Masters week is upon us. This is, arguably, the best week to be a golf fan. The anticipation of the first major of the year; the best golfers the world competing on one of the greatest golf course in the world: Augusta National.
Now, not only do golf fans love Masters week, sports fans in general enjoy Masters week as well. The Masters is one of the highest rated sporting events on Television.
With Tiger Woods out, a lot of folks out there might not know who to root for. Well, I’m here to help out. Everyone loves a good underdog. If you’re looking for a golfer(s) to root for, here are six you should consider. These are golfers that have real strong, established resumes, but they are just missing that major championship. Let’s get started:
Lee Westwood: To start things off, we have to start with the golfer that has come close so many times. Lee Westwood was at one point the best golfer in the world and he’s a winner, no doubt about it. He’s the most accomplished golfer on this list. Westwood has 22 European Tour victories (9th all time), six Asian Tour victories, and two PGA Tour victories. Westwood has won all around the world; the only thing he’s missing is a major championship. As mentioned, he’s come so close. Agonizingly close.
We’ll start off in 1997 where Lee Westwood made the cut for every major that year. At Augusta he finished T-24, at the U.S. Open he finished T-19, at The Open Championship he finished T-10, and at the PGA Championship he finished T-29.
In 1998, Westwood finished T-7 at the U.S. Open, at the 1999 Masters he finished T-6, and at the 2000 U.S. Open he finished T-5.
From 2001 to 2003 Westwood went though a bit of a slump. Of the 12 majors in that time period he didn’t play in 4 of them, missed the cut in 5 of them, and his best finish was a T-44 at the PGA Championship in 2001, and a solo 44th place finish at the Masters in 2002.
While at the British Open in 2004 he finished a solo 4th, he still wasn’t consistently competing at the top level. It wasn’t until the middle of 2006 was his game was getting back on track. From the British Open in 2006 to the British Open in 2008, Westwood made the cut in every major. Then in 2008, Westwood was back to competing for major wins. At Augusta in 2008, Westwood finished T-11, and at the U.S. Open he finished solo 3rd.
Just a little note on that 2008 U.S. Open as history continues to march forward Westwood has sort of turned into the forgotten man. Westwood ended up playing with Tiger Woods in the final round and he stood his ground with Woods. And remember, this was still a Tiger Woods that was primed, feared, and was undefeated as he led going into the final round. Westwood hung with him all the way until the end. Anyway, Westwood had a 15 foot birdie putt that broke severely from left to right. Westwood ended up missing that putt and couldn’t join Woods and Rocco Mediate in that famous playoff.
After finishing T-67th at The Open, and missing the cut at the PGA Championship to round out 2008. In 2009, it would be the opposite. At Augusta he finished 43rd, and at the U.S. Open he finished T-23rd, but at The Open and at the PGA Championship he finished T-3 in each of those tournaments. At the British Open, Westwood had a fantastic chance of winning that, but Westwood stumbled toward the end and bogeyed 3 of the last 4 holes to fall one short of Stewart Cink and, once again, missed out on having a playoff with Cink and Tom Watson.
At the 2009, PGA Championship Westwood finished T-3, but he never had the lead. That was the tournament where Woods was running away with it until he stumbled in the final round and Y.E. Yang took advantage and beat Woods.
However, Westwood had his best opportunity to win his first major at the 2010 Masters. He came went into the final round with a one shot lead. Westwood didn’t have a bad final round, but he didn’t have a great one either. Westwood shot a 71, while Phil Mickelson shot a bogey free 67 to win the Masters. The next time Westwood had a lead heading into the final round was in the 2013 British Open.
In between that time from The Masters of 2010 to The Open of 2013, Westwood finished in the top 10 in 8 of those majors. Westwood took a two shot lead heading into the final round, but that wasn’t good enough. Westwood would go on to shoot a 75, while Phil Mickelson would shoot a 66 to win the British Open Championship and once again steal a major championship from Westwood.
While Westwood hasn’t played particularly well this year, I don’t think it’s time to hit the panic button just yet on Westwood. The key for that is because Westwood played well at the Shell Houston Open. Historically, Westwood has played really well at the Shell Houston Open and this year was no different. Westwood finished T-17 at the Shell Houston Open and might just be heating up to make a run at that Green Jacket this year.
