The Best Major Champion: Part One – The Modern Crop

As posted recently, I took on the challenge of trying to figure out the Best Major Champion of all-time. Part of the reason for this is that it seems like everyone “knows” the answer to this, but I wanted to see if there’s an objective way to analyze this instead of just defaulting to Jack Nicklaus, because he’s won more than anyone else. (I love Jack Nicklaus, if that needs to be stated.)

Before we get into the cream of the crop and the guys who are really in contention for this title, who are the golfers who are truly great, but just missed out?

Remember, I’m looking at how high the player finished in every major he played in. So the main value I’m using here is “Average Finish” — but we care about a lot more, too. How many top-10’s did he have? Top-25s? How many wins, seconds and thirds? And when it matters, what’s the sample size – how many majors did he even play in?

We’re focusing today on the modern crop of golfers and using that last metric, we can quite easily say that for now, guys like Brooks Koepka can’t be considered here, having only played in 25 majors. That said, it’s easy to overlook just how dominant Brooksie has been. His average finish in every major he’s played in (25), is 20.4 — and that’s inflated by his performance in The Open, where he averages finishing in 32nd place. 72% of the time he has a top-25 finish, which is very nice, and of course he already has four wins (and two runner-ups).

Brooks posted this workout video to troll Bryson and Brandel, and I’m here for it. But he’s not the Greatest Major Champion yet.

There are two other modern players who at some point threatened to chase Majors history like Brooks is, and neither of them make the cut here either. For Rory McIlroy (Average Finish 27.6), despite four victories on his own, his performances at U.S. Opens (Average Finish: 37.6) and some flat finishes across the board hurt him here. He has one runner up and three 3rd place finishes, but like Brooks, he doesn’t have top-10’s in at least 50% of his tournaments, and his top-25 rate (64.4%) is relatively low among the others here.

August 3, 2017; Akron, OH, USA; Rory McIlroy (left) and Jordan Spieth (right) on the 14th hole during the first round of the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club – South Course. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

And, I don’t need to get into the woes of Jordan Spieth, who won three majors so quickly it’s easy to forget – because things haven’t been great since. HIs Average Finish is almost identical to Rory’s at 28th place, but he’s been absolutely ejected by the U.S. Open (his win at Chambers Bay not withstanding) averaging a 46th place finish. He only finishes in the top-10 a third of the time and just crosses the top-25 % at 55%. He DOES have three wins, three seconds and two thirds in his 29 tournaments, but he’s not part of this conversation… except we need to highlight THIS fact, because it’s a massive outlier — Spieth’s average finish in The Masters is 6.7th place. His worst performance is 21st place. He’s got by far the best overall performance in Augusta across any golfer in this exercise. The course was built for him, and he should be a favorite every single year.

Of course, we can discount the other current group of golfers who have either won just a single major (Dustin Johnson (27.5), Jason Day (26.0), Justin Thomas (27.1), Patrick Reed (34.4), Justin Rose (33.4), Webb Simpson (37.3), Henrik Stenson (33.7) and of course, the Thicc Boi Bryson DeChambeau (41.5)). And though he’s WORLD CLASS at Marketing activations, Rickie Fowler (32.4) can’t be considered without having won even one major in his career.

He looks good, he swings good and he’s by all accounts an excellent human. But he’s gotta start winning.

Here’s a tabular way of looking at the above:

GolferAverage Finish# of MajorsWinsTop-10%Top-25%
B. Koepka20.425448.0%72.0%
J. Day26.039141.0%64.1%
J. Thomas27.118122.2%61.1%
D. Johnson27.544143.2%54.6%
R. McIlroy27.645446.7%64.4%
J. Spieth28.229334.5%55.2%
R. Fowler32.442026.2%42.9%
J. Rose33.464125.0%54.7%
H. Stenson33.757124.6%49.1%
P. Reed34.426115.4%46.2%
W. Simpson37.336111.1%33.3%
B. DeChambeau41.514114.3%28.6%
I was so terrified when this started that Patrick Reed would rise to the top. Uh, nope.

You will notice there are some modern era golfers not included in the above, and that’s because it was clear they wouldn’t be at the top … but they might come up later when we talk about the Worst Major Champion.

That folks, is what we call a tease.

So if not them, who? Since we stuck with the modern era this time, next we’ll go through the past, lumping golfers into their era to highlight some truly great golfers – and how they stack up.

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