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Golfers With The Most Second Place Finishes in Majors

By: | Fri 18 Jun 2021 | Comments


They represent the key to immortality. Major championships are the commodity that defines the career of a golfer, the victories that will be discussed and replayed for generations to come. But defeats can also be part of the story, even for the very best. Everyone knows that Jack Nicklaus won 18 major titles, with Tiger Woods on 15. We know that Nick Faldo is on six and that Rory McIlroy has four.  

But who has the most runner-up finishes in the four events that have now long been considered the majors in golf? We take a look at 20 figures who have been second at least five times in the biggest championships.

Jack Nicklaus

19 Times Runner-up...

The 18 major championship victories of Jack Nicklaus may forever stand as the unobtainable benchmark in this game, but remarkably, it could have been even more. Far more. The American unbelievably finished second in 19 (NINETEEN!) majors, including SEVEN times in the Open. The Golden Bear was also third in nine majors. When you put all that together, Nicklaus effectively gave himself a chance to win approximately 50 professional majors. Astonishing. 

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

11 Times Runner-up...

The oldest major winner in history, Mickelson had to wait longer than most for his first victory, but he certainly made up for lost time. However, there has been some heartbreak along the way, not least at the US Open, where he has been runner-up on a record SIX occasions. The left-hander has also finished second to Jordan Spieth at the Masters, David Toms and Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championship, and Darren Clarke and (unforgettably) Henrik Stenson at the Open.

Arnold Palmer

10 Times Runner-up...

The King had many a glorious triumph, but there were plenty of losses too. His first runner-up came to Kel Nagle at the Centenary Open at St Andrews in 1960, but that was just the start of a decade with several near misses. He was a four-time runner-up in the US Open, twice in the Masters, and three-times at the PGA Championship, the major which eluded the legendary American.

Sam Snead

8 Times Runner-up...

No one has arguably played better golf for longer than Sam Snead, but that came with defeats. He was twice runner-up at both the Masters and PGA Championship, but it was his four second places at the US Open that cut deepest, as Slammin' Sammy never did secure his national title.

Greg Norman

8 Times Runner-up...

The Australian dominated the world rankings for years, but he had mixed joy at the majors. There were two Open Championship victories in 1986 and 1993, but the defeats stung, sometimes to some bad fortune. All-told, the Great White Shark was runner-up in eight championships, including playoff defeats at the US Open in 1984, the Masters in 1987, and the Open in 1989. 

Tom Watson

Tom Watson

8 Times Runner-up...

A dominant force through the late 1970s and early 80s, Watson's eight major championships are timeless, especially the five times he lifted the Claret Jug. But the man from Kansas also lost a few, including playoffs at the PGA Championship in 1978 and the Masters in 1979. He came agonisingly close to winning a couple more US Opens, and there was the defeat to Seve Ballesteros at St Andrews in 1984. But that wouldn't be it, as 25 years later, at 59, Watson had a putt to win a record-tying sixth Open Championship at Turnberry. He missed and would lose a playoff to Stewart Cink, coming up just short after the most incredible of runs.

J.H. Taylor

7 Times Runner-up...

Four times he won the Open Championship, but Devon's John Henry Taylor could have claimed more. Runner-up to Harry Vardon in the US Open of 1900, Taylor was also denied by his rival in the 1896 and 1914 Opens. He also finished second to Jack White, James Braid (twice), and Frenchman Arnaud Massy.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

7 Times Runner-up...

For years, it seemed like he won everything, but Tiger Woods has been denied in seven major championships during his career by an eclectic group of players. Woods has finished runner-up to Rich Beem, Michael Campbell, Zach Johnson, Angel Cabrera, Trevor Immelman, Y.E. Yang and Brooks Koepka in majors.

Ernie Els

Ernie Els

6 Times Runner-up...

Twice an Open champion, twice a US Open champion, the South African's place in history is secure. But he lost a few too. A distant second to a dominant Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach and St Andrews in 2000, Els was a runner-up at the Masters to Vijay Singh in the Millennium year and was later denied by a surging Phil Mickelson in 2004. After being second to Tom Lehman in 1996 at the Open, Els later lost a playoff at Royal Troon to surprise winner Todd Hamilton.

Ben Hogan

6 Times Runner-up...

One of the most extraordinary figures in the game, Ben Hogan is credited with nine major championships, a tally that could have been added to. He was a four-time runner-up at the Masters, while his pursuit of a record fifth US Open ended in defeat to Jack Fleck in 1955 and Cary Middlecoff in 1956. Later, though not finishing second, Hogan was tied with Arnold Palmer on the 71st tee at the US Open in 1960, before dropping four shots on the last two holes.

