Dustin Johnson finally has his major championship.
Despite the tough conditions at Oakmont and a questionable ruling by the USGA, which ultimately cost him one stroke in his final round, Johnson fought through the adversity and earned the right to be called the 2016 U.S. Open champion. With the victory, Johnson also earned the right to shed the title of “best player without a major championship.” Much like world No. 1 Jason Day, who finally broke through last year to win the PGA Championship, Dustin Johnson had come close to winning his first major many times. Prior to this year’s U.S. Open, Johnson had appeared in 28 major championships and had racked up 11 top tens and five top fives, but just could never close the deal.
Johnson put himself in great position at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, taking a three-shot lead into Sunday’s final round. However, his hopes were derailed after firing an 82 on Sunday, and he tied for eighth. He finished tied for fifth at that year’s PGA Championship, and had another close call the next season, finishing tied for second at the Open Championship behind winner Darren Clarke, who many had considered at that time to hold the “best player without a major championship” title. Johnson would collect six more top-ten finishes over the next four seasons, including three in 2015. The most heartbreaking of the bunch came at the U.S. Open last year at Chambers Bay, where Dustin hit two of the best shots of his career before three-putting the final green to lose by one stroke to Jordan Spieth.
Dustin Johnson was seemingly over the debacle at Chambers Bay very quickly when he took the 36-hole lead at the Open Championship. However, consecutive rounds of 75 derailed his chances on the weekend and it was the only major of 2015 in which he finished out of the top seven. Johnson had a solid showing at this year’s Masters, finishing tied for fourth, four strokes behind winner Danny Willett, who won his first major that week. Despite all of the close calls, Dustin Johnson was still considered one of the favorites coming into the U.S. Open and finally delivered the big win that golf fans have been waiting for since his professional debut in 2007 and will undoubtedly be a favorite at next month’s Open Championship at Royal Troon.
With Dustin Johnson finally claiming a major championship (the win also propelled him from sixth to third in the Official World Golf Rankings), the question now looms: Who now is the best player without a major championship? Here’s a quick look at five options who could now hold that unfortunate title.
The highest-ranked player in the world to never win a major, world No. 6 Rickie Fowler was expected by many to have at least one or two major titles by now. With the youth movement that included Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, many thought that Fowler would keep pace, especially after he finished in the top five of every major in 2014. He finished tied for fifth at the Masters, tied for second at the U.S. Open and Open Championship, and tied for third at the PGA. After a tie for 12th at the 2015 Masters and a huge win at the Players Championship, it seemed to be Rickie’s turn. However, he missed the cut at Chambers Bay and tied for 30th at the Open Championship and PGA Championship. He missed the cut at the Masters in April and shot 76-75 last week to miss the cut by five shots at the U.S. Open. Fowler had put himself in the conversation of making the new Big Three (Day, Spieth, McIlroy) a foursome, but Dustin Johnson’s win at Oakmont may have put a hold on that.
Henrik Stenson is the only other player besides Fowler ranked in the top ten to have never won a major title. Currently ranked seventh in the world, the Swede has 17 worldwide wins, including victories at the 2013 Deutsche Bank Championship and Tour Championship on his way to winning the coveted FedExCup title. He also won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai that season. He finished second at the Open Championship that season, and third at the PGA Championship. He had two more top-five major finishes in 2014, and reached as high as second in the world rankings. He hasn’t finished higher than 19th in his last six major championship appearances, including a controversial withdrawal at this year’s U.S. Open.
Honestly, if I had to pick one name to hold this title, it would be Sergio Garcia. The 12th-ranked player in the world has come close so many times. After breaking onto the scene at just 19-years-old with a second-place finish at the 1999 PGA Championship (remember the scissors kick), it’s crazy to think that 17 years later, Sergio still doesn’t have a major championship. Sure, he’s got 29 worldwide wins, including a victory at The Players Championship in 2008, but he hasn’t been able to seal the deal in the majors. At the Open Championship in 2007, he held the lead every day and took a three-shot lead into the final round, but failed to convert from the bunker on the final hole and ultimately lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. He led Harrington on the back nine at the 2008 PGA Championship, but the Irishman once again got the better of Sergio. In total, Garcia has 21 top-ten finishes in major championships, 11 top fives, two thirds and four runner-ups. He put himself in contention at this year’s U.S. Open, shooting 68-70-72-70 (E) over the four days to finish tied for fifth. He got himself within striking distance on Sunday, but some untimely mistakes left him without a major title once again.
With breakthrough performance as an amateur in the 1998 Masters (T21) and U.S. Open (T14), the sky seemed to be the limit for Matt Kuchar in major championship golf. However, he would struggle for the next decade or so, winning only once on the PGA Tour and spending some time on the Nationwide Tour after losing his card. But Kuchar fought to become one of the best players in the world, leading the PGA Tour money list in 2010 and reaching as high as fourth in the world rankings (currently ranked 17th) following his win at The Memorial in 2013. He’s had seven top tens in major championships, including three consecutive top-eight finishes at The Masters from 2012-2014. Thought of as one of the PGA Tour’s most consistent and likable players, Kuchar shot a final round 76 at this year’s U.S. Open to take himself out of contention. While the Open Championship isn’t really his style, he could be a factor at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol late next month.
Yes, there could be more options for this fifth spot (Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and perhaps Branden Grace come to mind), but there’s been few things in the golf world as heartbreaking as watching Lee Westwood try to win a major. The Englishman has 42 worldwide victories over a 20-year career and like Sergio Garcia has come close so many times in major championships only to come up short. He has three runner-ups, nine top threes, 11 top fives and 18 top-ten finishes in his major championship career. Those nine top-three finishes without ever winning a major are the most in golf history. He’s a former number one player in the world and at 43 is still ranked number 34 in the world. He’s taken leads into the final day of a major on two separate occasions, the 2010 Masters and 2013 Open Championship. Both of those events were won by former “best player without a major” Phil Mickelson. Westwood always seems to be in contention at the majors, but can never quite finish one out. He played with Dustin Johnson in yesterday’s penultimate group, but shot a disappointing 10-over-par 80 to finish in a tie for 32nd. Don’t be surprised if his name is near the top of the leaderboard at some point at Royal Troon.
Who do you think is the best player without a major championship? Please feel free to sound off in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
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