After the avalanche of “end-of-year/end-of-decade” content, we’ve already quickly moved on to “forecasting the future” content. Who are your picks to win the majors?, Can Jordan Spieth snap out of his slump?, How many times will Tiger Woods win in 2020? It’s fun to write and fun to debate, even if it can be a foolish exercise. (Predicting golf? Good luck with that!)
So, rather than prognosticating who’ll win a major championship in 2020, we went a different direction. How about exploring who needs to win a major championship the most in 2020, evaluating tour pros based on the subjective scale of “he could use one” to “full desperation mode.” This list below won’t tell you who will be victorious at this year’s Masters, PGA, U.S. Open or Open Championship, but who, for any number of reasons (age-related, legacy-related and reputation-related), would most benefit from winning one of the Big Four. Everyone on our list is in good current form, so they should all have a realistic chance to win this year. And they’ve all either won one a major already (in some cases more than one) and/or have had a number of close calls. In other words, they’ve proven that they are worthy of being labeled major champs, or becoming multiple major winners.
For some on our list, 2020 could be their last real shot, and for others, winning this year could change the narrative of their careers. Names you won’t find include:
Any of last year’s major winners: Pretty self-explanatory … they’re still enjoying their major honeymoon from 2019.
Players who are complete with just one major: The Adam Scotts, the Henrik Stensons and the Webb Simpsons, to name a few. Would these guys love to have another? Of course! But they all have their breakthrough major and, while adding another somewhere down the line would be nice, it’s not necessary for their legacy.
Patrick Cantlay/Xander Schauffele/Jon Rahm: These three are still young and haven’t been in enough majors to need one yet. Their time will come.
Justin Thomas: Not only did he just win in 2017, but presumably he will win many more in the coming years. Plus he’s only 26, so he doesn’t desperately need No. 2 in 2020.
Phil Mickelson: As he approaches his 50th birthday, and with a U.S. Open at Winged Foot on the 2020 schedule, this could be his last real shot at getting a sixth major. But he doesn’t need one, even one to complete a career Grand Slam, to change how his career is viewed.
Jordan Spieth: Spieth’s slump is definitely concerning, but he’s got three majors, one coming in 2017. He’s safe … for now.
Tony Finau: We all love Finau, and he has the game to win a major (he’s already had six top-10 finishes in them), but what he needs actually is a second PGA Tour win.
Patrick Reed: As you’ll see below, some of the players mentioned need a win to save their reputation/change how people look at them. Reed’s rep, however, might be something even a major victory can’t change.
To the ranking we go.
11. Lee Westwood
Majors won: 0
I know what you’re thinking: the Englishman’s time has passed. He’s 46, and he’s only got a handful of chances left—and by handful I mean two this year (he’s only qualified for the Masters and Open Championship) and maybe a few more British Opens. It’s over for Westy, right?
Wrong! Westwood showed us he’s still got more left at Royal Portrush, where he hung around the leader board on the weekend and eventually tied for fourth. This year the Open returns to Royal St. George’s, where a 42-year-old Darren Clarke won his first and only major in 2011. Could a similar, last-stand storyline play out for Westwood in his home country? If so, it’s impact on his career narrative would be special.
Same if he were able to pull off some magic at the Masters, where Westwood has finished T-3 or better three times since 2010. He hasn’t played the last two years at Augusta National, so you know he’ll be pumped to be back in April. He also “literally doesn’t care” anymore, which makes him a dangerous man.
10. Jason Day
Majors won: 1 (2015 PGA)
In 2018, Day won a pair of PGA Tour events (Farmers, Wells Fargo) and finished top 20 in every major but the U.S. Open, though never seriously contending. He followed that with a T-5 at the CJ Cup, a T-5 at Torrey, a T-4 at Pebble, a T-8 at the Players and a T-5 at the Masters to begin his 2018-’19 season. Since then? Just one top-10, and a Japan Skins win.
At 32, he is still young, and you’d think he has plenty of prime years left (and more chances in his 40s) to tack on a late-career major. But the question with Day, as always, is will his body hold up? For his sake, hopefully so. But if it doesn’t, he could be running out of shots at the elusive major No. 2, something most thought only a few years ago was a sure thing.
