CHASKA, Minn. Good news, Kenny Perry. As we head into the PGA Championship, the final major of 2009, you are hereby elevated to the rank of Best Player Who Hasn't Won a Major.
Please take this honor as a compliment on your fine play five wins over the last three years, and a heartbreaker of a close call at Augusta in April. Sergio Garcia, the previous BPWHWM, may still be the most talented player without a major championship, but he's had an off year, and this ranking is designed to identify who's playing the best now.
Here, then, are Perry and the rest of the top 10, ranked on the basis of ability, recent form and my own totally biased opinion.
1. Kenny Perry (World rank: 4) The man from Franklin, Ky., is arguably the hottest player in the world (other than you know who) over the last few years, with seven victories since 2005. The Masters close call this spring addressed the question of whether he had the game to win a major. The answer? Hell yes. But at 48, he'd better hurry.
(Key stats: 5 wins, 14 top 10s in last two years.)
2. Paul Casey (World rank: 3) Withdrew after six holes at Firestone last week with a strained rib muscle that may keep him out of the PGA Championship. That would be a shame because he's finally realizing his potential this year with wins at Abu Dhabi, the BMW PGA and the Shell Houston Open. He was also runner up to his buddy and fellow Whisper Rock member Geoff Ogilvy in the WGC-Match Play in February.
(Key stats: 3 wins worldwide, 2nd on '09 world money list.)
3. Sergio Garcia (World rank: 6) Only one top-10 in '09 for one of the three best ballstrikers on Tour? He doesn't putt that poorly. Garcia has had the best-player-no-major title ever since Monty faded, but he gets two demerits for general loss of interest this year. It's been a quick fall Padraig Harrington crazy-putted to beat him in the PGA last year, when Sergio also won the Players and finished second in three of the last five tour events. He could turn it around anytime.
(Key stat: 1 top 10 in '09.)
4. Lee Westwood (World rank: 13) No wins since '07 but lots of close calls, including missing the Tiger-Rocco playoff in the 2008 U.S. Open by one stroke and finishing third at this year's British Open. He has 16 wins in his career but is no longer the closer he was as a young Euro Tour phenom. Still formidable, a consistent high finisher, and still waiting for his major.
(Key stats: 10 top 5 finishes in '08.)
5. Steve Stricker (World rank: 5) Would get more attention for his over-40 surge if not for the all-time 40-something kings Vijay Singh and Perry. Wins at Colonial and the John Deere may help overcome memories of some weak major finishes, including Carnoustie (played in final twosome Sunday) and Oakmont (led briefly going to the 10th tee onSunday) in '07. Consistent play keeps putting him in position to win, and he's been playing the best golf of his career the past four years.
(Key stats: 2 wins, 7 top 10s this year.)
6. Henrik Stenson (World rank: 7) Was living off his stellar '07, when he won in Dubai and at the WGC-Match Play, until he finished off this year's Players Championship victory impressively. At his best, he looks like a potential No. 2 in the world, but he's still searching for consistency.
(Key stats: No wins in Europe last two years but lots of close calls six top 5s in '08 and a second, third and fifth this year.)
7. Martin Kaymer (World rank: 14) Perhaps Europe's hottest player, he has four wins in the last two years, including the French and Scottish Opens in '09. The young German (he's only 24) isn't well known yet in the U.S. and has yet to make an impression in the handful of majors he's played.
(Key stats: 7 top 10s last year in Europe, second on European Order of Merit.)
8. Camilo Villegas (World rank: 15) Not a superstar, although he carries himself like one. The Colombian is a player to watch because he is very meticulous and dedicated to improving his game. Hard work paid off with back-to-back victories in the FedEx Cup playoffs last year, although he hasn't won yet in '09.
(Key stats: 2 wins to end '08, 3 top 10s in '09.)
9. Sean O'Hair (World rank: 19) Bounced back from Bay Hill loss to Tiger and gamely won at Quail Hollow. The kid's got spunk and plenty of game. Once he gets a little better on and around the greens, he'll be majorly dangerous.
(Key stats: 2 wins, 3 top 3s in last two years.)
10. Rory McIlroy (World rank: 29) Ireland's reigning boy wonder has already scored his first Euro win (at Dubai) and his first top 10 in a major (tied for 10th at U.S. Open). He tied for 20th in his first Masters and finished fifth in a pair of big events, the WGC-Match Play and the BMW PGA. In other words, he already looks like a major contender.
(Key stats: Though he's only 5-foot-9, he's long. And he's young, just 20.)
Others receiving votes (These are all my arbitrary choices, but 'votes' makes it sound more democratic): Adam Scott (8 missed cuts in 14 events, one finish better than 36th in full-field stroke-play events in '09); Anthony Kim (broke through with 2 wins last year but was enduring a slow '09 until recently, apparently rounding into form with a pair of thirds in July he's finally on the rise); Nick Watney (quiet since his Torrey Pines win and runner-up finish at Doral); Hunter Mahan (closing 62 at Congressional came up just short, otherwise a steady year); Brian Gay (cool wins at Harbour Town and Memphis this year); Colin Montgomerie (sentimental veterans' committee choice); Ian Poulter (8 Euro wins, none since '06, but a champion Tweeter).