The Van Cynical Column: The top 10 players who haven’t won an Open…yet

Jason Day in the final round of the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. Day finished T2 at the U.S. Open and third at the Masters this year.
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Another one bites the dust.

Thank you, Queen, for summarizing what’s new in the Best Player Who Hasn’t Won a Major Yet category. Adam Scott got his Masters. Justin Rose got his United States Open. The list of major-less candidates with potential is bottomless, though. You lose Scott and Rose and two other guys step right into the top ten to replace them.

Instead of merely tweaking the major-less rankings, though, let’s fine-tune it slightly for the upcoming Open Championship — that’s British Open for you golf-challenged Americans — at venerable Muirfield Golf Club. Let’s make this list the Best Players Who Haven’t Won an Open (U.S. or British).

These rankings aren’t based on potential or lifetime achievement but on who’s apparently playing the best among those winless souls at the moment. Or, in lieu of that, anyone I want to sneak onto the list because I feel like it. I’m sorry if that’s too scientific. Tough it out.

The Top Ten Players Who Haven’t Won an Open… Yet:

1. Phil Mickelson. This feels too easy, like shooting monkeys in a barrel (that was last year’s runner-up in the Sportswriters Mixed Metaphor Contest). Phil is the greatest runner-up in U.S. Open history — six times, counting Merion, where he looked positively champion-like except for the part about not being able to hit a green from 110 yards on the 13th hole when it mattered. Phil has had one close call in a British Open, missing out on the playoff between Ernie Els and Todd Hamilton after he messed up a par 3 near the finish. Phil is a high-ball power player who struggles in the wind, and he's a 64-degree flop-shot guy, not a bump-and-run guy. You wouldn’t expect Phil to win a British. Which is, of course, exactly why he still might.

2. Adam Scott. Well, he’s got a Green Jacket. From here on, the rest is gravy. No doubt he’d love to get a claret jug after last year’s finish, which was the golfing equivalent of Earnest Byner fumbling on the 2. Talking heads on TV like to say that winning one major “will open the floodgates” for a guy, but it almost never does. I like Scott’s chances to nab an Open one of these days, though. He’s among the top five ballstrikers on tour now.

3. Jason Day. Second at the Open, third at the Masters — this guy is knocking pretty loudly at the door. What’s not to like? He’s a big hitter with a pretty good short game. It’s a bit of a concern that he’s not among the top 100 in greens hit in regulation, but he’s long and he putts well (21st in strokes-gained putting). You’ve got to putt to win. Pencil him in for multiple majors.

4. Luke Donald. It’s funny how if you have a lot of close calls but no victories, you get no respect. But when you win something big, then the critics say, “And he’s got all these close calls, too.” Luke continues to walk the line between having just enough wins to make those close calls look like positives, not negatives. Something’s off with his iron play, though. He ranks 28th in driving accuracy but only 150th in greens in regulation. You can’t hit that many fairways and then miss that many greens. Calling Sean Foley…

5. Matt Kuchar. He’s the only player who’s not Tiger with two wins this year. One is the World Match Play, which should come with an asterisk. Still, there’s no ignoring that he has stepped up his play to the top level. So let’s see something happen in a major. The clock is ticking.

6. Charl Schwarztel. The former Masters champ had a shot at Merion and blew up badly on the front nine the last round, eventually posting 78. He’s got a great swing, makes excellent contact and has a nice putting stroke, except for those occasional putts where he looks as if he’s afraid the putter might bite him on the ankle. That could be an issue that may relegate him to one-hit wonder status if he can’t fix it.

7. Brandt Snedeker. He’s gotten a taste of contention in a couple of Masters and a British Open. He may be ready. If you look at his performance this year, you can’t find a bad ranking in a statistical category that matters. One win, two runner-ups and a sixth in the Masters is pretty good. Three wins would’ve sounded better. He’s on the cusp. Let’s see if he can crawl over the edge.

8. Dustin Johnson. He’s been quiet, too quiet, since winning the lid-lifter in Kapalua. Maybe he’s been a little distracted this year or maybe it’s something else. The guy ranks third in driving distance but only 105th in par-5 scoring. He should eat par-5s like popcorn shrimp. What’s up with that, D.J.?

9. Steve Stricker. The key to winning the Open at Muirfield is to enter the tournament. Stricker didn’t. He’s 46 and considers himself semi-retired. But he plays well when he shows up. He’s got two seconds and a fifth, plus an eighth-place finish at Merion. No wins, however, and the biggest reason for skipping any tournament is because you know you can’t win it. He probably isn’t going to get a major on his resume unless you count eight-point bucks, which are majors to him.

10. Bubba Watson. Until last week, he was pretty much only in the news for saying silly or outlandish things. Then he was about to win in Hartford until he hit into the water at the 16th hole Sunday and made a triple bogey, making Ken Duke the toast of Connecticut instead. Bubba had a prima-donna moment on live TV after the errant shot and clearly blamed his caddie for a bad yardage. It’s a heat-of-the-moment thing, no biggie. He doesn’t seem like Open material, though. His Masters recovery shot in the playoff never would’ve happened, say, at Merion, where the rough was for too deep for anything like that.

Honorable Mentions: Sergio Garcia, for calling it the way he saw it on Tiger, until he got to the part about the menu; and Lee Westwood, for wanting a major so much he was willing to move to (pass the insect repellant) Florida.

These just in from the Van Cynical Mailbag:

Van Cynical, Was Bubba dissing his caddie normal or is that Bubba being a jerk? —Mike Cook via Twitter

That’s golf as usual on the PGA Tour, where it’s all about confidence and ego. You hit a bad shot, it’s never your fault. That would be a chink in your armor. Every bad shot is attributable to something other than the pro who hit it. The caddie is getting paid to be blamed. It’s normal, but it’s not pretty.

Van Cynical, Your thoughts on Bubba, since you have carried before. Also, I was at a flighted amateur event this weekend and only the young guys had long putters. –Eric Houser via Twitter

I agree with Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee that Bubba should’ve walked up to 16th green and checked his ball at the edge of the water to see if it might have been playable. As his caddie, I would’ve insisted on it or done it myself. I don’t know if it was playable but hey, neither does he. It was worth a look and might’ve saved him two strokes. As for those young guys, when is the Center for Disease Control going to admit that The Yips is a pandemic affecting golfers young and old. I think it’s time for a national quarantine.

Vans, Do pros get excited about new equipment? Or is it more of a nuisance they have to get used to? I would think they like new balls the best. –Kristopher Barrie via Twitter.

Pros get very excited about new equipment, especially when someone who’s beating them is using it. If you don’t have a jones for new clubs, you’re probably not a real golfer. Players would prefer that the balls stayed the same. But they’re like every other golfer, they’ve got a stash of drivers and putters. Especially putters.

Gary, why are the young Americans so inconsistent? Which one finds consistency and is the next American star? –Brian Rosenwald via Twitter

Check it out, BriRo. Everybody is inconsistent. Even, dare I say, four-time winner Tiger Woods. Consistency doesn’t make you a star, winning does. Matt Kuchar is possibly the most consistent player on the tour, next to Tiger, but he doesn’t win a lot. Rory McIlroy isn’t consistent but he does win a lot. Well, he did last year. I think Snedeker’s putting prowess makes him the most likely candidate but Jordan Spieth has impressively bulled his way onto the Tour. Keep an eye on him.