9. Marc Leishman
Majors won: 0
For years, the Aussie has been everybody’s “sneaky pick” to win every major. I should know, I’ve bet him at some juicy odds more times than I can count. I’ve also won a total of $0 on those bets. (Thanks a lot, Leish!) Sooner or later, you’re no longer “sneaky.” You’ve become “guy that can’t get it done.” At 36, Leishman doesn’t have any health problems like his fellow countryman Day but is entering the end of his prime. He might want to win his first major soon, and when and if he does, he’ll be in the Shane Lowry camp, where everything he does in his career after is gravy.
8. Bryson DeChambeau
Majors won: 0
The Mad Scientist isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so why would he need a major in 2020? A few reasons. With every missed cut, slow-play controversy, new method cooked up in the lab, etc., DeChambeau continues to lose a little of his luster. And this is even with five PGA Tour wins to his name. A major this season would not only quiet the haters, it’d be validation for all his wackiness, which deep down is what drives him the most. Proving to everyone that his way is THE way.
7. Paul Casey
Majors won: 0
If you’re looking for a comparable career to Casey’s, the first name that jumps out is the aforementioned Westwood. Here’s Casey’s line: three PGA Tour wins, 14 European Tour wins, nine top-10s in majors. Westwood’s line: two PGA Tour wins, 24 European Tour wins, 18 top-10s in majors. Obviously, Westwood has had a few more close calls in the four biggest tournaments of the year than Casey, but he’s also four years Casey’s senior. Casey has time.
Or does he? Over the last few seasons, in his late 30s and early 40s, Casey has played some of his best golf. Still, he’s not capitalized on it with a major triumph, and his last top-10 in a major came at the 2017 Masters. Since then he’s played in 11 and his best result is a T-11. Is Casey’s time already up, or can he pick one off and match fellow countryman Justin Rose’s major total of one?
6. Hideki Matsuyama
Majors won: 0
It’s always been a matter of “when,” not “if” Matsuyama wins a major, which would make him the first Japanese player to do so. But for the second straight year in 2019, he failed to register a top 10 in a major. Are we sure it’s still “when”? Says here yes, but it better happen soon. The infusion of youth on the PGA Tour has made 27-year-olds like Matsuyama feel old. Instead of “when is Matsuyama going to win one?” we’ve already moved on to Rahm, Cantlay and Schauffele.
5. Tommy Fleetwood
Majors won: 0
As the other Englishmen on this list have showed, you only get so many good looks at a major. Fleetwood is still just 28 and has only seriously contended in majors since 2017, and it already feels like he’s had his fair share of looks. After back-to-back finishes of fourth and second at the U.S. Open in 2017 and 2018, he added a T-4 in last year’s Open at Royal Portrush. There’s two ways to look at close calls:
-The more you have, the better they serve you later when you have another shot to win.
-As the close calls mount up, so does all the mental anguish of contending on the back nine on Sunday but coming up short.
Fleetwood’s only had three close calls, so it’s far too early to say he’s in the second camp, but the last two (Shinnecock and Portrush) have been quite crushing. If he wants to avoid developing real scar tissue, and propel himself to potentially multiple majors, winning the next one he contends in would be very helpful.
4. Rickie Fowler
Majors won: 0
If you’re like me and you’ve lost god knows how much money on Rickie in the majors, you’ve just about had enough. But I’m sure I’m going to get sucked in again this April, just like every April, when Fowler is at 20- or 25-1 to win a green jacket and it just looks too good to resist. “He HAS to win one!” I’ll say. “It’ll be just like when Sergio and Phil finally got their first!” And then he’ll finish in a tie for fourth like always.
Fowler has frustrated so many with his play in the majors that people don’t really refer to him as the BPWAM (best player without a major) anymore. That title is better suited for Fleetwood, Cantlay or Schauffele right now. Which makes him a perfect candidate to (cliché incoming) get the monkey off his back, Steve Young style. I can envision a scenario where Fowler doesn’t even garner a mention on Golf Channel as the “Live From” gang previews the Masters. Perhaps that allows him to fly under the radar and win the major he so desperately needs to be recognized as one of the game’s true elite.
