Commentary

For the 18 players on this list come some major expectations

What can confirm that a player has reached an elite level of golf while at the same time weigh him down? That's easy: It's the BPTHNWAM list. ESPN.com's Jason Sobel explains in the Weekly 18.

Originally Published: July 27, 2008
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Best Player to Have Never Won a Major. Call it the ultimate backhanded compliment. It's a label that haunted Scott Hoch, beleaguered Jay Haas, tortured Colin Montgomerie and was given the capital-letter treatment for Phil Mickelson before he finally claimed one at the 2004 Masters.

So among the current crop of candidates, upon whom is this "honor" bestowed? The Weekly 18 breaks down those on the list, using the following criteria:

• Previous record in major championship appearances
• Current status on the Official World Golf Ranking
• Most importantly, overall talent in all facets of the game

Anthony Kim
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesAnthony Kim is just 23 but still has two wins under his often talked about belt buckle.

And one final caveat: These aren't necessarily the players we predict to win their first major; rather, they are simply the best in the game right now who have yet to claim any major hardware.

Without further ado, the W18 presents its list of the BPTHNWAM contenders.


Analysis: No, the "fifth major" doesn't count, but El Nino proved at the Players that he's ready to step into the role of major champion.
When? He'll play five more majors before turning 30. And he'll win one before then, too.
Best chance: The British Open (three top-5 finishes in four years), but the Masters and PGA Championship are possibilities if the putter remains at least lukewarm.
Garcia's take: "I obviously feel good with my game. I feel good with myself. I feel like I'm getting better as a player every tournament I go around. … I've just got to make sure that I keep doing the right things, that I keep believing in myself and I have a chance."


Analysis: Another former Players champ, Scott has yet to seriously contend even once in 30 career major starts, having totaled only one result of better than eighth (T-3 at the 2006 PGA). Ouch, babe.
When? Sometime in the next few years … and when the floodgates open, watch out.
Best chance: Strangely enough, his game suits all major courses -- and yet he hasn't thrived on any.
Scott's take: "To win a major championship -- I think, at the end of the day, that's what a golfer's career is based upon. … I really haven't taken my best stuff into a major yet. It's been something that I've struggled with, peaking on those four weeks of the year. I'm working really hard to change that."


Analysis: With two victories this year and coming off a T-7 in his first British Open, Kim, 23, is seemingly a can't-miss kid when it comes to winning majors. Then again, so was Sergio.

When? Not as soon as you may think. Tiger Woods is the only player to win a major before his 25th birthday since Seve Ballesteros in 1980.
Best chance: All of 'em, including -- we know now -- the British.
Kim's take: "I obviously need to still put in the work, and I'm a long ways behind, and I'm willing to do that. If I keep working hard, I don't see why anything can stop me, and I'm going to do my best to get there."


Analysis: Often starts strong (like his powerlifter build) at majors before fading (like one of his left-to-right tee shots) on the weekend.
When? When we're least expecting it. He'll never be the type of guy who's a favorite to win one, but he's too good not to.
Best chance: Despite remaining in contention through four days at Royal Birkdale, his game is suited to the "new" Augusta National.
Choi's take: "I think the important thing, the key thing, is just trying your best. I know that sounds very ordinary, but that's all you can do. In major tournaments you have to be patient. You have to just not take things for granted, just take it day by day."


Analysis: Perhaps no one on the list owns a more legitimate "What if?" than Cink. Just trying to get out of Retief Goosen's way at the 2001 U.S. Open, he missed an 18-inch putt on the final hole that would have gotten him into a playoff.
When? If it's going to happen, it may be pretty soon. At 35, Cink is enjoying one of his finest seasons.
Best chance: U.S. Open would be sweet redemption, but PGA would make sense, too.
Cink's take: "If anything, I got out of that lesson [in 2001] is I have what it takes to contend in a major. … I haven't really had a great record in a major since then, but when the time comes and I get close again on a Sunday, I'll know that, hey, I did it once before and I can get there. I can get to the 72nd hole, and all I need to do now is just finish it off."


