The PGA Championship got underway this morning at the storied Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. As the final opportunity of the season for golfers to bag a major, the pressure is most acute for golfers who are burdened with the sport's most vexing label: best golfer never to win a major. In any given year, there are usually three or four players who, while supremely talented golfers, have not been able to capture one of the sport's biggest prizes. After failing to break through at the Masters, the US Open, and the British Open, they arrive at the PGA desperate to finally shed the best-never label, desperate to avoid another long winter of second-guessing and self-doubt.
Tennis, like golf, measures success in majors. But there's really no equivalent in tennis to the best-never fixation in golf. For one thing, in any given year, there are just a handful of tennis players with legitimate shots at winning majors. In golf, by contrast, there are easily a dozen guys who are strong contenders entering majors, and several dozen others who are more than capable of stringing together four great rounds.
Furthermore, in golf you are not just competing against other golfers; you are also competing against the course, and fairway rough and slick greens that can also conspire against even the most gifted and overdue golfers. Some shed the best-never label — Adam Scott did by winning last year's Masters, and Justin Rose followed suit two months later with his victory at the US Open. But others end their careers saddled with best-never status. Britain's Colin Montgomerie, who's playing this tournament, is the obvious example; he finished second four times in majors but never got further.
Coming into this year's PGA, there are four golfers who stand atop the best-never list:
Sergio Garcia: The 34-year-old Spaniard has had a tortured history in the majors, including two second-place finishes at the PGA. Claiming inspiration for the new biopic about his mentor, Seve Ballesteros, he has finished second in three of his last four tournaments, which is exactly the kind of momentum that can finally propel a guy to a grand slam title. But has Garcia truly exorcised his demons?
Lee Westwood: Westwood has a bunch of near misses: he has twice finished second in majors and has four third-places finishes. After finishing seventh at the Masters this year, he missed the cut at both the US Open and the British Open, and at 41 years old, with young players like Rory McIlroy surging to the top, Westwood is running out of time.
Rickie Fowler: The 25-year-old American, famous for wearing a flat-brimmed cap and for an all-orange ensemble that calls to mind Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, has set himself up perfectly for a breakthrough win. He finished fifth at the Masters in April, second at the US Open two months later, and tied for second (with Garcia) at the British Open two weeks ago. A victory at the PGA would punctuate what has already been an amazing year for Fowler.
Henrik Stenson: The Swede has one second-place in a major, three third-place finishes, and two fourth-place finishes, most recently at this year's US Open. After finishing third at last year's PGA, Stenson had a torrid late-season run, winning two of four FEDEX cup playoff tournaments. Another autumn like that would be nice, but Stenson would much prefer to finally notch a victory in a major. He's overdue.