All-Time Best Without A Major

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The Most Dubious Title in Golf: Monkeys are not on the endangered species list in golf -- not yet, even though three players managed to get full-bodied monkeys off their backs by finally winning major championships in 2013 -- Adam Scott at the Masters, Justin Rose at the U.S. Open and Jason Dufner at the PGA Championship. While those gents have escaped the infamous label of Best Players Who Never Won a Major, there is always someone ready to step in to take their place. (With only four majors per year there’s never enough immortality to go around.) We’ll update the list for best active players without a major another time. Here, let’s take a look at the category from a career-achievement perspective. Of all the great players in history, from the still-active to the deceased, who are the best who never, ever won a major title? Since the U.S. and British Amateurs were considered majors and were part of the Bobby Jones Grand Slam in 1930, we’ll count the Ams as majors. Thus, great amateurs such as Harvie Ward will not be considered for this list. The takeaway: Aside from a few players who didn’t travel the world to play in the top tournaments, it’s almost 100 percent true that all modern golfers who were truly great players won major titles. Here, then, is a baker’s-dozen list of The Best Players of All-Time Who Never Won a Major. --Gary Van Sickle
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13. Sergio Garcia: The precocious teen who gave Tiger Woods a run for his money at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah hasn’t lived up to expectations. Now 33, Garcia has blamed girlfriend troubles and burnout for his uneven play, and his balky putter forced him to switch to a claw-style grip. A lot of players would like to have his career -- 10 wins on the European Tour, eight on the PGA Tour, and 24 overall, plus more than $50 million in on-course earnings. Garcia won the Wyndham Championship in August of ’12 and finished eighth in this year’s Masters. He’s had many close calls, with nine top-five finishes in majors, notably a British Open playoff loss to Padraig Harrington when Garcia’s approach shot caromed off the flagstick at Carnoustie. There’s still hope for El Nino to play his way off this list.
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12. Dutch Harrison: He was nicknamed The Arkansas Traveler because he was born in Conway, Ark., and barnstormed the country in exhibitions, hustling in country-club money games in addition to playing tournaments. Harrison turned pro in 1930 and won 18 times, starting with the 1939 Bing Crosby Pro-Am. He played on three Ryder Cup teams, won the 1954 Vardon Trophy and displayed remarkable longevity. He finished fourth in the 1950 U.S. Open, fourth in the ’54 Masters and in 1960, at age 50, placed third in the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. He also had a top-25 finish at the Canadian Open at age 59.
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11. Norman von Nida: Von Nida was one of Australia’s best golfers in the pre-Greg Norman era. He turned pro in 1933 and was an outstanding player on what was then the European tour. He won seven times in 1947 and led that tour’s Order of Merit. He was also known for losing his cool, often hurling clubs and/or breaking them. He got into a Bob Barker-Happy Gilmore-like fight with another player that was eventually broken up by a law official. He won 43 times worldwide but played only a handful of times in majors in America -- five Masters and two U.S. Opens. He had four top-10 finishes in British Opens, and earned his first headlines in 1934 when he beat the great Gene Sarazen in an exhibition match at Royal Queensland in Australia. Von Nida won the Australian PGA four times, three Australian Opens and the Queensland Open seven times.
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10. Masashi (Jumbo) Ozaki: Ozaki was an Arnold Palmer-like, larger-than-life star in Japan, helping to popularize the game. He was truly dominant, not only because he was big hitter who earned his nickname, but because he mopped up on the Japan Golf Tour. Ozaki racked up 110 tournament titles, 94 of them on his home tour, and led that tour in money won a record 12 times. He won six Japan PGAs, five Japan Opens and was still winning at 55. He still ranked among the top 10 players in the world in his early 50s. Ozaki, a professional baseball pitcher for three years before turning to golf at 23, didn’t play much outside Japan. In 49 majors his best finish was a sixth at the ’89 U.S. Open at The Country Club.
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9. Isao Aoki: Aoki actually gained admittance to the World Golf Hall of Fame before Jumbo Ozaki. Aoki, too, was dominant, winning 51 Japan Tour events and the money title five times in six years. He won once on the PGA Tour, holing out from the rough to capture the Hawaiian Open, and once on the European tour. He went head-to-head with Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, finishing two back, and amazed the world with his unique and devastatingly effective toe-up putting stroke. He won 77 times worldwide.
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8. Graham Marsh: The good-natured Aussie, nicknamed Swampy, was a globetrotter from the Perth suburbs. He won 56 times worldwide and was a regular winner in Europe -- despite limited appearances -- Australia and Japan. His only PGA Tour win was the 1977 Heritage Classic. He played in only 33 majors, with his best finish a fourth in the 1983 British Open. He trained to be a math teacher but turned pro as a golfer in 1969.
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7. Doug Sanders: The colorful Texan was best known for three things -- a riotously colorful wardrobe and matching shoes, a quick backswing that caused friends to say he could swing a golf club in a phone booth, and memorably kicking away the 1970 British Open championship at St. Andrews. Sanders had a three-foot putt to win the Open, suddenly reached down to shoo away a bug, then went back into his stance without regrouping and missed the putt. It took him four shots to get down from 75 yards on the last hole. Your winner: Jack Nicklaus. Sanders was a four-time major runner-up and a frequent major contender, finishing among the top 10 13 times. Sanders won 20 PGA Tour events.
