By DOUG FERGUSON
The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. — One of the most popular labels in golf is the best player to have never won a major, which can be looked at two ways. The bad news is that it means a player has never won a major. The good news is that he’s at least thought highly enough to be considered.
The Masters, one of golf's major events, begins this week, culminating in the final round on Sunday. The best player at Augusta National to have never won the Masters?
That stings a little bit more.
Just ask Greg Norman, who lost by his own doing twice, by an improbable chip-in and to a Spaniard who simply outplayed him. Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf won’t forget the 40-foot birdie putt by Jack Nicklaus on the 16th hole in 1975. Ernie Els came close, and he found out how badly it hurt last year when he didn’t qualify to return. Masters champions can return the rest of their lives.
Here’s five players haunted by never winning the Masters:
5. TOM WEISKOPF
Weiskopf doesn’t have a green jacket, but he at least got his name in the record book at Augusta National as the most runner-up finishes — four — without ever winning. Worse yet for Weiskopf is that he had those four second-place finishes over seven years.
It wasn’t a lack of effort, and more than anything it was bad timing at Augusta. He was three shots out of the lead in 1969 and wound up one shot behind George Archer. Three years later, he couldn’t make up any ground against Jack Nicklaus, finishing three shots back. In 1974, he again was three shots back of Dave Stockton and finished behind Gary Player. The following year was painful.
Weiskopf had a one-shot lead over his nemesis, Nicklaus, and they went back-and-forth on the back nine until Nicklaus holed his long birdie putt on the 16th and Weiskopf never caught up. He missed a birdie putt on the 18th, and the Golden Bear had another green jacket.
He summed up his career best from the broadcast booth when asked what Nicklaus was thinking as he stood over an important shot. “If I knew what he was thinking,” Weiskopf said, “I’d have won this championship.”
4. JOHNNY MILLER
Miller falls into this category for his sheer talent and three runner-up finishes, though it certainly wasn’t a weekend collapse. He first showed potential in the majors with a 68-68 weekend at Augusta in 1971, finishing two shots behind Charles Coody. He matched the low score of the final round in 1981 when Miller shot a 68, but all that did was give him a tie for second with Nicklaus, two shots behind Tom Watson.
His best chance, as with Weiskopf, was in 1975.
Miller found himself 11 shots behind Nicklaus going into the weekend, but he answered with a 65 on Saturday to make up eight of those shots against Nicklaus. Even so, Miller still was four shots behind Weiskopf when he put together another sensational run of birdies.
Miller played in the last group with Weiskopf, and both were on the 16th tee when Nicklaus made his 40-foot putt. Miller wound up with a 66 and another silver medal.
3. ERNIE ELS
The Big Easy was one shot out of the lead going into the weekend in 2000 and thought he had shot himself out of the tournament with a 74 in the third round to fall four shots behind. But he was right there with a chance when David Duval couldn’t keep pace with Vijay Singh. He had three good birdie chances at the end and didn’t make any of them, settling for a 68 to finish three shots behind Singh. “I was really trying to push too hard,” Els said.
That didn’t hurt nearly as bad as 2004.
In one of the best duels in years at the Masters, Els made an eagle at No. 8 and No. 13 and looked like this might be his year. He played two groups in front of Mickelson, and they were trading birdies throughout the back nine. Els closed with two pars for a 67, and then headed to the practice green to see if there would be a playoff. He never saw Mickelson hit his 18-foot birdie putt. He didn’t have to see it. The cheer was deafening, and Els picked up his golf ball and walked quietly to the clubhouse.
“I played as good as I could,” he said. “What more can you do, you know?”
2. DAVID DUVAL
When he reached the top of the world rankings in 1999, Duval was the only player to be No. 1 in the world without ever having won a major. Most figured he would take care of that at the Masters. Much like Tom Weiskopf, Duval seemed to have a chance at Augusta every year.
Turns out the closest call might have been his first runner-up finish. He was in Jones Cabin in 1998, having closed with a 67. He was poised to get into a playoff with Mark O’Meara, and club chairman Jack Stephens felt the same way. “Don’t worry, David. Nobody ever makes this putt,” Stephens told him. O’Meara made the putt.
A year later, Duval recovered from a poor start and was closing in on the lead when his tee shot on No. 11 clipped a tree and dropped down, and it killed his momentum. The next year, he was back for more. Duval had the 36-hole lead until a 74 in the third round. He still was right there and appeared to have the advantage when Singh found the water on the 11th. The hole location was in the one spot where relief is granted near the green, and Singh escaped with only a bogey. Duval hit into the water on No. 13 and thus ended his chances.
And then there was 2001, when he missed birdie putts of 12 feet and 6 feet on the last two holes, and wound up two shots behind Tiger Woods. That was only his second runner-up finish, but he went four straight years with a solid chance on the back nine and failed to win.
1. GREG NORMAN
Greg Norman is the face of suffering at Augusta National, the only debate being which one haunts him the most.
He is most famous for his collapse in 1996, the year he tied the course record with a 63 in the opening round and still had a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo going into Sunday. The Shark missed a short putt on the 10th, three-putted for bogey from medium range on the 11th, hit into Rae’s Creek on the 12th. He dropped to his knees when his eagle chip narrowly missed on the 15th, and it was over for good with a tee shot into the water on the 16th. Norman had a 78 to finish five behind Faldo — an 11-shot swing.
That was his fault. Equally devastating was his playoff loss in 1987 against Larry Mize, who appeared to be in trouble to the right of the 11th green. The only thing that could stop Mize’s pitch was the hole, and it did. It was one of the most improbable birdies ever in a playoff at Augusta.
Norman made a furious rally in 1986 and needed a birdie to win on the 18th. But his approach sailed over the green and he made bogey, leading to Jack Nicklaus winning. And then there was 1999, when Olazabal matched his birdies and reduced Norman to another close call. The Masters remains the only major that an Australian has never won. Whoever does will surely say, “This one is for Greg.”