Miguel Angel Jimenez: The 50-year-old Jimenez is the golf version of “the most interesting man in the world.” The long-haired, cigar smoking Spaniard is a fan favorite. Jimenez is someone you would have a blast playing with and I know, for me, if I had to pick one golfer to play with it would probably be Jimenez.
As far as Jimenez and his chances of winning a major, they aren’t very good. They are very, very slim. Jimenez is one of the best players in the world, he has won 20 European Tour events, but has never really been in the thick of things come Sunday too many times. He’s had his moments, no doubt. From 2000 to 2002, Jimenez finished in the top ten four times, and came closest to winning at the U.S. Open in 2000 finishing T-2. And by “closest” I’m talking about in terms of finishing position. Nobody had a chance in 2000 as Woods ran away with that U.S. Open.
Jimenez has had a resurgence of late, though, he’s led after one round a couple of times. Last year, at The Open, Jimenez led after one round and finished T-13. Also, in 2012, Jimenez put together 4 solid rounds finishing – including shooting a 67 in the final round – to finish T-9.
Matt Kuchar: Matt Kuchar has been on tour for a while, since 2000, but it’s been of late where he’s found success. Since 2010, Kuchar has been one of the best players on tour. While he hasn’t won a major, he has competed and been near the top at just about every major he’s played, again, since 2010. While he hasn’t won one of the official 4 majors, he can say he won the unofficial 5th.
In 2012, Kuchar put together 4 very good rounds at The Players Championship held at the world famous TPC Sawgrass and won the tournament by two strokes. A huge victory for Kuchar who silenced critics that he maybe too nice of a player to win major -or major like- tournaments.
Since 2010, Matt Kuchar has played in every major, and has only missed the cut in two major tournaments. Not only has Kuchar made the cut in 14 of the 16 majors, he’s been a top 27 machine. In the 14 majors he’s played in his worst finish has been 27th. That’s incredible stuff. In 2010, Kuchar had two top 10, a T-6 at the U.S. Open, and a T-10 at the PGA Championship. In 2011, Kuchar didn’t have a top 10, but he still finished T-14 at the U.S. Open and a T-19 at the PGA Championship. In, 2012, Kuchar put together 4 good rounds at Augusta (71-70-70-69), but just missed playing with Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen by two strokes.
Last year, Kuchar was right in the thick of things again, but a second round 75, and a 4th round 73 killed his chances. Kuchar still ended up finishing T-8, though.
At Oak Hill last year – the PGA Championship – Kuchar had his best shot at winning a major. Oak Hill is set up in such a way that really suited his game, and it showed as Kuchar shot a 67 and a 66 in the first two rounds to put himself at T-2, two strokes behind the leader Jason Dufner. But, Kuchar had a terrible 3rd round that ended his chances. A third round 76 ended his chances and Kuchar ended up finishing T-22nd.
For Kuchar, his game has been good news and bad news. The good news is that Kuchar has played some fantastic golf. Kuchar has continued to rack up the top 10’s and be in contention virtually every week. The bad news is that Kuchar has gotten a win yet this year, and he’s had two fantastic chances the past two weeks in Texas, but Kuchar hasn’t – and didn’t – seal the deal.
While Kuchar has been consistently very good this season, you can’t help but think that not winning one of the two tournaments doesn’t hurt his confidence just a little bit. Even for someone like Kuchar who is as cool and laid back as they come. Looking ahead to the further future, while Kuchar has been one of the best golfers this decade, he’s 35 and time is running out on Kuch. And you would really like for someone like Kuchar to get that major on his resume. He’s won just about everything else; he just needs a major. Plus, he’s as cool as a cucumber out there. He just has a great time out there, always, smiling and you know that you would have a great time playing a round with Kuch.
Steve Stricker: Steve Stricker has come close to winning a major a number of times. The closest Stricker has gotten was in 1998 and in 1999. In 1998, Stricker finished T-5 in the U.S. Open and a solo second place finish in the PGA Championship. In 1999, Stricker followed up his T-5 at the U.S. Open with a solo 5th place finish at the U.S. Open.
