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The Best Players Never to Win The Masters

By: | Fri 06 Nov 2020

Augusta National has been the stage for many crowning achievements and unforgettable moments, but it's also the site of crushed dreams, shattered hopes, and squandered potential. 

That fine line between beauty and cruelty has long made the Masters compelling, and those ghosts of past disappointments cast a shadow over the immaculate fairways.

Since winning the Open in 2014, Rory McIlroy has stepped on the edge of completing the career grand slam, with only that iconic green jacket eluding him. The Northern Irishman will be determined not to join those forsaken apparitions who never did secure their place at the Champions Dinner table.

This raises the question of who are the best players that never won the Masters. Looking at the current generation, in terms of ability and achievement, McIlroy and Brooks Koepka have resumes befitting a green jacket. Dustin Johnson has the skill set to triumph anywhere, while a pair of Englishmen, Justin Rose and Lee Westwood have knocked on the door as twice runners-up. 

Historically, there are legendary figures who didn't cross the line, often for very good reason. Founded in 1934, the Masters came after the competitive prime of both Walter Hagen and tournament host Bobby Jones, while the great Bobby Locke only played on four occasions, with five-time Open champion Peter Thomson also not finding the venerable Georgia layout to his liking. 

Lee Trevino never did feel comfortable down Magnolia Lane and underperformed each spring. Nick Price's 63 set the course record in 1986, but the eventual three-time major winner inexplicably didn't finish better than fifth in 20 attempts.

The likes of Scott Hoch, Kenny Perry, Dan PohlChris DiMarco and Ed Sneed came painfully close to a lifetime defining success. However, we are looking to identify those who had multiple brushes with the jacket, the players who consistently played well and contended at Augusta, but the names who never made their reservation at the table.

Greg Norman

No one is more associated with Augusta heartbreak than the Australian who sat at the summit of the world rankings for 331 weeks. First contending in 1981, it was five years later, in 1986, when having birdied four consecutive holes and nearing the finish, Norman stood on the 18th fairway looking to deny a remarkable victory for the aging Jack Nicklaus, but a wayward approach resulted in a closing bogey, losing by one.

12 months later, and now with a Claret Jug to his name, Norman returned to the Masters, finding himself in a playoff with two-time winner Seve Ballesteros and local favourite Larry Mize. The Spaniard was eliminated on the first extra hole, making the Queenslander favourite. However, in a remarkable moment, the unfancied American chipped in from off the 11th green to deny the Great White Shark.

In 1989, Norman rallied to shoot a 67 on Sunday, but was left to curse a dropped shot on the 18th, which ultimately cost him a place in the playoff between Nick Faldo and Scott Hoch.

Now in his 40s, Norman was only three back of Ben Crenshaw in 1995, but the following year was destined to be his time. Opening with a 63 and seeming to run away with the title, the Aussie was six ahead after 54 holes. Two things stood between him and an overdue victory lap - those ghosts of Augusta, and Faldo, his most feared nemesis. 

In an extraordinary final day, the Englishman meticulously pulled apart Norman's lead, before a dramatic collapse around Amen Corner handed a third jacket in the direction of Faldo. Having led by six, after finding the water on the 16th, Norman finished five strokes behind his great rival.

However, that was not to be the end of Norman's punishment. At 44, he began the final round of the 1999 Masters one behind playing partner Jose Maria Olazabal. Following an eagle on the 13th, the Australian was tied for the lead, but ultimately dropped shots on the 14th and 15th, eventually finishing three behind the Spaniard.

Johnny Miller

For period in the 1970s, the Californian was arguably the best player in the world, producing one of the great rounds to win the US Open at Oakmont, before later denying a young Seve at Royal Birkdale in 1976. 

However, at the Masters, Miller was unable to cross the line. In 1971, he was leading with four holes remaining, before making bogeys on the 16th and 18th to finish second behind Charles Coody.

Four years later, in one of the great tournaments, Miller was battling with Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus on the back-nine, but despite weekend rounds of 65 and 66, the American was unable to surpass the Golden Bear, who holed a famous putt on the 16th to win by one.

Finally, in 1981, Miller had one last run at the jacket, shooting 68 to finish two shots behind Tom Watson.

Tom Weiskopf

When it comes to near-misses at Augusta, it's hard to beat Tom Weiskopf, another Open champion, who was in a runner-up position FOUR times at the Masters. First in 1969, the 26-year-old was left to rue a bogey on the 17th, ultimately finishing one back of George Archer.

