More than anything, professional athletes are judged by what they tangibly accomplish. Sports fans have been subjected to never-ending talk about Michael Jordan’s six NBA Championships, Tom Brady’s six Super Bowl victories, Jack Nicklaus’ 18 career major triumphs, the 23 grand slam tennis victories of Serena Williams, and 28 Olympic medals of Michael Phelps, among other legendary athletes and their cornucopia of titles.
Fair or not, however, significant percentages of an athlete’s legacy can also be shaped by the championships they do not win. Historically elite sports stars such as Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing (basically every great basketball player of the Michael Jordan era), Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Michelle Kwan, Alex Ovechkin, and Marcel Dionne, among many others, all have legacies at least partly defined by the absence of a title.
The same is seen in professional golf. With hundreds of players on Tour each season and just four majors scheduled per year, there are many phenomenal players who have yet to win one.
Colin Montgomerie may be the best example in the sport. He came agonizingly close on many occasions, but in crunch time at majors, he always fell just short or was just outplayed.
The following is a list of the best active golfers who still have not captured Major #1. Their legacies hinge on whether it ever happens for them.
10. Lee Westwood
Age: 44 | Wins: 42 (23 European, 2 PGA)
Many believe that the accomplished Englishman has been the best in the world without a major for some time now, so having him listed at No. 10 might seem low, but factoring in his age and declining results, serious doubt has set in about whether his championship form is in his rear-view mirror.
Nobody has come agonizingly close without winning more than Westwood. The former world No. 1 has 18 top 10s in majors without a win, and in nine of those 18, he finished either runner-up or third place. He has had many close calls, but his best squandered opportunity for the 10-time Ryder Cupper was probably the 2010 Masters. As 54-hole leader, Westwood shot a final round 71, and was passed by Phil Mickelson on the ninth hole, and settled for a runner-up.
Westwood now sits at 78 career major starts without a victory, the second-longest current streak, trailing only 63-year-old Jay Haas, who is at 87. Westwood still competes regularly on Tour, but contends much more scarcely than he used to, with a T2 at the 2016 Masters being his only finish of better than T18 in his last 14 major starts. With his recent play,
9. Steve Stricker
Age: 50 | Wins: 12
The 50-year-old Stricker is the oldest player on this list, and at least for now, is the biggest threat to break Julius Boros’ record of being the oldest player to win a major. Stricker’s career has been a paragon of resiliency, as he has twice been named the PGA Tour’s comeback player of the year, but despite 12 wins, 16 runner-ups, and 10 third place finishes, the Wisconsin native has rarely been in the leader mix down the stretch at a major.
Since 1999, Stricker has just one top-five finish in a major, and that was a fourth place finish at the 2016 Open Championship where he still finished 15 strokes behind the winner.
To find Stricker’s closest major call, the archives need to be opened and flipped all the way back to the 1998 PGA Championship, where he was a 54-hole co-leader. He was still within a stroke of the lead after 16 holes on Sunday, but a bogey-par finish resulted in a runner-up, two strokes behind Vijay Singh.
Stricker has played an abbreviated Tour schedule since 2013, and seems to have accepted that he very well might never win a major. He is still competitive in the Tour events he does enter, but with his age and schedule, his future chances may be very limited.
8. Patrick Reed
Age: 26 | Wins: 5
For someone who clearly loves attention and relishes the big stage, it is surprising that Reed has not come closer to winning a major and increasing his clout among the young stars of the game. He has undoubtedly been the best American player over the past two Ryder Cups. He also captured two college national championships at Augusta State.
Reed’s five PGA Tour wins include a playoff victory over Jordan Spieth, a WGC event, a Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and a FedEx Cup playoff event. He has power and finesse, and is a top 10 machine which has produced three seasons with at least $3.5 million in earnings. And he believes in himself to the point that many find him arrogant and off-putting.
However, he is yet to even post a top 10 finish in a major. His closest call so far was at the 2015 U.S. Open where he and Spieth were 36-hole co-leaders, but while Spieth went on to win his second career major, Reed shot a third round 76 and finished in a tie for 14th place.
Few doubt that Reed has the skill and confidence to pull off a major, but his lack of major contention in a PGA landscape where youth is thriving has led to questions about his mental game.
7. Brandt Snedeker
Age: 36 | Wins: 12 (8 PGA Tour)
Sundays at majors have not been kind to Snedeker, who is still looking for major #1 in his 11th full season on the PGA Tour. He has accomplished pretty much everything else: he has 8 victories on the PGA and won the 2013 FedEx Cup. He has been extremely consistent over the past decade, but still needs to prove that he possesses the mental game to win on the biggest stages.
Snedeker’s best chance to win was probably the 2008 Masters, where he was in second place after three rounds, but a final round 77 dropped him into third place, which remains his best major finish.
He also was a 54-hole co-leader at the 2013 Masters, but a miserable final round 75 dropped him into a tie for 6th place.
Final rounds have been a problem time and time again for otherwise accomplished American. He is still a regular contender on Tour at 36, but his career is going to have a big void until he can prove that his mental game can get him over the hump late at a major.