Analysis: After an 11th-place finish at the Masters, Westwood finished one shot out of the U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines.
When? By keeping the weight down and the swing grooved, he's added a few years to his prime.
Best chance: He's shown proficiency at all four of 'em, but remains most suited to the British.
Westwood's take: "[The third-place finish at the U.S. Open] obviously gave me a good deal of confidence -- you know, the fact that I got into contention there and didn't back off -- and coming down the last fairway I had a good chance. Anytime you experience something like that in golf, and obviously the experiences and emotions, it's got to be something you can fall back on in future tournaments, so I'm hoping to do that this week."


Analysis: He's got all the tools, as evidenced by first-round leads in each of his past three Masters starts.
When? As soon as he can put together four strong rounds without falling apart. He shot a second-round 78 at this year's Masters, a first-round 79 at the U.S. Open and a third-round 82 at the British.
Best chance: Rose has figured out something at Augusta National, at least on a part-time basis.
Rose's take: "I've had good experiences and bad experiences and you learn from both, and that's the key. … Certainly, I think the biggest thing about winning a major is believing you can."


Analysis: Hasn't missed a major championship since 1996 … and has only four top-10 finishes to show for it.
When? When he can fare better than 76 in the final round -- his Day 4 scoring average in majors since last year's Masters.
Best chance: Wherever the final round gets wiped out to due weather conditions.
Appleby's take: "Majors are not a comfortable zone. They're not comfortable. They're not supposed to be comfortable. That's sort of why there's only four of them a year, and they're always on testing golf courses."


Analysis: He's got a temper that runs hot and cold -- and a game to match.
When? Just 32, Stenson has plenty of time. And Sweden, which has never had a men's major winner, has had plenty of time to prepare the victory parade.
Best chance: British Open, where he just finished T-3 at Royal Birkdale.
Stenson's take: "I am trying to work in a better way to prepare for [majors]. I am playing less for a start. … To do well in those tournaments, you have to be under control when you get there."
Kenny Perry
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesKenny Perry has taken some shots for skipping the British Open. But the 47-year-old's best chance to win a major may be at the PGA Championship in a few weeks.


Analysis: Who needs major championships when you can just play in … Milwaukee? Yes, Perry has played majors in the past, just not this year.
When? Well, just being part of the field would be a good first step.
Best chance: All kidding aside, Perry will go into next month's PGA as one of the world's hottest players.
Perry's take: "If I had not played this well and had not won three times, nobody would have cared what I did. They never cared in the past; they never would have cared in the future, so it's pretty funny how things happen."


Analysis: The knock has always been that Donald doesn't hit the ball long enough off the tee, but at nearly 282 yards per drive, he's well within range.
When? Not this year. The Brit missed the British Open with a wrist injury; don't be surprised if he's forced to skip the PGA, too.
Best chance: Had an opportunity at 2006 PGA … until he showed up for his final-round pairing with Woods wearing Tiger's patented red shirt.
Donald's take: "If you're playing well and feeling good about your game, then you can play any golf course. If one had to favor the other, I think that if I'm on my game, then a U.S. Open sets up better for me. Somewhere where you have to keep it in play, really have good control of your ball, play smart, not get too aggressive and too greedy, and make a lot of good, solid pars. And that's usually a pretty good recipe for a U.S. Open."


Analysis: Beware the player who can putt -- and Stricker rolls his rock better than most.
When? Soon, if ever. He's played the best golf of his life during the past year, but at 41 he's not getting any younger.
Best chance: Always a solid U.S. Open performer, he owns three top-six results in his past nine starts at the event.
Stricker's take: "I try to come to each event and play well and try to keep improving. I've got areas of my game that I can improve on, and I've just got to keep trying to do that and try to get myself into contention more and see if I can't win again."


