Who’s Next for No. 1?

Sure he blew it at Carnoustie, but Sergio Garcia looks more ready than ever to win a major.
Matt Dunham/AP

Jim Furyk’s back-to-back Canadian Open titles doesn’t even merit a blip on the radar of this season’s surprises.

Not in a year when Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, who putts softly (and usually often) and carries a big stick, conquered Oakmont’s ferocious greens to win the U.S. Open. Not in a year when a product of Drake University, Zach Johnson, won the Masters. Not in a year when Jean Van de Velde appeared to have been cloned as we watched one screw-up after another on Carnoustie’s finishing hole by both Sergio Garcia and the eventual winner of the British Open, Padraig Harrington.

This year’s first three majors featured three first-time winners. Normally, I wait until after the PGA Championship for my annual Best Player Who Hasn’t Won a Major Yet Rankings, but after Garcia’s brush with greatness, there isn’t a moment to lose. The rankings, an ordering of who’s playing the best among major-less souls, are in need of re-arranging. So, after minutes of thought, here they are:

1. Sergio Garcia (World rank: 8. Worldwide wins: 16).
The artist formerly known as El Nino reasserted his skills at Carnoustie. However, his frequent history of Sunday non-charges is too long to mention. I’ll settle for reminding you of the time he had a six-shot lead going into Sunday at the Wachovia Championship, shot 78 and didn’t win. (Wonder if that’s where he got the idea to date Greg Norman’s daughter someday?) And then there’s Carnoustie, where the leaderboard was littered with final-round scores in the 60s except for Garcia, who shot 73 and went into reverse. Still, it may have been a step forward. After Sunday’s early meltdown, Garcia gathered himself and rallied. His switch to a belly putter addresses his real problem — putting under pressure.
Playable lie: Garcia is the most likely major-less player to win one — maybe even the next one, the PGA at Southern Hills next week.

2. Adam Scott (World rank: 5. Worldwide wins: 12)
Scott’s story is a lot like the Sergio Garcia’s, minus the tantrums. He is a fine ballstriker — he’s still the only place you can go to watch Tiger Woods’ old swing. The problem is, he runs hot and cold with his short game. Scott occasionally taps into his potential and wins impressively — as he did in Houston this year, at the Tour Championship last year and The Players Championship two years ago. But great players play great in majors and Scott’s scoring average in ten rounds of major championship golf this year is 74.4. Rounds in the 60s? Zero. Top-25 finishes? Zero (27th at Masters and British and missed cut at Oakmont). Score relative to par? Thirty-two over.
Playable lie: The next Davis Love? A ton of talent, only occasional flashes.

3. Colin Montgomerie (World rank: 33. Worldwide wins: 37)
No, Monty doesn’t really deserve to be No. 3 on this list. He gets bonus points for longevity and perseverance, and bouncing back to win in Europe at age 44 recently was impressive. Still, it looks as if the majors have passed him by. Winged Foot may have been his last grasp at glory. He missed the cut in all three majors — 32 over par in only six rounds tops Scott!
Playable lie: By this time next year, there’s a good chance he will have fallen completely off this list toward his next stop — Irrelevancy.

4. K.J. Choi (World rank: 12. Worldwide wins: 10)
No one has stepped up his game this year more than the Korean formerly nicknamed Tank (for his power-lifting days and sturdy, thick build). Two wins, at Memorial and Tiger’s AT&T National, helped him climb toward that might-win-a-major level. He was in contention at Carnoustie and he’s been on the board in the Masters (15th in ’03, third in ’04). Augusta would seem to be his best chance, since he hits the ball high. His short game is improving.
Playable lie: The clock is ticking for K.J. — he’s already 37 and still hasn’t gone to last three holes of a major with a sniff at winning.

5. Justin Rose (World rank: 21. Worldwide wins: 5)
Surely I jest, you say. Stop calling me Shirley, I reply. Rose hasn’t even won in the U.S. yet so how can he hold down the coveted No. 5 spot? Simple. He has quietly moved up in the world rankings with solid finishes. Few players have been more consistent in this year’s majors. Oh, now you remember that Rose was an early leader at the Masters, finishing fifth, and was a contender at Oakmont and came in 10th after a shaky Sunday 76. He was 12th at Carnoustie.
Playable lie: In short, Rose has shown he’s better suited for the majors than Scott, Monty or Henrik Stenson. A little better driving and better putting in the clutch could put him over the top. He’s poised to win a major anytime, like now.

6. Henrik Stenson (World rank: 9. Worldwide wins: 9)
The Next Big Thing after his stellar wins in Dubai and in Tucson at the Accenture World Match Play Championship, Stenson has been more like The Next Big Nothing ever since. He missed the cut in the last two majors and has only one top 10 on the PGA Tour since his hot spell. He not only hasn’t been a factor in anything of late, he’s been completely invisible.
Playable lie: Stenson has the personality to be a star. Now all he has to do is start winning again.

7. Paul Casey (World rank: 18. Worldwide wins: 8)
I keep putting Casey in my rankings because everybody keeps telling me how good he is supposed to be. Sure, he won in Abu Dhabi in January — I’ll alert the media. He’s a great talent, et cetera. He shows flashes of it now and then. He was 10th at the Masters and fired that impressive second-round 68. He followed it with a Red Grange (77). Casey was 10th at the U.S. Open, too, and fired that impressive second-round 66. He backed it up with a George Washington (76, as in 1776). He was the Pac-10 champ in college in the U.S.
Playable lie: He’s got the length to dominate, much like Geoff Ogilvy. But Ogilvy’s already got his major and a PGA Tour win. Casey has given up playing on the U.S. tour.

8. Luke Donald (World rank: 11. Worldwide wins: 4)
The former Northwestern University star and pride of England has been suffering a quiet year. His highlights were flawed. He finished second in Hawaii at the Sony Open when he faltered on the closing holes and was passed by Paul Goydos. He had the lead at the Byron Nelson Championship in the final round, too, and let it slip away with some poor shots under pressure. Two good chances to win, two foul-ups. He was 10th at the Masters but missed the cut at Oakmont and was 63rd at Carnoustie.
Playable lie: Donald has had brushes with majors — third at ’05 Masters and third at last year’s PGA Championship. He’ll scoop up a major sooner or later, just as fellow precision stylists Jim Furyk and Corey Pavin did.

9. Steve Stricker (World rank: 13. Worldwide wins: 5)
The Wisconsin native is playing his best golf since 1996, the year he won twice and finished fourth on the money list. He has finished 13th or better eight times in ’07, been runner-up twice (once to Tiger Woods at Wachovia) and had chance to win the British and U.S. Opens until his putting disintegrated down the stretch. He shot 76 in final round at Oakmont with three doubles and 74 at Carnoustie. Those lackluster finishes aside, the overall performances not flukes, the man knows how to play in majors — he was runner-up at the ’98 PGA and fifth in back-to-back U.S. opens in ’98 and ’99.
Playable lie: He has rekindled his game and his desire to play at age 40, and the experience from those late-on-Sunday pairings are what he needs to learn how to close the door the next time. In other words, keep the faith, baby.

10. Paul Goydos (World rank: 71. Worldwide wins: 2)
Sorry — just checking to see if you were still paying attention.