SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — Tom Watson played the PGA Championship for the final time last year as a courtesy extended to Ryder Cup captains. He did not cross an iconic bridge. There were no tears, no fanfare. The PGA Championship was the only major he never won. There weren’t many great memories.
Of the 16 players who have won three of the four professional majors, Watson and Arnold Palmer are the only ones without a Wanamaker Trophy. But they are not alone. To consider the five best players to have never won the PGA Championship is to ignore Bobby Jones, who never played it because he was an amateur, and the likes of Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor and James Braid because the PGA was after their time.
In this case, “best” can be defined as career achievement and lost chances at a major. So here’s one view of the five best to have never won the PGA Championship, looking from 1958 when it switched to stroke play:
5. ERNIE ELS
The Big Easy must have a hard time going to Riviera without thinking what might have been. He set the 54-hole record at 197 and had a three-shot lead until he closed with a 72 and missed the playoff by two shots in 1995. Imagine what it would have done for his psyche if he had two majors before Tiger Woods turned pro a year later. Els also missed a playoff by one shot at Whistling Straits in 2004 when he three-putted from about 100 feet for bogey on the final hole.
He has two U.S. Opens and two British Opens. The Masters is what he craves. The PGA Championship is one he should have won.
4. BILLY CASPER
Casper got overlooked in the era of the Big Three and he finished his career with three majors. He won the U.S. Open twice and the Masters, and he only played the British Open five times. That was not unusual in his era.
A year before he won his first major, Casper had his first close call at the PGA. One shot behind Sam Snead going into the final round, he shot even-par 70 and both were passed by Dow Finsterwald in 1958, the first year of stroke play. Casper finished one behind. He was runner-up again in 1965 to Dave Marr, and he was one shot behind Gary Player in 1972 at Oakland Hills and shot 74 to tie for fourth.
3. NICK FALDO
Faldo got only halfway to the career Grand Slam — three green jackets, three claret jugs. He was closer than it appears. Faldo lost the U.S. Open in a playoff to Curtis Strange at Brookline in 1988, and he finished one shot out of a playoff in the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah.
He had three straight top fives — second, third and fourth — at the PGA starting in 1992, though his only good chance was at Inverness in 1993. In one of the strongest leaderboards for a major — Paul Azinger, Greg Norman, Faldo, Vijay Singh and Watson in the top five — Faldo shot 68 the final round and missed the playoff by one shot.
Norman had more chances in the PGA. But it’s hard to look past Faldo’s six majors and ask why a PGA Championship is not part of the tally.
2. ARNOLD PALMER
When the King played his final U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont, the USGA put him with a local Pittsburgh player (Rocco Mediate) and John Mahaffey, which seemed cruel. Mahaffey’s only win was the one major Palmer never won — and Mahaffey won it at Oakmont. USGA executive director David Fay later explained that one of Palmer’s best friends at Oakmont was Jack Mahaffey, so he went with the surname.
Palmer created the modern version of the Grand Slam, so he is linked more than Watson as the player missing only the PGA. He won all seven of his professional majors from 1958 to 1964, and Palmer never had many chances at the PGA. He finished three shots behind Bobby Nichols in 1964, and one shot behind Julius Boros in 1968.
Most peculiar of all is that Palmer had the lead only one time after a round — a 67 in the first round at Firestone in 1960.
1. TOM WATSON
Watson led wire-to-wire at Oakmont in 1978 and had a five-shot lead with nine holes to go. He made double bogey on No. 10 and shot 73 to give way to the greatest comeback in PGA history. John Mahaffey shot 66 to make up a seven-shot deficit, and he beat Watson and Jerry Pate on the second playoff hole. Watson bounced back a year later with a 66 in the opening round at Oakland Hills, only to fade.
And he never really got another chance.
The last opportunity was in 1996 at Valhalla when he pulled within a shot of the lead through 12 holes on Sunday. That loop (Nos. 10-12) were close to the clubhouse, and the media center emptied to see if a 46-year-old Watson could finally get it done. He hit into the water on the 13th, and the press headed back in.
“That was my chance for all four of them,” Watson said.
Three isn’t bad.