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Lee Westwood Inherits Sergio’s Title: Best Golfer Without A Major

The 12-foot birdie putt Sergio Garcia sank to win the Masters in April had bigger consequences than ensuring him a garish new jacket. It also meant somebody else would have to take on the title of “Best Player To Never Win A Major,” a crown that Garcia had worn for nearly a decade. And according to our calculations, that player should be England’s Lee Westwood, who shot 69 in the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday.

No pressure, Westy.

The golf world usually hands out the dreaded “BPTNWAM” designation by reputation and consensus, but we wanted to take a crack at it using a formula. In the past, we’ve judged the quality of a player’s performance in majors — win or lose — using “major shares,” which estimate how many majors a player would be expected to win given his scoring relative to the field average in past majors. (Fractional “shares” of wins accumulate over time for good players; also-rans garner scores at or near zero.) So for our purposes here, I’m considering the BPTNWAM to be the player who, at the time of each major, had the most career major shares without an actual major victory.1

According to those rules, here’s a chronology of the BPTNWAM since the great Ben Crenshaw took over the title in August of 1979:

PLAYER START END LENGTH (MAJORS) WON A MAJOR?
Ben Crenshaw 1979 PGA 1984 Masters 18
Peter Oosterhuis 1984 U.S. Open 1984 PGA 3
Greg Norman 1985 Masters 1986 British 7
Andy Bean 1986 PGA 1988 British 8
Nick Price 1988 PGA 1990 Masters 6
Andy Bean 1990 U.S. Open 1990 U.S. Open 1
Paul Azinger 1990 British 1990 PGA 2
Nick Price 1991 Masters 1991 British 3
Gil Morgan 1991 PGA 1994 Masters 10
John Cook 1994 U.S. Open 1995 PGA 7
Colin Montgomerie 1996 Masters 2001 PGA 24
Phil Mickelson 2002 Masters 2004 Masters 9
Loren Roberts 2004 U.S. Open 2004 PGA 3
Sergio Garcia 2005 Masters 2005 Masters 1
Chris DiMarco 2005 U.S. Open 2005 U.S. Open 1
Colin Montgomerie 2005 British 2006 British 5
Chris DiMarco 2006 PGA 2006 PGA 1
Sergio Garcia 2007 Masters 2007 Masters 1
Chris DiMarco 2007 U.S. Open 2008 U.S. Open 5
Sergio Garcia 2008 British 2017 Masters 35
Lee Westwood 2017 U.S. Open
A chronology of the “Best Player To Never Win A Major”

Based on how many career “major shares” a player had going into each major tournament since 1979. To be in the running, a player had to make the cut in at least half of the previous eight majors.

Sources: ESPN, Yahoo Sports

Crenshaw would plug away for the next 18 major tournaments before finally shedding the label with a win at the 1984 Masters. (A player can leave the BPTNWAM list three ways: Winning a major; falling behind another player’s major shares; or not playing enough to qualify for the list anymore.) Among all the title-holders since 1979, Crenshaw’s streak was the third-longest — though it paled in comparison with the streak that Garcia just ended.

Garcia was the modern king of the BPTNWAMs. Before his win at the Masters, he had gone 35 consecutive majors (back to the 2008 British Open) as the BPTNWAM, and before that, he’d traded the title back and forth with Chris DiMarco a few times. His 37 total tournaments as BPTNWAM are the most of any player since 1979 (eight more than No. 2 Colin Montgomerie).

Now the honor falls to Westwood, whose 0.86 career major shares leads all major-less players in the U.S. Open field:

CURRENT RANKING CAREER AT MAJORS
PLAYER GOLFWEEK OWGR* CUTS MADE MAJOR SHARES
Lee Westwood 52 54 58 0.86
Steve Stricker 13 85 54 0.47
Rickie Fowler 16 9 22 0.42
Branden Grace 44 29 14 0.26
Matt Kuchar 28 15 29 0.20
Marc Leishman 27 35 13 0.20
Andres Romero 609 798 12 0.13
Brandt Snedeker 31 38 26 0.13
J.B. Holmes 91 52 15 0.10
Scott Piercy 128 62 8 0.09
Who’s the new “Best Player To Never Win A Major”?

* Official World Golf Ranking

Sources: ESPN, Yahoo Sports, Golfweek

Westwood, at age 44, is perhaps the most decorated English golfer in recent history — he’s racked up 23 European Tour victories and seven Ryder Cup victories and even snapped Tiger Woods’s 281-week stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking in 2010. But the majors have been painful. He’s finished in the top 10 on 18 different occasions and been runner-up three times. This has earned him close to $9 million in prize money in the majors alone, but an empty trophy case.

Now on the unfamiliar grounds of Erin Hills (a Wisconsin course that’s never hosted a major before), Westwood can only hope his reign as BPTNWAM is short. He’s off to a good start, finishing Thursday 3 strokes under par — but the first three rounds are generally not the problem for the Englishman. Going into this week, Westwood’s average score in rounds 1 through 3 at the majors has been 72.0, but on Sunday, that number rises to 72.6, according to the statistical site Golfstats.

The bookmakers don’t like his chances this weekend, either. Before the tournament, his odds of winning were 65-to-1, according to VegasInsider.com. Maybe they’ve been scoping out the success rate for past BPTNWAMs: Even including Garcia’s victory in April, the title-holder won just four times in 149 tries (2.7 percent) going back to the 1980 Masters. That’s a big reason why the average BPTNWAM hung onto the designation for 11.5 tournaments (nearly three years’ worth of majors) over the same time period.

Westwood is also nearly outside the career phase where any golfers have ever won a major. So most likely, his BPTNWAM reign will end when he stops playing majors regularly, rather than with a championship victory. But golf has also given us a few stellar moments by players older than Westwood, including Jack Nicklaus’s Masters win at age 46 and, more recently, Tom Watson forcing a playoff in the British Open at age 59. Perhaps it won’t happen this week, but Westwood might just have enough left in the tank to shed his newfound, inglorious title in a grand way.

Footnotes

  1. I also added the qualification that a player must have made the cut in at least half of the previous two years’ worth of majors, to make sure that he was still playing at a high level at the time of the tournament in question.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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