Who inherits Sergio's 'Best Without a Major' title?

By Justin RayApril 19, 2017, 2:00 pm

Before his breakthrough victory at Augusta National, Sergio Garcia had played in 73 major championships without a win. The 73 major starts before an initial victory is the most in the history of the men’s game.

For the better part of his career, Garcia had been pegged with the dreaded title of ‘best player without a major.’ The label was difficult to dispute – Sergio racked up 22 top-10  finishes in majors before his first victory (also a record in the history of men’s professional golf).

Garcia was closing in on the record for most top-10 finishes in majors without a win all-time. That title still belongs to Ed Dudley, who had 24 top 10s in majors between 1925 and 1944, but never won.

The game has seen six straight first-time major winners: Jason Day, Danny Willett, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Garcia. It’s the longest such run of first-timers since a stretch of nine straight from 2010 to 2012. In turn, the list of ‘best players without a major’ has been flipped on its head, with Garcia’s green Sunday being the biggest elephant to stroll out of the room for good two weeks ago in Georgia.

So with Sergio gone, who now is the best player to have never won a major championship?

In an attempt to answer one of golf’s favorite questions, I tried to come up with a formula that integrated career success and major championship performance in a way that properly evaluated how close a player has been to winning a major for the first time. The elements of the formula – slightly modified from the original method I came up with years ago - are:

• Career wins worth 50 or more world ranking points

• Career wins worth less than 50 world ranking points

• Top-10 percentage in major championships

• Career PGA Tour top-10 percentage

• Career European Tour top-10 percentage

• “Major points,” a point system that gives more weight to better finishing positions in majors

The most foreign concept, and an element worth further explanation, is “major points.” For every second-place finish, a player receives nine points. For a T-2 finish, a player receives 8.5. Solo third place would get eight points. This ladder-like trend continues down through a tie for 10th place. The purpose of this is, for example, to give a player more credit for finishing third than eighth.

The complete math, for the sake of full disclosure, looks like this:

(2+ (PGA Tour Top-10 Pct)) + (1 + (European Tour Top-10 Pct)) + Worldwide Wins of 50+ OWGR points + (Worldwide Wins of Less than 50 OWGR Points x 0.6) + ((Top-10 Pct in Majors x 100) x 0.25)) + (Major Points x 0.1) = Almost Index

There were two other elements to limit the number of eligible players for this study. First, the player had to be currently inside the top-100 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Second, the player had to be under the age of 50.

So who tops the Almost Index as we head to Erin Hills? Three notable players to finish just outside the top five are Branden Grace (18 Almost Index points), Rickie Fowler (19.03) and Brandt Snedeker (20.03). On to the top five…

5. Matt Kuchar

Best major finish: T-3 at 2012 Masters

Almost Index points: 21.39

Perpetual top-10 machine Kuchar has racked up six wins in his career worth 50 or more OWGR points, tied with Rickie Fowler for most among players in this analysis. Kuchar’s tie for fourth at Augusta National last weekend was his eighth career top-ten in a major championship, all of which have come since the beginning of 2010. If Kuchar is going to break through and win any major, the Masters would be the most logical location: since 2012, Kuchar is a combined 10 under in the Masters, fourth-best of any player in that span.

4. Paul Casey

Best major finish: T-3 at 2010 Open Championship

Almost Index points: 21.55

A prolific winner in Europe, it’s still difficult to grasp that Casey has only one win on the PGA Tour. Casey has ascended as high as third in the world ranking in his career, aided by several high finishes in majors, but no victories. Casey’s most logical major breakthrough also might be at Augusta National: Paul is the only player to finish sixth or better in the Masters each of the last three years.

3. Hideki Matsuyama

Best major finish: T-4 at 2016 PGA Championship

Almost Index points: 22.02

The young Matsuyama’s placement on this list may cause the most raised eyebrows, but consider this: Hideki has four wins already in his career worth 50 or more OWGR points. That’s more than Grace, Brooks Koepka, Alex Noren, Tyrrell Hatton, Ryan Moore and Jon Rahm combined. Add on nine other wins around the world, and at least one top-10 finish in his career in all four majors, and you get to No. 3 on this list. Hideki is already the most prolific winner from Japan in the history of the PGA Tour. It’s tough to imagine him not also becoming the country’s first major champion.

2. Luke Donald

Best major finish: T-3 (2 instances)

Almost Index points: 22.76

At 96th in the world, Donald is a long way from his halcyon days as the No. 1 player on the planet. But consider all Donald has achieved, short of that flagship major title: 16 wins around the world, five top-five finishes in majors, and 77 top-10s in his PGA Tour career. Luke spent 220 weeks inside the world  top 10 between 2006 and 2013. During that span, he landed in the top 10 eight times in majors, the best finish coming at the 2006 PGA (tie for third). Donald has missed the Masters each of the last two years, and is without a top-10 in any of his last 13 major starts.

1. Lee Westwood

Best major finish: Runner-up (3 instances)

Almost Index points: 45.97

Only seven players in the history of the European Tour have claimed more victories than Lee Westwood. He’s risen to No. 1 in the world, been a Ryder Cup stalwart, and is eighth all-time in top-10 finishes in Europe. Westwood was the first player in European Tour history to reach €30 million in earnings, and is unquestionably one of the best international players of his generation.

But it doesn’t get more “almost” than Lee Westwood in majors.

Dating to the 1860 Open at Prestwick, there have been exactly 500 different players to finish first, second or third at least one time in a men’s professional major championship. Westwood is one of those men: he has finished third or better nine different times in his career.  Dating back 157 years, that is the most second- and third-place finishes in majors by any player to never win.

Westwood has 18 top-ten finishes in the majors since 1997. During that span, only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Garcia and Jim Furyk have more. Those five players have combined to win 25 major championships.

And consider all the opportunities Westwood had entering Sundays in majors: since 2008, Lee has been in the top 10 after 54 holes in a major 15 times. There isn’t a single player in the sport with more such instances during that stretch.

Westwood hasn’t been the polarizing spectacle of Sergio, or experienced the memorable Sunday heartbreak that Johnson did, but it’s tough to imagine a more potential popular major champion than Lee would be should he break through.

Until then, he’s unquestionably the most accomplished player in golf today without a major.

Getty Images

Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

Getty Images

LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

Getty Images

Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

Getty Images

Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.