By Doug Ferguson / The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Georgia—Lee Westwood already had qualified as the best player to have never won a major even before Sergio Garcia won the Masters.
Garcia only made it less of a debate.
The focus is sure to shift between now and the US Open over who fits into that category. When the label first became popular in the early-1990s, it was easy to judge the candidates because of their victories, the number of majors they had played and how many times they came close to winning.
Tom Kite was the first big name to shed the label when he won the 1992 US Open at age 42. Among those who followed Kite in finally winning majors were Corey Pavin (1995 US Open) and Davis Love III (1997 Professional Golfers Association [PGA] Championship). The biggest was Phil Mickelson, who won his first major at the 2004 Masters.
Colin Montgomerie owned the title for the better part of a decade, and his time is gone. Montgomerie is on the 50-and-older circuit and only gets into majors when he wins the corresponding major on the PGA Tour Champions circuit.
Westwood is headed down that path.
At age 43 he has 39 victories worldwide and is one of only two players without a major to have been No. 1 in the world ranking. The other is Luke Donald, but what sets them apart is the number of chances Westwood has had in the majors.
Westwood had a birdie putt on the final hole at Torrey Pines to get into a playoff with Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate in the 2008 US Open. A year later, a three-putt bogey from long range (after a magnificent shot from a fairway bunker) kept him out of a British Open playoff between Stewart Cink and Tom Watson. The next year, he was the 54-hole leader at the Masters when Mickelson outplayed him. And in 2013 Westwood was the 54-hole leader at Muirfield when Mickelson beat him at the British Open.
Westwood is running out of time. The oldest player to win his first major was Jerry Barber, who was 45 when he won the 1961 PGA Championship.
Next in line?
Rickie Fowler is too young (28) with too few victories (four on the PGA Tour, two on the European Tour). David Duval was the only player in his 20s considered the best without a major. He was 29, had been No. 1 and was seen as the biggest threat to Woods.
Brandt Snedeker (8) and Matt Kuchar (7) haven’t won enough on the PGA Tour or seriously contended in enough majors to properly wear the label. More likely to be considered was Steve Stricker, but he now is 50 and splitting time on the PGA Tour Champions.
One thing about that label over the years: It can be seen as a compliment (“At least ‘best player,’ there’s something good there,” Garcia said). Mostly, though, it’s something that players would find irritating if they were honest with themselves.
For now, Westwood is the only active player who has reason to be irritated.