This new stat reveals the best player without a major, according to Vegas

September 20, 2019
Matt Kuchar best player without a major

The question comes up as often as a sidehill lie at Augusta National: Who’s the greatest player to have never won a major? I’m pretty sure I have the answer, thanks to a stat tool I call “expected wins.” Works like this: Say Las Vegas pre-event odds has the favorite to win a major at 9-to-1—roughly a 10 percent chance of winning. Knowing that, you’d expect him to accrue one win over 10 majors in which he is listed with similar odds. A player listed as the 10th most heavily favored player, at 19-to-1 odds (a 5 percent chance), would need 20 majors to accrue one expected win.

Unfortunately, Vegas odds for golf majors aren’t readily available the deeper you look back in history, so in my search for golf’s best major-less player I used a mathematical expected wins model (or win probability). With this method, I simulated each major 10,000 times and counted the number of times each player won to estimate their expected wins per event. Then I ranked major-less players from most to least expected major wins. The better the player, the more expected wins they accrued for each major, making the exercise a cumulative measure of a player’s greatness. To keep the focus on current players, I limited the analysis to golfers who have played in at least four majors over the past two seasons (which eliminated Lee Westwood, who would have otherwise topped the list).

Fifth on the list of active greatest majorless players is Brandt Snedeker, with 0.47 expected wins. Fourth is Hideki Matsuyama (0.63 expected wins), followed by Paul Casey (0.80 expected wins) and Rickie Fowler (0.82 expected wins). Topping the list is veteran Matt Kuchar. Kuchar has won nine times on the PGA Tour, including the Players Championship. He has 12 top 10s in majors, with a memorable second-place finish to Jordan Spieth at the 2017 Open Championship. Matt Kuchar has played in 56 majors and has 0.83 expected wins. The man is due!

The same expected wins method can be used to rank the greatest major overachievers, too. Here, players are ranked by their surplus wins (actual wins minus expected wins). This list, from No. 5 to No. 1, runs Martin Kaymer, Spieth, Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka, who has 3.59 more wins than expected in his 24 major starts. Koepka may have four majors to his credit but was only expected to win 0.41. More proof that he steps it up in majors better than anyone else.