As we approach the year’s first Major, and the unofficial start of the golf season, we are reminded of all the greats who have played in and won the Masters.
Names like Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, and of course the immortal Jack Nicklaus immediately come to mind when you think about the champions who have donned the Green Jacket.
But, what about the guys who are recognized as greats in the game who have not won the Masters? The list is long and the men on it are distinguished, but who is at the top of the list? Who are the best players to have never won the Masters?
Let’s have a look.
From 1994 until 2004, no list of great players could have been compiled without including the likable South African known as “The Big Easy.”
With a long, smooth swing that generated enormous power and an easy gait that matched his easy smile, Ernie Els was not only one of the best of his generation, he is one of the best international players to ever play the game.
Els is tied for 38th on the list of all-time PGA Tour wins with 19 (to go along with his 64 other wins around the world), which includes four majors, two US Opens and two Open Championships.
Like many players, he had the misfortune of playing at the same time as Tiger Woods, or his career might have been even greater than it was.
He has finished second at the Masters twice, most notably in 2004 when he completed his final round at 8-under par and looked to be in position to go to a playoff with Phil Mickelson until Mickelson rolled in an improbable birdie on the final hole to take the title (and his first major.)
Els is still a fine player, but hasn’t won on Tour since 2012 and is struggling to find his form this year.
But you can make a strong case that Ernie Els is one of the finest players to have never won the Masters.
Sergio is my pick for best current player to have never won a major, so he easily makes the list of best players to not have won the Masters.
Garcia has been a very good player since he turned pro in 1999. In that same year, before he turned pro, he was low amateur at the Masters. He has been a stalwart for the European Ryder Cup team, playing on five winning sides and missing only one of the matches since he first made the team in 1999.
However, his career simply hasn’t lived up to the hype.
Certainly, he inherited a flair for the dramatic from his countryman Seve Ballesteros, as demonstrated at the 1999 PGA Championship when he hit a Shot from behind a tree with his eyes closed. Far too often, however, Garcia has been on the wrong side of history.
Some of that, as with Els, can be attributed to the fact that his early career was during the years of domination Tiger Woods was inflicting on the golf world. Beyond that, though, since 2008 (when Tiger really hasn’t been a factor), and when Garcia should be in his prime golf years, he has managed just two wins.
In many ways, the man once known as “El Niño” has been a bust. He has only nine PGA Tour wins, while many of his contemporaries have more, including majors. For example, Adam Scott has 13 wins including a major, and Dustin Johnson (who is four years younger) has 14 wins and a major.
While the promise of his talent has been left unfulfilled, there is no denying that Sergio Garcia is clearly one of the best to have never won the Masters.
The long-hitting Irishman was within nine holes of possibly not being on this list.
In 2011, McIlroy was coasting to his first major championship victory. He had utterly dominated the field for three days in Augusta, and held a four-stroke lead going into Sunday.
His front nine on Sunday was nothing to write home about as he shot a 1-over par, but he still held the lead and if he could have played the back nine in 2-under, he would have been in a playoff with eventual champion Charl Schwartzel. Let’s be honest, for players on the level of McIlroy, playing the back nine at Augusta in two under is not that hard.
As it was, however, McIlroy hit a tee shot so errant on the 10th hole that even the announcers were incredulous. In response to a question about the shot that left McIlroy near the cabins among the trees far to the left of the fairway, one of the announcers quipped, “I didn’t even know there were cabins over there.”
Rory would make a triple bogey on 10, and then 4-putted the 12th green to make a double bogey en route to a final round 80 that left him tied for 15th place at the end of play, 10 shots behind Charl Schwartzel.
McIlroy would recover from his collapse by destroying the field at Congressional two months later to win the US Open by eight strokes. He would add a PGA Championship in 2012, and then an Open Championship and another PGA in 2014.
Clearly, Rory McIlroy is a player to be watched for many years to come, and it is inconceivable that he won’t eventually win the one that got away, but right now, he has to be on this list.
Once upon a time, Johnny Miller was “the next Jack Nicklaus.” And surely, he was on his way to becoming exactly that.
Miller won 18 tournaments between 1971 and 1976, including his two major wins.
He is best known for being the first man to shoot a 63 at a major, and he did it at one of the hardest golf courses known to man. In 1973 at Oakmont, Johnny made history when he shot a final round 63 to erase a six-stroke deficit and win the coveted championship.
Miller seemed to be impervious to the “Nicklaus effect,” a phenomenon that afflicted many who played when Jack Nicklaus was in his prime. The condition was characterized by horrible shots induced by the presence of the Nicklaus near the top of the leaderboard. In the 2000s, Tiger Woods induced similar reactions in his contemporaries.
But Miller never seemed to mind the presence of “the Golden Bear” or even the lingering effects of having an aged, but still immortal Arnold Palmer in the field.
That is, of course, until he forgot how to putt.
Like many players, Miller started missing short putts, and it is a long walk back to the top of the game after you have taken a few steps down that path. Just ask Ian Baker-Finch.
Miller did manage to finish second at the Masters twice, but never managed to slip on the Green Jacket. He amassed 25 Tour wins, including two majors, which is why he is on this list.
Lee Buck Trevino is probably one of the finest ball strikers to ever play the game. He had a low, penetrating ball flight that seemed to seek the flagstick and fly at it like a laser.
With his homemade swing, his extroverted personality, and his attitude that he didn’t expect anything from the game, Trevino made the most of his time in the limelight.
After a stint in the Marines, the “Merry Mex” became a club pro in El Paso and knocked around Texas playing in cash games against other players. He was once asked about the pressure of playing professional golf and his reply was classic, “You don’t know what pressure is until you’ve played for $5 a hole with only $2 in your pocket.”
Trevino managed to win six major championships. He won the US Open, the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship twice each, but he never seemed to find his form at the Masters.
The biggest problem was that his swing produced that low-flying fade shot. This particular shape of shot is not the best for getting around Augusta in a low score. The course is set up to encourage high flying shots that land softly, and if you can hit a draw, you will have an advantage at the Masters. (Or if you are a lefty who hits a fade, right, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson?)
Lee’s best finish at the Masters was a tie for 10th and he missed the cut thrice. Many times, he simply did not play in the event because he didn’t like the course and never felt welcome in the atmosphere of the ultra-private club.
In the annals of golf history, you will not find a finer player who simply never made it happen around Augusta than Lee Trevino.
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