5 best to make PGA Championship their 1st major

The list of best players to have never won a major seems to get
longer every year. And it becomes more meaningful at the PGA
Championship, the final chance of the year for these players to
stop answering questions about when they will win a Grand Slam
event.

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald share the distinction of being the
only players to be No. 1 in the world without ever having won a
major. Sergio Garcia has been a candidate for the last five years,
even though he’s only 31. Steve Stricker joined the conversation
with his resurgence.

The focus becomes even more intense considering that Adam Scott
(Masters) and Justin Rose (U.S. Open) became first-time major
champions this year. Go back even further to find that 14 of the
last 18 majors went to players who had never won the big one.

The PGA Championship is as good a place to start as any major.
It comes with a lifetime exemption into the tournament, not to
mention the heaviest trophy among the majors, and an invitation to
a champions-only dinner that is similar to the one at the Masters,
but far more inclusive (wives are invited, for example).

Here are five examples of great players who won their first
major at the PGA Championship:

5. PAUL AZINGER

A late bloomer in golf, Paul Azinger won his first PGA Tour
event in 1987 and quickly became an American force. He won every
year since then, and had 10 wins on tour when he came to the 1993
PGA Championship at Inverness.

He already had lost the 54-hole lead in a major twice – in 1987
at the British Open, when he bogeyed the last two holes at
Muirfield and finished one behind Nick Faldo; and in 1988 at the
PGA Championship at Oak Tree, when Jeff Sluman closed with a 65 and
won by three.

Azinger was one shot behind Greg Norman going into the final
round at Inverness, which produced one of the great leaderboards in
a major. Among those with a chance that day were Faldo, Vijay
Singh, Tom Watson, John Cook, Lanny Wadkins, and even a young
Californian in his second year on tour, Phil Mickelson.

Azinger closed with a 68 to force a sudden-death playoff with
Norman. On the second extra hole, Azinger missed a good birdie
chance. He was preparing to go to the next hole when Norman’s
4-foot par putt spun out of the hole.

The high of his career came crashing down a few months later
when Azinger was diagnosed with cancer in his left shoulder. He
recovered to win again on the PGA Tour seven years later. He never
seriously contended in another major.

4. PAYNE STEWART

Payne Stewart stumbled into the first of his three major
championships.

He had four wins, including the Bay Hill Invitational in 1987
and a five-shot win at Hilton Head in 1989. He was No. 13 in the
world ranking when he came to the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper
Lakes just outside Chicago. Stewart, dressed in Chicago Bears
colors through an NFL apparel deal, was six shots behind going into
the final round and closed with a 67. Still, it looked like he
would be runner-up at best, as he was at Royal St. George’s in 1985
when he finished one behind Sandy Lyle in the British Open.

The man in charge was Mike ”Radar” Reid, known for his
accurate driving. Reid instead produced one of the great collapses
in PGA Championship history. He made bogey on the 16th, double
bogey on the 17th and missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th to
force a playoff.

Stewart went on to win the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine, and
another U.S. Open in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2 before his death that
fall in a freak plane accident.

3. DAVIS LOVE III

Tom Kite was the first player of his generation to be labeled
the ”best without a major” until he broke through at the 1992
U.S. Open. Most of the attention shifted to Corey Pavin, who won
the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock. And while there were others who
fit the mold – such as Paul Azinger and Nick Price – next in line
was Davis Love III.

He was a premier power player of his generation, the son of a
popular teaching pro. Love already had 10 wins on the PGA Tour,
including The Players Championship. He was runner-up at the 1995
Masters by one shot to Ben Crenshaw, and his best chance at a major
was the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, where he three-putted from
20 feet on the last hole and wound up one shot behind Steve
Jones.

The 1997 PGA Championship was at Winged Foot, the end of a major
year for youth – Tiger Woods at the Masters, Ernie Els with his
second U.S. Open, Justin Leonard at the British Open.

Love opened with a 66 and had another 66 in the third round to
share the 54-hole lead with Leonard. Love was in control for much
of the final round and finally pulled away at the end. He made
birdie on the last hole for a five-shot win, commemorated by that
beautiful rainbow over Winged Foot.

It was the only major Love won, though he is a lock for the Hall
of Fame with his 20 PGA Tour victories.

2. LARRY NELSON

Larry Nelson didn’t get hooked on golf until he was in the Army
serving in Vietnam. He didn’t qualify for the PGA Tour until he was
27. So while he won his first major at age 33, it was an astounding
rise to the elite in golf.

Nelson won twice in 1979 to finish second to Tom Watson on the
money list. The 1981 PGA Championship was held at Atlanta Athletic
Club, not far from his home. Nelson seized control with a 66 in the
third round that gave him a four-shot lead going into the final
day. Given his experience outside of golf, he didn’t flinch. Nelson
closed with a 71 for a four-shot win over Fuzzy Zoeller.

Nelson never got enough attention, and probably not enough
credit. He just kept winning. He added the U.S. Open at Oakmont two
years later, than captured another PGA Championship in 1987,
beating Lanny Wadkins in a playoff.

1. NICK PRICE

Nick Price first showed his class ball-striking when he was
runner-up to Tom Watson at Royal Troon in 1982, and won at
Firestone a year later by four shots over Jack Nicklaus. A decade
later, Price hit his stride. And it was only fitting that the first
of his three majors came at the 1992 PGA Championship.

A year earlier, Price had to pull out of the PGA Championship at
Crooked Stick at the last minute when his wife had their first
child. That caused a rookie from Arkansas named John Daly to drive
up to Indiana as an alternate. Daly got into the PGA, used Price’s
caddie and overpowered Crooked Stick to win.

Price was No. 15 in the world when he went to the Bellerive
outside St. Louis for the 1992 Championship. He opened with a pair
of 70s to trail Gene Sauers by four shots, and he cut the deficit
in half in the third round with a 68. Sauers faltered to a 75 in
the final round, and Price closed with a 70 to win by three
shots.

It was the start of a dominant period of golf for the
Zimbabwean. Price won four times on the PGA Tour the following
season, and in 1994 won the British Open at Turnberry and he went
to No. 1 in the world for the first time by adding the `94 PGA
Championship at Southern Hills.