Three years later, in difficult conditions, Weiskopf finished three back of Jack Nicklaus after a 74. Months after securing the Claret Jug at Troon, Weiskopf was back at Augusta in 1974, but was denied by Gary Player, who won by two.

However, like Johnny Miller, Weiskopf will forever be associated with the 1975 Masters. Leading after 54 holes, a final round of 70 was not enough to clinch victory as he lost to his fellow Ohioan, Nicklaus.

Tom Kite

The history books may struggle to try and grasp how Tom Kite did not win the Masters, but no one gave themselves more opportunities. Making 26 appearances, the Texan was a three-time runner-up, but also finished in the top five on a further six occasions.

Incredibly consistent, Kite, a student of the revered Harvey Penick, appeared to be on the leaderboard every year at Augusta, finishing second in 1983, leading after 54 holes in 1984, and losing to Nicklaus by a shot in 1986. Moving into the next decade, the 1992 US Open winner at Pebble Beach contended again in 1994, while he remains a trivia answer for finishing a (very) distant second to Tiger Woods and his extraordinary breakthrough in 1997. That year, Kite was 47 and the American Ryder Cup captain.

Ultimately, in 94 rounds at the Masters, Kite's scoring average is one of the most impressive at 72.36. 

Ernie Els

Ernie ELs

Twice an Open champion, twice a United States Open champion, but it could have been so much more for Ernie Els, particularly at Augusta National. He made a strong run to finish behind Vijay Singh in 2000, but it was four years later when the ghosts of the Masters haunted the South African.

Starting the final round three back of leaders Chris DiMarco and Phil Mickelson, Els shot a magnificent 67, punctuated by two eagles on the 8th and 13th, which placed him on the edge of victory, only to be denied by the left-hander, who birdied five of his last seven holes (including the 18th) to beat Els by one. Cruel, indeed. 

Lloyd Mangrum

Going back in time, this 36-time PGA Tour winner was among the most prolific golfers of the 1940s and 1950s, but is somewhat forgotten, partly because he didn't win the Masters. But it wasn't for a lack of trying. In 20 appearances, he finished inside the top five on seven occasions, including runner-up finishes in 1940 and 1949. 

His opening 64 in 1940 stood as the course record for 46 years, but despite being a perennial contender, his 1946 US Open victory stands as his sole major. 

Harry Cooper

Possibly the finest golfer never to win a major championship, the English-born Harry Cooper had his grasp on the Masters title on several occasions. In 1936, he led after three rounds, before shooting a 76 to finish one behind the inaugural champion Horton Smith, while he was second to Henry Picard in 1938, losing by two.

He was also fourth in 1937 and 1940, but never did make one of the four modern majors among his 30 victories on the PGA Tour.

Gene Littler

One of the more underappreciated American golfers of the 20th century, Gene Littler played in 26 Masters Tournaments and recorded a scoring average of 72.90 from 100 rounds. He came close to getting his hands on the green jacket, notably losing to Billy Casper in an 18-hole playoff in 1970, but he was also in the mix in 1962 and 1971.

The 1961 US Open was his sole professional major championship.

Ken Venturi

Bobby Jones long dreamt of an amateur winning his tournament, and that seemed inevitable in 1956 courtesy of Ken Venturi. A friend of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, the 24-year-old led after each round and stood four ahead with 18 holes to play, but shot an 80 in gusty winds to finish one shot behind Jack Burke, Jr.

Undeterred, he was back as a professional in 1958, contending again for victory, but there was more heartbreak to come in 1960 when he finished one shot behind Arnold Palmer. Following injury and health issues, Venturi didn't fulfil his considerable potential, but his triumph at the US Open at Congressional in 1964 remains iconic.

David Duval

Retief Goosen and Davis Love III were both twice a runner-up at Augusta, but neither of them came closer than David Duval, who was an annual contender around the turn of the Millennium. In 1998, he made a brilliant Sunday surge for the title, before dropping a shot on the 16th, which proved costly when Mark O'Meara birdied the last to win.

Two years later, Duval was in the final pairing with Vijay Singh and was keeping pace before a lacklustre back-nine saw him finish third. 

In 2001, the American looked to halt the Tiger Slam by hunting down Woods at Augusta, tying for the lead after a birdie on the 15th, before a bogey on the 16th handed control back to Tiger, who ultimately made history, capping off with a closing three on the 18th.

Later that year, Duval finally claimed his major at Royal Lytham, but injury and a loss of form saw his game plummet, ultimately never reaching those past heights that so nearly secured him the green jacket.

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