Byron Nelson

6 Times Runner-up...

Despite effectively retiring aged 34, Byron Nelson packed in the achievements, 52 PGA Tour wins among them. He won five majors, but was second in six, including twice at the Masters, a playoff defeat at the US Open to Lloyd Mangrum in 1946, and three losses in the match play final of the PGA Championship.

Harry Vardon

6 Times Runner-up...

The most prolific Open champion in history, the hugely influential Harry Vardon also claimed the US Open in 1900, but his run was close to being even more dominant. Four-times a runner-up in the original championship, Vardon was also second twice in America, most famously losing a playoff alongside Ted Ray to the unheralded amateur Francis Ouimet in 1913.

Gary Player

6 Times Runner-up...

The only non-American to complete the career grand slam, Player achieved incredible things on the golf course, and it could have been even better. He was twice a runner-up in each of the Masters, US Open and PGA Championship, spanning a period of 26 years between 1958 and 1984. 

Louis Oosthuizen

Louis Oosthuizen

6 Times Runner-up...

Bursting onto the major stage in 2010 at St Andrews, the South African has come close several times to adding his name on another prestigious trophy. Bubba Watson denied the albatross making Oosthuizen at the Masters in 2012, while he lost in a playoff on the Old Course in 2015 to Zach Johnson. Louis has also finished runner-up in the US Open twice (2015 and 2021) and the PGA Championship twice (2017 and 2021) making for a grand slam of second place finishes!

Colin Montgomerie

Colin Montgomerie

5 Times Runner-up...

Arguably the finest golfer never to win a major championship, the Scot was second in five of them. He lost twice to Ernie Els at the US Open in 1994 and 1997, and was denied by Steve Elkington in a playoff at the PGA Championship in 1995, before later battling Tiger Woods at St Andrews in a fevered atmosphere. That was 2005. A year later, Montgomerie stood on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot requiring a par to win the US Open...he missed the green and walked off with a double bogey, not even making a playoff.

Craig Wood

5 Times Runner-up...

Winner of both the Masters and US Open in 1941, Wood had to endure defeats before the glory. He was runner-up in the first two tournaments held at Augusta National, while he lost in a playoff to Byron Nelson at the US Open in 1939, the final of the PGA to Paul Runyan in 1934, and in extra holes to Denny Shute at St Andrews in 1933. It was very nearly a grand slam career for Craig Wood.

Raymond Floyd

5 Times Runner-up...

The most formidable of competitors, Floyd won four majors, but a couple did slip from his grasp. He finished second to Jack Nicklaus at St Andrews in 1978 and was a shot behind Dave Stockton in the PGA Championship of 1976. Winner of the Masters that year, Floyd later came close again at Augusta, most notably in 1990, when he lost a playoff to Nick Faldo, and 1992, when Fred Couples denied his bid to become the oldest major champion in golf.

Ben Crenshaw

5 Times Runner-up...

Twice a Masters champion, Ben Crenshaw was a regular contender at Augusta National, finishing second to Raymond Floyd in 1976 and Seve Ballesteros in 1983. The Texan also lost in a playoff to Australia's David Graham at the PGA in 1979, while he was twice a runner-up in the Open Championship, including to Jack Nicklaus at St Andrews in 1978.

Tom Weiskopf

5 Times Runner-up...

Winner of the 1973 Open at Troon, the brilliantly talented but often temperamental Weiskopf was a runner-up FOUR times at the Masters, the most memorable being the contest with Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller in 1975. Weiskopf also finished two strokes behind Jerry Pate at the US Open in 1976, played at Atlanta Athletic Club.

Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson

5 Times Runner-up...

Among the most successful players of his generation and a winner of the US Open and Masters, Johnson has also faced some drama in championships. He has twice been a runner-up at the PGA, was among those finishing second to Tiger Woods at Augusta in 2019, and he was second to Darren Clarke at Royal St George's in 2011. Johnson missed a putt to beat Jordan Spieth at the US Open in 2015, which all adds up to five runner-up finishes. And that's not even counting the agony he faced at Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits in 2010!

Additionally, Sergio Garcia, Payne Stewart, Gene Sarazen, Johnny Miller, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, and Billy Casper all finished second in four major championships.


So, there you have it, the players with the most runner-up in major championships. It's not something that will stand in decorated history alongside titles, but it is certainly an achievement - of sorts!


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