Players seek to shed the label

8/18/2009 - Golf

It's a list no golfer wants his name to appear on: best player to have never won a major. The title is both an honor and a curse; being tabbed as an elite-level golfer, but also as one who has yet to win the big one.

Many players in recent years have dropped the title, some by pulling through in the clutch (see: Mickelson, Phil) and others simply by watching their game go south as they got on in years (see: Montgomerie, Colin).

So who's the bearer of the crown no one wants to own? At this stage in history, that would be Sergio Garcia. As the Spaniard nears his 30th birthday, Garcia is -- by most accounts -- considered to be at the top of the BPTNWAM list.

We've come up with a formula that combines PGA Tour wins, European Tour wins, top 10 percentage on each tour as a professional, 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 the 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 second-place finish is a 9, a T-2 is an 8.5, a third is an 8, and so on, with the scale ending at T-10 (.5 points).

Among the top 30 in the world, here's how the Almost Index rankings sort out right now after yesterday's PGA Championship. Sergio is first, with Kenny Perry a distant second and Lee Westwood in third.

Let's take a closer look at those at the top of this … "leaderboard."

1. Sergio Garcia
World ranking: 7
PGA Tour wins: 7
Almost Index: 30.649

Sergio's staggering list of near-misses in major championships makes him an easy choice for the label. He's finished runner-up or tied for runner-up three times ('99, '08 PGA; '07 British), and in the top 10 in a major 15 times (35.7 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 10 more than half the times he's teed it up since turning pro. Garcia has won seven 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 Championship in 2008 was Tiger Woods -- for not being there.

2. Kenny Perry
World ranking: 4

PGA Tour wins: 14
Almost Index: 22.434

Perry's late-career renaissance has made him a compelling figure on the PGA Tour the past few years. Despite turning pro in 1982, 10 of his 14 wins have come since 2003. Overall, his PGA Tour top-10 percentage is 17.53, but since 2003, it's 25.61 percent. We're taking the whole picture into consideration for our arguments, though.

Perry has finished in the top 10 in majors six times in his career (13.64 percent of his starts). His heart-wrenching miss at the Masters this year leaves him with four top-10 finishes in majors since 2003, but before that run, he finished better than T-10 just once: a runner-up finish at the 1996 PGA Championship.

3. Lee Westwood
World ranking: 9
PGA Tour wins: 1
Almost Index: 21.997

This year's British Open featured another Sunday in the spotlight for Westwood, and yet another disappointing finish. Three times in the past two years he's been on golf's biggest stage; he played in the final group with Tiger Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open, missing a putt on the 72nd hole that would have made him the third member of that memorable Monday playoff. At Turnberry, he found himself on top of the leaderboard, only to falter down the stretch. And during the 2009 PGA, he worked his way into a T-3 finish when all was said and done.

Sunday's early charge up the leaderboard means he's finished third or better three times in the past eight major championships, and his eight career top-10s are good enough for 44 points on our scale. He has 18 career European Tour wins, and has finished in the top 10 in nearly 25 percent of his starts.

On the Almost Index, though, he's not quite on the level of Mr. Garcia.

4. Rory McIlroy
World ranking: 22
PGA Tour wins: 0
Almost Index: 17.332

The 20-year-old from Northern Ireland has a star ascending almost as quickly as the hype that preceded it. McIlroy's T-3 finish at Hazeltine means he has finished in the top 10 twice in his four career starts in majors as a professional, a stat that greatly aids him in this formula.

In 12 PGA Tour events, he's been in the top 10 three times already, and his top-10 percentage on the European Tour is an impressive 28.20. Everyone expects McIlroy to be a fixture at major championships for a long time to come. Of course, 10 years ago we all said the same thing about Garcia.

5. Steve Stricker
World ranking: 6
PGA Tour wins: 6
Almost Index: 18.255

Steve Stricker is another testament to the value of grinding. He's currently enjoying his second multi-win season on tour, with the other coming in 1996. After finishing in the top 10 only three times from 2002-05, he's done it an astounding 29 times in the past four years.

In majors, he's finished in the top 10 five times since the 2006 U.S. Open, but never better than T-6 in that span. Stricker's mid-career lull hurts his Almost Index number, but the fact that he ascended as high as third in the world rankings says his "comeback" has evolved into staying power in golf's top tier.

6. Paul Casey
World ranking: 3
PGA Tour wins: 1
Almost Index: 13.828

Quick, name the third-ranked player in the world. The casual golf fan probably can't.

Casey picked up his first career PGA Tour win in Houston this year, and has finished in the top 10 three times, including at the WGC-Match Play, where he was runner-up to Geoff Ogilvy.

Casey owns 48 European Tour top-10 finishes, and nine wins across the pond. However, his best finish in a major is T-6 at the 2004 Masters, and he's only finished in the top 10 in majors four times (15.38 percent of his starts as a pro).

While not exactly top of mind for players who are the best in the world to have never won a major, we couldn't leave out European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, mainly because had we done these calculations a decade ago, he would have surely topped the list. So for a bit of historical perspective …

Colin Montgomerie
World ranking: 215
PGA Tour wins: 0
Almost Index: 29.028

Monty's European Tour numbers are staggering. He's the all-time leader in top-10 finishes with 181 (36.1 percent as a pro), and his 31 official victories are third-most in the history of the tour. He accounts for 62 major points on our scale, and his top-10 percentage in majors is 14.93.

Monty never won on the PGA Tour, which is the primary difference in Almost Index points between him and Garcia. It's close, but Sergio narrowly takes the booby prize. Monty's number seems inflated by the 31 Euro wins, while Garcia's career is better in every other category. Here's how they stack up head-to-head:

Let the flames be fanned regarding who's the best player with the scarlet letter on their bag.

Justin Ray is a production researcher with the ESPN Stats & Information group.