Monday, July 20, 2009

Who's the Best to Never Win a Major?

Update: This was updated and put on

Underneath yesterday’s most prominent storyline at Turnberry, another was brewing. Several players who had never won a Major – Lee Westwood included – circled the top of the leaderboard with chances to take home the Claret Jug. Stewart Cink, though probably not at the top of that list yesterday morning, eliminated that possible label for good Sunday. The answer to the question “Who’s the best without a major?” has seemingly been Sergio Garcia for the past several years, but several players have thrown their names into this unenviable ring. So let’s statistically assess this question, and try to come up with an answer.

I’ve come up with a formula that combines PGA TOUR wins, European Tour wins, Top 10 percentage on each tour, Top 10 percentage in Majors as a professional, and assesses a different amount of points for each top-10 finish in a Major championship. For transparency purposes, here’s how my formula shakes out:

(2 + (PGA TOUR top 10 pct)) + (1 + (European Tour top 10 pct)) + PGA TOUR wins + (Euro Tour wins x .5) + (Top 10 pct in Majors x 100) x .25) + (Major points x .1) = Almost Index

Major points are collected like this: players are given points in every Major in which they finished in the top 10, on a scale from 1 to 9. A 2nd place finish is a 9, a T-2nd 8.5, a 3rd gets 8, and so on – with the scale ending at T-10 (.5 points).

Your list of nominees:

Sergio Garcia
OWGR: 5th
PGA TOUR wins: 7
Almost Index: 30.965

Sergio’s staggering list of near-misses in Major championships makes him an easy choice for the label. He may have never finished as the runner-up in a major since Medinah in 1999, but he’s finished in the top 10 on golf’s biggest stage 12 times (29.3 percent of the majors he’s started as a pro). Garcia has made the most of his European Tour appearances, too, finishing in the top ten 45.8 percent of the time he’s teed it up. Garcia has won 7 times on the PGA TOUR, including last year at golf’s ‘fifth major.’ It’s telling though, that the first person he thanked when he won the PLAYERS in 2008 was Tiger Woods – for not being there.

Kenny Perry
OWGR: 4th
PGA TOUR wins: 14
Almost Index: 23.513

Perry’s late career renaissance has made him a compelling figure on the PGA TOUR the last few years. Despite turning pro in 1982, 10 of his 14 wins have come since 2003. Overall, his PGA TOUR top 10 percentage is 17.58, but since 2003, it’s 25.93 percent. We’re taking the whole picture into consideration for our arguments, though. Perry has finished in the top 10 in majors 6 times in his career (13.95 percent of his starts). Everything you may need to know about Perry’s perspective on never winning the big one may come from what he elected to do last year – skip the Open Championship in a strategic move that gave him a better shot at playing for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in his native Kentucky.

Lee Westwood
OWGR: 14th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
Almost Index: 20.898

Another Sunday in the spotlight for Westwood – another disappointing finish. Twice in the last 2 years now he’s been on golf’s biggest stage: he played in the final group with Tiger Woods at the ’08 U.S. Open, missing a putt on the 72nd hole that would have made him the third member of that memorable Monday playoff; and yesterday, when he found himself on top of the leaderboard at Turnberry, only to falter down the stretch. Westwood now has 7 top-10 finishes in Majors, good enough for 36.5 major points on our scale. He has 18 career European tour wins, and has finished in the top 10 in nearly 40 percent of his starts. On the Almost Index, though, he’s not quite on the level of Mr. Garcia.

Steve Stricker
OWGR: 6th
PGA TOUR wins: 6
Almost Index: 18.255

Steve Stricker is another testament to the value of grinding. He’s enjoying his second career multi-win season this year on TOUR, with the other coming in 1996. After finishing in the top 10 just 3 times from 2002-2005, he’s done it 29 times in the last 4 years. In majors, he’s finished in the top ten 5 times since the 2006 U.S. Open, but never better than T-6th in that span. Despite finishing T-52nd at the Open this year, he’s your new leader atop the FedExCup standings. Stricker’s mid-career lull hurts his Almost Index number, but the fact that he’s ascended as high as 3rd in the OWGR says his ‘comeback’ has evolved into staying power in golf’s top tier.

Paul Casey
OWGR: 3rd
PGA TOUR wins: 1
Almost Index: 13.827

His resume isn’t as long as the other names on this list, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention the 3rd ranked player on earth. Casey picked up his first career PGA TOUR win in Houston this year, and has finished in the top ten 3 times, including at the WGC Match Play, where he was runner-up to Geoff Ogilvy. He’s got 48 European Tour top 10 finishes, and 9 wins across the pond. However, Casey’s best finish in a major is T-6th a the 2004 Masters, and he’s only finished in the top 10 in majors 4 times (15.38 percent of his starts as a pro).

So the verdict is in, and it remains Sergio Garcia. The formula says Kenny Perry may be closer to Garcia than people think. However, I don’t think Perry is disappointed to finish runner-up here.