Analysis: Boo gets more ink for his down-home demeanor than for his game, but he's among the game's top ball strikers.
When? When a venue plays short, tight and features small greens.
Best chance: Tough to picture him with either a green jacket or a Claret Jug, so try the other two.
Weekley's take: "It's just golf. One way or the other, you know, as long as I just get done without breaking something or hurting somebody, I mean, that's my goal."


Analysis: Having a subpar season while once again trying to play full-time on both the PGA and European tours.
When? At some point when the winning score is well into the red; he can make plenty of birdies.
Best chance: British Open makes sense, but he's played his best golf at the Masters.
Casey's take: "I've never been afraid of shooting low numbers, and I enjoy shooting low numbers. You know, I don't get scared of being sort of a few under. I always try and take it more. I see it as a challenge. I don't know what it is. I mean, I won't say it's one particular aspect of the game that suddenly sort of comes alive like the putting or the short game. Everything has to be there. But I think I get a little flag-hungry sometimes. When it pays off, it results in a very good number, a very low number. But I also have the possibility of going the other way."

Ian Poulter
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesIf it wasn't for his impressive ending to the British Open, Ian Poulter probably wouldn't have made the list. But who can forget him sinking this par putt (or those pants!)


Analysis: Honestly? The Pink Poulter probably doesn't crack the top 18 prior to Sunday's solo second-place finish at the British.
When? Just as soon as he reaches No. 2 in the world, as he suggested he would earlier this year.
Best chance: Considering he had never fared better than T-9 before last week, the British is the logical pick.
Poulter's take: "I'm happy to be playing good golf, more than anything else. … It's just nice, you know? It's nice to finish runner-up in an Open. It would have been nice to go one step further, but I'll take a lot of confidence from this."


Analysis: Mahan has won on every level on which he's played, and he's determined to win a major at some point, too.
When? Give it time. At 26, he'll have plenty of opportunities, but don't be surprised if he doesn't break through for another 4 or 5 years.
Best chance: Take your pick. He's finished T-28 or better at all four already.
Mahan's take: "I like them all. I've had pretty good finishes in most of them, so I feel like I can play well in any of them. The British is great just because it's so creative and it frees up my mind pretty well. The other ones I try to play too well; at the British, I just try to get the ball in the hole as fast as I can."


Analysis: Rocco displayed grit and guile in his 19-hole playoff loss to Woods at Torrey Pines. Just imagine what he could have accomplished over the years without that balky back.
When? Never say never -- heck, he's still eight years younger than Greg Norman -- but Mediate's best opportunity may have come in June.
Best chance: U.S. Open. Duh.
Mediate's take: "I'm completely hungry to play [Woods] again. He very well may beat me, but I want to try again. I mean, why wouldn't you? Why not go up against the best and see what you've got? If I play Tiger 10 times, he's probably going to beat me nine. But that one time --- I've said this a million times --- could be the whole deal. You never know."


Analysis: Poor Monty has slipped from No. 1 on the list a decade ago to the 18th position, but he can still put together four great rounds on any given week.
When? When we least expect it. He's come so close so often, but as soon as Monty stops making headlines, watch out.
Best chance: He's been on the verge many times at the U.S. Open, but it would be poetic justice if he won a Claret Jug.
Montgomerie's take: "I plan on improving, and there's no reason why not. I'm sort of --- I was going to say I'm fit enough, but I never have been, and mentally, I never have been that way, either, so I don't really know where we are. But I plan on improving some way."

The next 18: Robert Allenby; Stephen Ames; Chad Campbell; Tim Clark; Darren Clarke; Nick Dougherty; Ryuji Imada; Miguel Angel Jimenez; Robert Karlsson; Martin Kaymer; Graeme McDowell; Sean O'Hair; Nick O'Hern; Arron Oberholser; Andres Romero; Rory Sabbatini; Brandt Snedeker; Camilo Villegas.

Jason Sobel covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.