3. Dustin Johnson
Majors won: 1 (2016 U.S. Open)
There’s an alternate universe where Johnson has won seven majors:
1: 2010 Open at Pebble Beach, where DJ led by three after three rounds and shot a final-round 82 when a 76 would have won it.
2: 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits, site of #BunkerGate.
3: 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, where all 27-year-old DJ needed was a two-under 68 on Sunday to beat 42-year-old Darren Clarke but shot 72.
4: 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where Johnson overpowered the par-5 18th by easily finding the green in two and giving himself a great look at eagle to win, or two putts to force a playoff with Jordan Spieth. We all know what happened next.
5: 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He actually won this one!
6: 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, where Johnson led by four through 36 holes and got hosed by the USGA’s setup on Saturday and could never recover. Had the course played like it did Thursday and Friday, he wins running away.
7: 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. OK, Koepka really wasn’t getting beat even if he nearly threw it away. But DJ did pull within one at the 15th and if he parred in he would have been in a playoff. Instead, he immediately imploded.
In the universe we live in, he has but ONE, which is frustrating to DJ fans and, obviously, to Johnson himself. There’s time to remedy this—DJ still displays the ability at 35 that he did when he was 25—but as for many on this list, the window of opportunity in majors can close quickly. Meanwhile, in the back of Johnson’s mind, there’s got to be the thought that he has missed his chance to produce a legendary career. He’s running the risk of becoming this generation’s Greg Norman, i.e., arguably the most talented player with the least to show for it (in terms of major count). Winning one in 2020 would help shift that narrative.
2. Rory McIlroy
Majors won: 4 (2011 U.S. Open, 2012 PGA, 2014 Open Championship, 2014 PGA)
He has the most majors on our list, but checks in at No. 2 in needing another. Why? Because the drought is very, very real. After McIlroy claimed his fourth major at the PGA at Valhalla in 2014, it was time to start wondering if he could do something only three players (Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen) have done: win double-digit majors. Astonishingly as of Jan. 9, 2020, McIlroy is still looking for No. 5. And what’s most perplexing about McIlroy’s dry spell is that he hasn’t really come close. The majors section of his Wikipedia page features a lot of yellow (top-10s finishes), which would lead one to believe he’s had some chances over the last five seasons, but has he?
T-5 at the 2016 Open Championship? He finished 16 shots back of Henrik Stenson. T-4 at the 2017 Open Championship? Seven back of Spieth. T-5 at the 2018 Masters? He had his chance early in the final round against Patrick Reed, but as we know, he quickly faded. His only true close call since Valhalla came at the 2018 Open at Carnoustie, where he pulled within one stroke of Francesco Molinari with an eagle at the 14th hole, but couldn’t pick up another birdie on the way in and finished two back.
Mind you, much like Dustin Johnson, McIlroy still knows how to win and look dominant doing it. He’s won four times over the last 11 months, including the Players and a WGC. But it’s time for that to translate into a major once more.
1. Matt Kuchar
Majors won: 0
If Kuchar’s No. 1 spot on this list surprises you, it shouldn’t. If you could build a “guy who NEEDS a major the most” in a lab, Kuchar would be the final product.
For starters, his age. Kuchar is 41, and while it’s clear he saved the best golf of his career for his late 30s and early 40s, you never know how long that is going to last. Mickelson has proved you can still play some great golf right up until 50 (and perhaps beyond), but Lefty’s last major also came when he was 43. That doesn’t mean Kuch only has two more years to get it done, but only five players have won a major after they’ve turned 45, the most recent of which came almost 30 years ago when Hale Irwin won the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah. Are we to believe Kuchar will join that club some day? Not only is he not getting any younger, but these courses aren’t getting any shorter. If Kuchar is going to get one, it’s got to happen soon.
Then there’s the fact that a major win could be a total reputation-saver. It worked for Sergio (for a brief period), so why can’t it work for his good friend Kuchar? A major win would not suddenly make Kuchar a great tipper, but it would give him the opportunity to play the redemption card. He could apologize all over again, on the grandest of stages, and “put it behind him,” so to speak. It ain’t right, but that’s just how it works in sports. Winning cures all. For those reasons, nobody needs one more than Kuch in 2020.