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Best player never to have won Masters? Take your pick

Lee Trevino and Greg Norman
Lee Trevino (left) and Greg Norman racked up multiple major championships but knew only defeat at Augusta National Golf Club.

Lee Trevino, a 6-time major winner, got shut out at Augusta where Greg Norman, a longtime world No. 1, often finished No. 2

Hawk & Purk Podcast Hero Article

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Who is the best player never to have won a Masters?

Hawk’s take: After scratching Shaun Micheel and Paul Lawrie from my list and reviewing the 53 men who have won at Augusta National, it came down to two guys: Lee Trevino and Rory McIlroy. The Merry Mex claimed six major titles overall; McIlriches remains stuck on four. Trevino leads 31-25 in combined PGA/European Tour victories, but the Northern Irishman, who turns 32 next month, still might have another 15 years of premium golf left in him, so….

He finishes second. Trevino gets the nod because he was the better big-game player whose imperviousness to pressure is best reflected in the fact that four of his six major triumphs came at tournaments where Jack Nicklaus was the runner-up. No one else on earth can come close to saying that, whereas McIlroy collected his most precious hardware from 2011 to 2014, a period during which Tiger Woods frequently was inactive.

Lee Buck also was a five-time winner of the Vardon Trophy – only Woods (nine) has more – which was a big deal back in the day. Golf Digest ranked Trevino as the 12th-best golfer of all-time in 2000, and though Woods and Phil Mickelson might have bumped him to 14th by now, that’s still a mighty fine place to call home. He won’t be leaving the neighborhood any time soon.

Amazingly, Trevino never finished better than T-10 at the Masters, where his low ball flight did him no favors and the old-boy mentality among club members left the Mexican-American feeling like a second-class citizen. No problem, Lee. You’re first here. 

Purk’s take: There are a handful of players for whom the Masters was tailor made, but no locker at Augusta National has Greg Norman’s name on it and no perfectly fit green jacket hanging inside.

Norman has three runner-up finishes and three thirds at the Masters, and it’s one of professional golf’s great mysteries as to why he never won. He was the best player in the world from the mid-1980s through the late 1990s, when he won two British Opens. He held the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for 331 weeks during his career, the second-highest total in the ranking’s history.

Norman endured his most heart-wrenching loss in 1996, after he held a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo going into the final round. But a Sunday 78 to Faldo’s 67 gave the Englishman his third Masters title and Norman his greatest disappointment.

Lost amid Jack Nicklaus’ legendary victory at the 1986 Masters – 25 years ago – is the fact that Norman started the final round as the tournament leader and came to the 72nd hole needing a par to tie Nicklaus and force a playoff. Instead, he hit one of the worst shots of his career – an ugly 4-iron wide right of the green that led to a bogey and another Masters runner-up.

Norman called Augusta National his “cruel temptress” but maintained that the Masters was nonetheless his favorite tournament. However, the title of “best player never to have won” is bound not to be worn like a loose garment.

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