6. Paul Casey
Age: 40 | Wins: 14 (13 European, 1 PGA)
Turning 40 during the 2017 Open Championship, Casey has shown some of his best form over the past year. He had over $3.4 million in earnings in both 2015 and 2016, and is a near lock to do it again in 2017. He has not won a PGA Tour event since 2009, but over the past three seasons, he has four runner-ups and 21 top 10s. His recent great form is especially impressive given how far his game sunk from 2011-14 when injuries circumscribed his play and his results.
Over the past few years, Casey has been a regular on major leaderboards, and in his last 7 major starts, he has finished T11 or better four times. His best major has been The Masters, where he has finished in the top six in each of the past three years.
Casey’s best chance to win a major was most likely the 2010 Open Championship. He was -11 through 54 holes, which got him into the final Sunday pairing with Louis Oosthuizen. However, a triple-bogey on the 12th hole ended his chances, and he finished in a tie for third place.
Casey looks close, but struggles on Fridays and Saturdays have led to few realistic Sunday chances.
5. Jon Rahm
Age: 22 | Wins: 2 (1 European, 1 PGA)
For most on this list, their inclusion is something of a backhand compliment. They are great players who have not been able to get it done when it matters most. Rahm, however, is on this list because he is really, really good at a very young age.
Rahm, an absolute Spanish phenom, had an incredible college career at Arizona State, the same program that boasts Phil Mickelson and Paul Casey as alumni. He just turned pro after the 2016 U.S. Open, and in only a year of professional play, he already has nine PGA Tour top 10s. He won at the notoriously difficult Torrey Pines in March, obliterated the field in a six-stroke romp at the European Tour’s DDF Irish Open in July, and was runner-up at the WGC-Match Play Championship.
At #6 in the world rankings, Rahm has had one of the quickest ascents in the top 10 ever. He has yet to be in the leader mix at a major, but that is tenable since he has played just four as a pro. His greatness in majors feels inevitable, and it will be a huge upset if he does not challenge Seve Ballesteros as the best Spainard in golf history.
4. Justin Thomas
Age: 24 | Wins: 4
Like Rahm, Thomas is on this list because of the tremendous talent he has flashed early. Neither is under intense pressure to capture major #1 in the immediate future, but both have already shown the game to contend at the highest levels.
Thomas has had a breakthrough 2017 season. He won three tournaments by the end of January, and in one of those, the Sony Open, he became the 7th player in Tour history to shoot a round of 59. His record-setting did not end there. At the 2017 U.S. Open, Thomas posted a third round 63, which at -9 is the lowest round in major history to par. He was unable to finish the job on Sunday, shooting a 75 and placing T9 in the event, but the experience of contending at a major should be valuable going forward.
3. Matt Kuchar
Age: 39 | Wins: 7
While the major biological clocks of Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm are not yet ticking, Kuchar’s is deafening. The 39-year-old has a well-earned reputation as a top 10 machine, recording an astounding 70 over the past eight seasons. Seven of those 70 were wins, including high-profile victories at THE PLAYERS Championship, the WGC-Match Play, and the Barclays (a FedEx Cup playoff event), but the former stud amateur from Georgia Tech has been shut out in the majors.
Kuchar has finished in the top 7 of all four-majors and his two closest calls have come in 2017. He suddenly got into the championship mix on Sunday at The Masters when a hole-in-one on the par 3 16th gave him a prayer, but after a par-par finish, he needed the leaders to back up some, which did not happen, and he settled for a T4.
Kuchar was even closer at The Open Championship, playing in the final Sunday pairing with Jordan Spieth, and taking a lead after the 13th hole, but with one of the greatest four-hole stretches in major championship history, Spieth left Kuchar, and everyone else, in his dust down the stretch. Kuchar finished runner-up, his best result in a major.
2. Hideki Matsuyama
Age: 25 | Wins: 13 (5 PGA Tour)
Matusyama seems set to become the most accomplished native-Japanese golfer in a landslide. In just four full seasons on the PGA Tour, Matsuyama already has four victories. 2017 has been especially remarkable for the tee-to-green dynamo, with three wins and three runner-ups in 17 events. One of those victories, at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he shot an unbelievable final-round 61 to tie the tournament record and shoot the lowest final round score in WGC history.
Matsuyama has been no slouch in the majors either. He already has finished in the top 10 in six of them, with a high result of T2 at the 2017 U.S. Open. His position on this list appears to be nearing an early conclusion.
1. Rickie Fowler
Age: 28 | Wins: 6 (4 PGA Tour, 2 European Tour)
Sergio Garcia had held the dubious top position on this list for a long time, but with his breakthrough victory at the 2017 Masters, his position has been taken by the incredibly popular Rickie Fowler. Now in his eighth PGA Tour season, Fowler has consistently asserted himself as one of the best players on Tour. He has been especially great over the past four seasons, with three victories and 33 top 10s.
