Ten best players without a major

Ten best players without a major

Despite ranking him third on this list, Gary Van Sickle believes Jason Day is most likely to win the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Al Tielemans/SI

It’s a timeless question: Who’s the best player who hasn’t won a major championship?

The beauty of it is, the answer keeps changing. Rory McIlroy played his way off the list with his U.S. Open victory. Darren Clarke had fallen far enough that he probably wasn’t even on the list anymore before he won the British Open. Charl Schwartzel might have been on the list before he won the Masters, but his name was probably spelled wrong if he was.

The PGA Championship is upon us, so here’s an updated list:

1. Lee Westwood: Although Luke Donald snatched the world No. 1 ranking from him, Westwood’s body of work (as in career victories) dwarfs Donald’s. Westwood is a clear-cut No. 1 on this ranking, having finished second at the 2010 Masters and British Open and having just missed playoffs at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2009 British Open. His longevity makes his frustration factor considerably higher. McIlroy worked with putting guru Dave Stockton before he won his Open, and Clarke conferred with psychologist Bob Rotella before his Open, so Westwood met with both Stockton and Rotella in recent weeks. Not that he’s desperate or anything.
PGA outlook (on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being best/most likely to win): 8.5

2. Luke Donald: Another Englishman, Donald is king of the back-door fourth-place finish. He excels at good final rounds. At Firestone last weekend, a good last round lifted him to a tie for second. It’s his consistency at playing his way into contention that earned him the No. 1 spot. He hasn’t been in contention in many majors on the final nine on Sunday, but this could be the year. His game is not unlike that of David Toms, who won the ’01 PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club.
PGA outlook: 7.2

3. Jason Day: This young Aussie is No. 3 with a bullet. He finished second in the Masters and U.S. Open this year, and he was in the hunt at the Bridgestone Invitational. He’s reasonably long and has an excellent short game. What’s not to like? He is very impressive and very driven.
PGA outlook: 8.9

4. Steve Stricker: This humble Wisconsin native probably feels honored to be on this list, but he’s earned it. He is the highest-ranked American player in the world and has been in the mix a few times in majors, notably stumbling at Oakmont in 2007 and Carnoustie that same year. He drives it straight and putts it great. If the John Deere Classic were a major, Steve would already be in the Hall of Fame.
PGA outlook: 7.0

5. Adam Scott: He might have been No. 1 on this list after he won the Players in 2004. He’s always been a player of great potential, especially when his swing was a carbon copy of Tiger Woods’s at the start of the century. His short game has always held him back, and his putting got so bad that he finally switched to a long putter. He’s found new life and looked like a real world-beater at Firestone, hence his big jump into the fifth position here.
PGA outlook: 8.5

6. Dustin Johnson: The best way to win a major is to keep getting into contention on the final day. Johnson has done a good job of that. It’s the finishing part that gives him trouble. In 2010, he had a Pebble Beach meltdown and a Whistling Straits bunker gaffe. At last month’s British Open, he hit his second shot out of bounds on the par-5 14th to end his chances. But he keeps putting himself into position. That’s a good sign. He’s long and he likes Bermuda grass.
PGA outlook: 7.0

7. Nick Watney: He probably should be ranked higher. He had a PGA final-round meltdown last year at Whistling Straits but bounced back strong this season with wins at Doral and Aronimink. When he gets his putter working, he is very dangerous because he’s one of the better ballstrikers on tour. He is consistently good, too — eight top-10 finishes this year.
PGA outlook: 6.8

8. Bubba Watson: Another two-time winner this year, Watson has the overpowering length that should work pretty well at Atlanta Athletic Club this week… if he can keep it between the trees. He plays on emotion and is a better shotmaker than his unique swing would have you believe. He has sharply cooled off this summer, however; he is without a top-20 finish since his win in New Orleans in May.
PGA outlook: 4.5

9. K.J. Choi: The Players champion remains underrated due to his streaky play. Since May, he’s had a first (Players), a second and a third, three of his six top-10 finishes. He seems to play tough courses well. His stats are unimpressive, but he knows how to score.
PGA outlook: 5.0

10. Matt Kuchar: Kuchar is a Georgia Tech alum, so he should have some strong support from the galleries. He’s been a top-10 machine this season with eight, including a runner-up finish at the Memorial. He’s got a solid all-around game. Here are two telling stats: One, he ranks second on Tour in front nine scoring average (34.51). Two, Kuchar is a good short putter, ranking 9th on putts inside five feet, but not so good from long distance, ranking 150th from 25 feet or longer.
PGA outlook: 5.5 (9.4 to be in the top 10, though)