a Major he did have seven top-10 finishes in the US Open including twice a runner-up, he finished second twice in the Masters and once tied for third in the PGA. While he never played in the British Open, in all, Cooper had 19 career top-10s in the Majors.
But part of his legacy will forever be, he never won a Major.
No golfer wants to finish their career as the best player never to win a Major. Yet there have clearly been Major winners whose careers don’t compare favorably with those of Harry Cooper, Lee Westwood, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler and perhaps even young Jon Rahm.
For all, but Cooper though, every Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship they play in gives them the opportunity to dismantle that unofficial, but unwanted title of “the best who never won a Major.”
At least it’s somewhat of a compliment.