Aside from a T-10 at the Masters in 2001, it took Stricker a long time to get back into form. From 2003 to 2005 Stricker ended up playing in just one major and in that time he lost his tour card.
From 2006 to 2009 Steve Stricker had a resurgence. He played in 14 majors during that period and finished in the top 8 in five of those tournaments and he finished in the top 23 in 9 of the 14 majors during that period.
Recently, Stricker has cut down on his playing schedule significantly that’s he’s a semi-retired golfer now. And it has worked. Stricker has made the cut in every major he’s played since 2010 and during that time he’s won five PGA Tour events.
Heading into the Masters, Stricker has played in just three events this year. The WGC Match Play, the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Shell Houston Open. Stricker was bounced in the first round by George Coetzee and at Doral Stricker was a non factor as he finished alone for 57th place, plus-14. Up until last week I was worried about Stricker’s form, but you know, he played a solid Houston Open. He might be good to go for Augusta.
With that said, though, the window of opportunity has, perhaps, already closed for Stricker. He’s 47 years old and not playing on a regular basis, but don’t quite count his out yet. Stricker is still a great putter, and he hits the ball deadly straight. With those attributes you are never out of any major, especially at Augusta and at a U.S. Open.
Henrik Stenson: Henrik Stenson is interesting in a sense that I just can’t figure him out. I don’t know whether Stenson is on the verge of winning a major or just blowing up and missing the cut. Let’s go back a few years ago. From 2005 to 2006 it looked as if Stenson was figuring it out a bit. He played in 6 tournaments making the cut in 5. In 2008 he followed up with a T-3 at The Open followed by a T-4 at the PGA Championship.
In 2009, he made the cut at every major and finished solo 9th at the U.S. Open and T-6th at the PGA Championship. It looked as though Stenson was on the verge of capturing a major, but Stenson took a step back. While he finished T-3 at The Open, he ended up missing the cut at The Masters and at The PGA Championship. Then he took major, major steps back in 2011 and 2012. He only played in 4 of the 8 major championships, missed the cut in one of them and his best finish was a T-23.
Last year, though, Stenson rebounded in back time way having one of the best seasons a golfer could ever have. Stenson finished T-18 at The Masters, T-21 at the U.S. Open, and a solo 2nd and 3rd at The Open and at the PGA Championship. To cap it all off, Stenson won the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup and he won the World Tour Championship at Dubai to win the Race to Dubai.
Stenson started this year slow, but he’s heating up once again. It’s very reminiscent to last year’s historic season. Stenson may very well be right in the thick of things at all four majors this year.
Luke Donald: With Luke Donald, you don’t know what you’re going to get. He’s streaky, a little bit like Henrik Stenson. Donald hasn’t made the cut in all 4 major tournaments since 2006. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s played bad golf, though.
In 2007, Donald finished 10th at Augusta, in 2009, Donald finished T-5 at The Open and he followed that up with a T-11 at The Open the very next year. In 2011, Donald finished T-4 at The Masters, and at the PGA Championship the same year he finished T-8. In 2012, Donald finished T-5 at The Open, and last he finished T-8 at the U.S. Open.
Donald is erratic, you can’t really pin point a tournament he favors. From 2009, Donald has finished The Open in the top 10 twice, but during that same period he missed two cuts. At the 2010 Masters he missed the cut, but as stated above, he finished T-4. At the U.S Open, he finished in the top 10 last year, but the previous year he missed the cut. And at the PGA Championship, while he finished T-8 in 2011, he missed the cut last year and in 2010. I guess you can say Donald has been consistently inconsistent at every major.
As for this year, though, Donald has quietly had a very solid season. In his last four tournaments, Donald has finished T-8 (Honda Classic), T-25 (WGC-Cadillac), T-4 (Valspar), and T-24 (Houston Open). Perhaps, this is the year Donald gets that allusive major. If history tells us anything, though, it’s that Donald may compete in one major, but miss the cut in the other. That’s just how he rolls.