Now that Adam Scott is no longer eligible to receive the biggest backhanded compliment in golf, I started thinking about which players are. Including this year’s Masters, there have now been exactly five years worth of majors played since Tiger Woods’ last victory at the ’08 US Open. (It took me a calculator to figure this out, but that’s 20 tournaments.)
It’s hard to believe, but we’ve gone a half decade without Tiger Woods’ dominance. Although he has won 12 PGA Tour events since that epic playoff with Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines (more than any other player), that is not how Woods measures his career success.
In those 20 tournaments 18 players have claimed the big prize. So it’s safe to say that no one has risen to the status of “Supreme Dominator of Golf”, but really, no one else is capable of the incredible success Tiger had from 1996-2008. No player has ever sustained that kind of success over such a period, and likely no player ever will.
(Yeah, I said it. Feel free to challenge me and I’ll explain why you’re wrong)
But I digress…
Padraig Harrington grabbed the first two majors after Tiger bowed out for knee surgery in 2008. Rory McIlroy has a major in each of the last two seasons, including his first at the US Open in ‘11. Angel Cabrera, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els have also claimed majors which were not their first during this stretch.
Including Rory, that makes 13 first time major winners in the era of “Non-Tiger Woods Dominance,” or whatever you want to call it. And the question becomes, who’s next?
There have been several players over the years to have been atop this list who did “break on through to the other side,” to quote Jim Morrison. In the last 25 years names like Strange, Stewart, Couples, Price, Azinger, Pavin, Lehman, Love, Mickelson (remember that?), and most recently Scott have managed to extricate themselves from this dreaded list.
Now, let’s examine who is currently sitting on the hottest seat in golf: wait, wait wait! Before we do that, let’s establish some criteria. [sighs]: Fine.
- Present form: the Janet Jackson metric: What have you done for me, lately?
- Career in the majors: how many chances have you had, how close did you come? (i.e. Rory finished T15 at ’11 Masters but that was a better chance to than Lee Westwood’s runner-up at the ’10 Open Championship because Lee was never close to Oosthuizen whereas Rory held the lead with 9 holes to play, get it?)
- Résumé: you can’t be on the list if you haven’t accomplished anything, right?
Now that we’ve established our criteria, let’s begin…
- Honorable mentions:
- Jason Day – A pair of runner-ups in ’11 and a 3rd at The Masters this year makes the 25-year-old Aussie a player to watch. But just a single win on the PGA Tour means he has to learn how to close the deal.
- K.J. Choi – Many believed he would be the first Asian-born player to win a major, but Y.E. Yang beat him to it. A win at the 2011 Players made eight for his career on the PGA Tour. But only two major top-10s since 2008 suggests that perhaps Choi’s best chance may have passed.
10. Hunter Mahan – His best chance was the ’09 US Open but his ball struck the flagstick and ricocheted off the green leading to a bogey on the 70th hole. Mahan has two World Golf Championship wins since 2011, but has more missed cuts in majors the last five years (10, with at least one each year) than top-10s in his career (4).
9. Steve Stricker – This seems low for someone with 12 career PGA Tour wins and a stalwart American on international cup teams. But Stricker hasn’t really contended in majors. Six top-10s since 2006 is nothing to sniff at, but he hasn’t had a chance to win since his runner-up to Vijay Singh way back at the ’98 PGA.
8. Ian Poulter – No one can question his fire, but Poulter’s ability to find that fire in stroke play events certainly can be questioned. He is perhaps the best match player in golf given his Ryder Cup prowess and wins at the WGC-Match Play in ’11 and at the Volvo World Match Play the same year. Poulter himself has admitted that he likes to have a one-on-one feeling when playing. However, he managed top-10s in three of the four majors in 2012.
7. Justin Rose – A FedEx Cup playoff win in ’11 and a WGC in ’12 set Justin Rose in the realm of major expectations. He notched two major top-10s the last year and now Rose can be considered a contender in every major. His ball striking is so good that no venue is bad fit for him.
6. Luke Donald – No player has spent more time at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings since Tiger Woods dropped from number one in 2010. Donald was the first player to win the money lists in the US and Europe in ’11. He has won the BMW PGA Championship the last two years, the most prestigious tournament on the European Tour. He has only four top-10s since 2009 in the majors and the only time he was in contention was the 2011 Masters.
5. Brandt Snedeker – For some, Snedeker should be atop this list. His FedEx Cup win in 2012 coupled with his fast start in 2013 justify this position. However, he has not contended as often as the players above him on the list. That said, I did pick him to win the PGA this year. He will surely take the lessons he learned in the final round of this year’s Masters to Merion, Muirfield and Oak Hill later this year.
4. Matt Kuchar – With apologies to Luke Donald, Kuchar is the most consistent player on this list. He won a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2010 (as well as the money list and Vardon Trophy), The Players last year and the WGC-Match Play this year. Kuchar believes he’s on the track to win a major. With five top-10s since 2010, and three in the last calendar year, I would bet on Kuchar to be the next player to jump off this list.
3. Dustin Johnson – Why is anyone ahead of Matt Kuchar if he’s the next to win? Because the top 3 on the list have come SO close. Dustin Johnson is exhibit A: 54 hole lead and a final round 82 at the ’10 US Open. Two months later, he grounded his club in a “bunker” on the 72nd hole, incurring a two stroke penalty and missing a playoff by one at the PGA. He was in the thick of it at the ’11 Open Championship until he blocked a 2-iron out of bounds on the 14th in the final round. At this year’s Masters he was 7-under in the second round until he took a double bogey on 15 and lost six shots coming in. He’s won every year since he came on tour in 2008. DJ also has the most win on the PGA Tour of any player under 30, with seven.
2. Lee Westwood – After rebuilding his career in the mid-2000s Westwood began a run of near-misses at the 2008 US Open, finishing one shot out of the Woods-Mediate playoff. In 2009, he was a poor approach on the 72nd from joining the playoff between Stewart Cink and Tom Watson. He had a pair of runner-ups in 2010. Since 2008, Westwood has totaled 10 top-10 finishes. That’s a top-10 in half of the majors played over that period, two more than Tiger Woods over the same period.
1. Sergio Garcia – Admittedly, this is more of a lifetime achievement for Sergio. But it’s not as though Garcia hasn’t been in contention over the last five years. He had the lead on the back nine of the 2008 PGA Championship until he put his second shot at the 16th in the lake and finished runner-up to Padraig Harrington for the second time in two years. Garcia has had 4 other top-10s in the majors since then. Although he wondered aloud to the media if he had the makeup to win majors in 2012, he did have a t-8 finish at this year’s Masters. With Garcia the question is not his ballstriking or even his usually inconsistent putting. More than anything, it’s a question of self-belief vs. self-doubt. Does Sergio believe that he is good enough to win majors (his talent says yes) or has he had too many near-misses and built up too much scar tissue to overcome his self-perceived mental hurdles?