Fowler’s major history has been puzzling. His first near miss came at the 2011 Open Championship, where he stayed in the picture until late and finished T5. Then in 2014, Fowler pulled off an incredible feat, finishing in the top 5 of all four majors, with runner-up finishes at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship, a T3 at the PGA, and a T5 at The Masters. His affinity for the majors had most predicting that the end of his winless major streak was imminent.
However, he was irrelevant in the major season of the next two years, starting with a T12 at The Masters before three missed cuts and nothing higher than a T30 in his next seven major starts.
Fortunately, Fowler has somewhat been able to reverse that trend in 2017, and at the U.S. Open, had his closest call in years when he took the 18-hole lead with a first round 65. He was in the mix through Sunday, but a very ordinary even-par 72 in the final round left him at T5.
Fowler came onto Tour with a great deal of hype, and while he has largely played up to it, if he does not find a way to break through in a major soon, there will be whispers that he is more hype than substance.
In what might come as a surprise to many, Appleby has the most PGA Tour wins (9) without a major of any active player. Only one of those wins, the 2010 Greenbrier Classic, has come within the last 10 seasons, and he makes so few leaderboards these days that it is easy to forget how consistently great he was from 1997-2006.
Appleby’s best chance was at the 2002 Open Championship, where he was bested by Ernie Els in a four-man playoff.
The 46-year-old Dane has 15 career European Tour wins, and was thrice a runner-up in a major. He is likely kicking himself most for what transpired at the 2003 Open Championship, where he led with four holes to play, but dropped four strokes over those four holes, and lost by a single stroke to Ben Curtis, one of the most unlikely major winners in PGA history.
For a long time, Choi was the odds-on favorite to become the first major winner from Asia, but was beaten to the punch by fellow South Korean Y.E. Yang in 2009. Choi has 20 career victories worldwide, with 8 of those coming on the PGA Tour, but his days of being a serious threat in big events appear to be behind him.
Choi’s closest call was at the 2004 Masters, where Phil Mickelson’s first major victory was nearly his own major breakthrough. Choi eagled the 11th hole on Sunday to get within one of the lead, but despite playing the back nine in -5, Choi finished in third place, three strokes behind Mickelson.
The former world No. 1 from England has five career wins on the PGA Tour and seven more in Europe. In 2011, Donald even somehow finished first on the money list of BOTH tours.
However, as impressive as some of his regular seasons have been, he has not been able to pull out in front at a major. He has eight top 10s in majors, but has never really been in the picture coming down the stretch on a Sunday.
His best chance was at the 2006 PGA Championship where he and Tiger Woods were 54-hole co-lead, but a Sunday 74 was six strokes worse than Tiger, and he ended up finishing in a share of 3rd place.
Donald qualifies for fewer majors these days, but at 39-years-old still has time to get on the board.
With six career PGA Tour victories, it is surprising that someone who has been consistently good on Tour for the past nine years did not record a top 10 in a major until the 2016 Open Championship, where Haas was T9 and finished 18 strokes behind winner Henrik Stenson.
Haas added a second this year at the U.S. Open, but a T5 was still six strokes behind the tournament’s champion, Brooks Koepka. As puzzling as his lack of major results is, the fact that the 35-year-old is finishing closer to the top of the leaderboard as of late is encouraging for his future chances.
This was the toughest player to leave out of the top 10. Grace, a 29-year-old South African, made international headlines in July when he shot a third-round 62 at the Open Championship, the single lowest round in major championship history, which catalyzed a T6 finish.
Grace contended at two 2015 majors, but tripped up late in both, finishing T4 at the U.S. Open and T3 at the PGA Championship. He has just one win on the PGA Tour, but is a seven-time champion in Europe, including four wins in 2012.
Mahan’s past two seasons have been an unequivocal disaster, but before he lost his stuff, he was among the best players on Tour for a decade. While he has six career victories, including two in WGC events, he has never come out in front in a major.
His best chances were both in 2013, where he played in the final Sunday pairing in back-to-back majors (U.S. Open, Open Championship), but settled for a T4 and a T9. Now struggling to make cuts in standard events, Mahan has a long way to go before he is a major threat again.
A former amateur superstar, nobody in 2005 would have expected Moore to still be majorless in 2017, but that has become the shocking reality.
The 34-year-old has five career PGA Tour victories including one apiece in 2014, 2015, and 2016, but the man who made the clinching point for the victorious American team at the 2017 Ryder Cup has yet to finish better than T9 in a major, which he posted at the 2006 PGA Championship and the 2017 Masters.
Phenomenal recent play on the European Tour (four victories in 2016) has the 35-year-old Swede in the top 10 of the world rankings, but he is yet to register in a major. A backdoor T6 at The Open Championship in July is Noren’s best major finish, one he hopes leads to better things.
One of the greatest Ryder Cup players ever, the 41-year-old from England has 12 win on the European Tour and two more on the PGA, but is quickly running out of chances to take home a major championship trophy.
A runner-up finish to Padraig Harrington at the 2008 Open Championship is his best result in a major, but a small renaissance in 2017 has him believing that he could be close to getting back into his top form.