Skip to main content

Punch Shot: Player with best chance at first major?

Dustin Johnson
Getty Images

Adam Scott (Masters) and Justin Rose (U.S. Open) each got off the major schneid this season. Who has the best chance to continue the Breakthrough Slam at this week’s British Open? We asked our writers on-site at Muirfield for their predictions:


Dustin Johnson is the only man in the world who has collected top-15 finishes at the British Open each of the last three years; No one else has done it twice in that span. He’s my pick to continue the trend of first-time major winners this year.

Johnson’s best chance at this championship came two years ago at Royal St. George’s, when he trailed Darren Clarke with five holes remaining. Johnson was in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 14th and grabbed a 2-iron. Instead of reaching the green Johnson blew the shot wildly right and out of bounds. He made double bogey and tied for second place with Phil Mickelson, three shots behind Clarke.

That was a devastating blow for Johnson – he’s had his share of major disappointment – but the point is, he puts himself in position more regularly than people think. In 18 major starts, Johnson has collected five top-10 finishes.

Johnson’s record this year has not been particularly stellar. That’s a bit of a concern. After winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions to open the year he has only recorded two other top-10 finishes in 14 events.

Form matters this week, certainly, but it’s more than that on this side of the pond. For a player to win, the stars must align. Johnson is good enough to win, he’s been in position often enough to win, he should win eventually. All this is the perfect elixir for Johnson to collect his first major title and continue the trend of first-time major winners this year.


Eighteen of the last 20 major champions have been first-time members of the Grand Slam club, and the next player to take his seat at that table will be Brandt Snedeker.

Some players appreciate links golf, but Snedeker has fashioned himself a genuine aficionado of the ancient layouts.

Before each of his first four Open Championships, the American has secured a practice round with five-time Open champion Tom Watson. Think of it as a playing lesson that last year Snedeker nearly parlayed into a claret jug.

Through 36 holes Snedeker was pacing the field at Lytham but struggled on the weekend to finish tied for third. He took another step in April at the Masters when he slept on his first 54-hole lead at Augusta National only to come up short again.

Throughout his major trials, Snedeker learned.

“I learned a lot in the last four majors, really,” he said on Tuesday at Muirfield. “Playing with Tiger (Woods) last year on Sunday, I learned a lot watching him play around Lytham. Learned a lot from watching Adam (Scott’s) win at the Masters. I learned a lot watching Justin (Rose) the first two days at the U.S. Open.”

And now it’s time for the student to take his place among the major champions.


Lee Westwood.

For the better part of a year, the Englishman has been working on his game alone. That plan hasn’t exactly worked – he’s winless in his last 30 events.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see Westwood, now 40, seeking out a second pair of eyes for his game. And in this case, two pairs.

In recent weeks he has enlisted the services of both Ian Baker-Finch (putting) and Sean Foley (full swing). Where some see a golfer searching, I see a man determined to keep his major window cracked open.

As an Open venue, Muirfield has almost always crowned the best ball-striker in the field. Guys like Watson and Nicklaus and Player and Faldo. Westy isn’t yet in that league, but he’s one of the best on Tour in ball-striking. It’s always simply a matter of whether he can make enough putts. At least now he has some assistance.