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We didn’t learn anything Sunday as much as we were reminded of what we already knew.
We were reminded that Patrick Reed has brass cojones. We’ve seen it at the Ryder Cup before, but without his best stuff on Sunday at the Masters, he held it together, made a few putts when he needed them and somehow two-putted the final green without his hands shaking off the putter.
We were reminded that professional golf at its most elite level is perfectly healthy — with or without Tiger Woods. In fact, we can argue that with the four reigning major champions being Americans aged 24 to 27, we’re witnessing the Tiger Effect right before our very eyes. The number of world-class players under 30 might be greater than ever before.
We were reminded that Rickie Fowler’s first major victory is a matter of when, not if. A birdie on the last hole that left him one stroke out of a playoff proved once again that he’s got the stuff to claim majors — and sooner rather than later.
Three of the four reigning major champions are first-timers. It’s only a matter of time before the next first-timer emulates Reed and claims one. With that in mind, let’s take a look at players searching for their first career major — and which players should be next in line.
Best chance this year: The Open Championship
The truth is, Fowler owns top-five results at all four of ’em already, which means he’s just giving himself more opportunities to grab his first one while he toils as the proverbial Best Player To Never Win a Major. Just like Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia before him, the multiple close calls will only steel Fowler for future title contentions. Too often, the general public views these misses as negatives; the players themselves rightly see them as positive experiences.
Best chance: PGA Championship
If you want to base BPTNWAM on pure talent over longevity, Rahmbo, already the world’s third-ranked player, might have already surpassed his Sunday playing partner, Fowler. Mickelson once said of Rahm’s game, “Jon doesn’t have weaknesses; every part of his game is a strength.” Why is the PGA his best chance? A long golf course conducive to lots of birdies should suit his game perfectly.
Best chance: U.S. Open
Only 26, it feels like the gifted ball-striker with the pause at the top of his swing has been around for a decade already. When healthy, he’s ultra-talented, having captured multiple top-10s at three of the four majors. That includes last year’s share of runner-up at Erin Hills, which could be a prelude to another big week at Shinnecock Hills in two months.
Best chance: The Open Championship
Quickly becoming known as one of the game’s premier ball-strikers, Fleetwood is starting to assert himself at the big events. There might be no analytics to prove this, but he tends to play his best golf when the pressure is on, rather than shying away from it. That’s obviously an important quality, one that should help him soon claim that first major.
Best chance: PGA Championship
Yes, there are plenty of more accomplished players who could’ve been listed above Finau here (I’ve named a bunch of them below), but trust me on this: He’s just reaching the tip of the iceberg right now. Bum ankle and all, Finau closed his first Masters with six straight birdies before a par on the final hole to post a T-10 finish. With more experience, he’s only going to have more times in contention.
Others receiving votes: Matt Kuchar, Alex Noren, Haotong Li, Paul Casey, Branden Grace, Patrick Cantlay, Marc Leishman, Brian Harman, Cameron Smith, Xander Schauffele.
If it’s going to happen soon, Casey and Kuchar, 40 and 39 respectively, might have the inside track, but their windows are closing with each passing major.
If we have a run of major champions who already own ’em, a few years down the road could be peak time for players like Li and Cantlay, each of whom seems like a future star in the making.