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6. Lee Westwood: The Englishman from Worksop has frequently been ranked No. 1 as the best still-active player without a major. He was a young phenom at the start of his career, winning 13 times between 1996 and 1999. After a mid-career slump, he resurrected his game and has been one of Europe’s steadiest stars. He’s won twice in the U.S., in New Orleans and Memphis, and owns 36 other titles worldwide. Westwood knocked Tiger Woods off his perch as the No. 1-ranked golfer in the world in 2010. He has played on the last eight European Ryder Cup teams but has a knack for coming up just short in majors, having endured 10 top-five finishes, including seconds in the 2010 Masters and Open Championship. He has finished third six times in majors, and he turned 40 this year, so the clock is ticking.
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5. Macdonald Smith: He was tougher than the average Scot, if that’s possible, since he was born in Carnoustie. Two of his brothers, Alex and Willie, won the U.S. Open a total of three times, and two others, George and Jim, also were successful players. Mac, as he was known, piled up 24 official PGA Tour titles, second only to Harry Cooper for most without a major. Mac came close. He was in a three-man playoff at the 1910 U.S. Open won by his brother, Alex. He was second in the U.S. and British Opens in 1930 to some guy named Bobby Jones, who won the Grand Slam that year. Mac Smith’s swing was considered the best of his day and was reportedly closely studied by Ben Hogan. Smith finished in the top 10 in 17 majors. In 1925, he led the British Open after 54 holes at Prestwick but shot 82 in a finish that featured overly enthusiastic spectators and a notable lack of crowd control. Smith, like Cooper, also won a Western Open, in 1933.
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4. Bruce Crampton: Crampton’s career has always been underrated due to his lack of a major title and his occasional anti-social behavior. It was his bad fortune to play in the era of Jack Nicklaus. Crampton, a native of Sydney, Australia, racked up 42 worldwide victories, 14 of them on the PGA Tour. He finished runner-up to Jack in four majors -- the ’72 Masters and U.S. Open and the ’73 and ’75 PGA Championships. He twice won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour and his other wins included the prestigious Australian Open. If Jack Nicklaus had never been born, well…
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3. (Lighthorse) Harry Cooper: Our man Lighthorse Harry, so named for his rapid pace of play, really shouldn’t be on this list. He won the 1934 Western Open, which was unofficially a major championship in its day. So break out the asterisks. Cooper, born in England, is credited with 36 official PGA Tour victories, the most of any player who never won one of the four professional majors. He’s a man worth remembering. His father was a pro golfer who apprenticed with Old Tom Morris at St. Andrews. His mother was also a golf pro and, believe it or not, her name was Alice Cooper. (OK, school’s out.) Lighthorse Harry had 19 top-10s in majors and was almost Mickelson-esque in his U.S. Open pursuit -- second twice, third once and fourth twice, mostly in the 1930s. He also had two seconds and two fourths in the newly inaugurated Masters.
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2. Christy O’Connor Sr.: The Irishman (back row, second from left) was a legendary ballstriker in his day, perhaps Europe’s closest answer to Ben Hogan, but with a happy-go-lucky outlook. O’Connor’s career covered four decades. He won 24 European Tour events, won at least once on tour every year during the 1960s and was a buoyant member of 10 Ryder Cup teams between 1955 and 1973, earning a memorable halve at age 48 against reigning British Open champ Tom Weiskopf in his final appearance. He never won a major mainly because he entered very few of them. O’Connor didn’t like to leave home and managed 10 top-ten finishes in 26 appearances in the British Open, the only major he played in. He tied for second in 1965 at Birkdale. He is a golfing legend.
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1. Colin Montgomerie: You can summarize The Diva Known as Monty in one scene: After he finished the ’92 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Jack Nicklaus ducked out of the ABC broadcast booth to congratulate him on apparently winning the Open. Except Jack was premature. Tom Kite battled through gusty winds and baked greens to take the title instead. In fact, Monty ultimately finished third. Jeff Sluman passed him for second. So the tone was set early for disappointments in majors for Monty. He enjoyed a stellar career that included everything but winning a major. The critics who say he never won in America forget that he did capture an Andersen Consulting Match Play title in the U.S. when the event’s rounds were staggered over several months. He also won a Skins Game here, if you count made-for-TV Silly Season wins. Monty’s dramatic close calls in majors nearly overshadowed his remarkable achievements. He won 31 European Tour events, the most by a British player. He won the tour’s Order of Merit a record eight times, including seven straight starting in 1993. The only European players to surpass his dominance were Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, each of whom won multiple majors. Monty finished second five times in majors. Monty had a U.S. Open meltdown at the ’97 Open at Congressional, lost in a three-man playoff to Ernie Els at the ’94 Open at Oakmont and was poised to win the 2006 Open at Winged Foot when he missed the 72nd green from the fairway with a 7-iron and handed the title to Geoff Ogilvy. Monty had longevity, too. He played on eight Ryder Cup teams. He’s a World Golf Hall of Fame member now, despite his majorless career. He is golf’s ultimate Nearly Man.