Garcia, Westwood top the 'Almost Index'

April, 2, 2012
04/02/12
4:32
PM ET
For the past couple of years, we at Numbers Game have attempted to deduce who the best player in the world was without a major championship to their credit.

Four times a year, it's a list of players that seems to be refreshed and revisited by golf fans around the world -- especially when a player without a major title is in the hunt on Saturday or Sunday.

Trivia question

Since 2000, two players have won multiple times on the PGA Tour that season before going on to win the Masters. Tiger Woods did it twice. Who is the other player? (Answer below)

Last year, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Adam Scott each had opportunities to erase his name from that list at Augusta National. McIlroy finished the task in spectacular fashion a few months later at Congressional in the U.S. Open.

Dustin Johnson had yet another shot at it on Sunday last summer at the Open Championship. In the end, it was Darren Clarke who put the exclamation point on his career résumé by closing out the field.

At the PGA Championship, perennial members of the "best without a major" list Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Scott all finished in the top 10.

While it's ample barstool fodder from St. Andrews to Scottsdale, Numbers Game has approached the topic with our typical nerdish, mathematical fashion -- a formula that takes into account PGA and European Tour victories, top-10 percentages and past major championship performances. For full disclosure, the formula is spelled out like this:

(2 + [PGA Tour top-10 percent]) + (1 + [European Tour top-10 percent]) + PGA Tour wins + (European Tour wins x 0.5) + ([Top-10 percent in majors x 100] x 0.25) + (major points x 0.1) + (54-hole leads in majors x 3) + (54-hole shares in majors x 1.5) = Almost Index

This year, we've added an element to the formula -- 54-hole leads in major championships. A share of the lead entering the final round is worth half as much as an outright lead. An outright lead entering Sunday in a major is worth the same as three PGA Tour victories. This adds even more significance to the word "almost" in the Almost Index.

Let's get to the top 10:

10. Nick Watney
Almost Index score: 14.9
PGA and European Tour wins: 4
Top-10s in majors: 2
Held outright 54-hole lead at 2010 PGA Championship

Among the barrage of 54-hole leaders in majors to fold on Sunday over the past several years is Watney, who carded a front-nine 43 to fall out of contention at the 2010 PGA Championship. Since then, Watney has won marquee PGA Tour events -- the WGC-Cadillac and AT&T National -- but missed the cut in two of four majors last year and finished 46th at Augusta.

9. Miguel Angel Jimenez
Almost Index score: 16.1
PGA and European Tour wins: 14
Top-10s in majors: 7
Making 57th career major start this week

Seemingly always lurking at the major championships is golf's favorite cigar aficionado. The Mechanic's best career finish in a major came in one nobody will remember for Jimenez' performance; he finished tied for second at the 2000 U.S. Open, a mere 15 strokes behind Tiger Woods. On his lengthy career résumé are three top-10 finishes at Augusta, including a tie for eighth in 2008.

8. K.J. Choi
Almost Index score: 18.3
PGA and European Tour wins: 9
Top-10s in majors: 6
T-8, T-4 at Masters past two years

Another man seemingly always on the leaderboard at Augusta National is K.J. Choi, an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour. Choi's two best finishes in major championships have both come at the Masters -- a solo third in 2004 and a tie for fourth in 2010. At the conclusion of each of the past eight rounds at the Masters, Choi has been in eighth place or better.

7. Jason Day
Almost Index score: 18.7
PGA and European Tour wins: 1
Top-10s in majors: 3 (in six starts)
T-2, 2nd at 2011 Masters and U.S. Open

Jason Day finished in the top 10 at the 2010 PGA, 2011 Masters and 2011 U.S. Open -- the only player to finish in the top 10 in those three consecutive events. His tie for second at Augusta last year came in his first career start there, and his second-round 64 tied the record for lowest round by a player making his debut. Day enters this week without a top-10 in four PGA Tour starts in 2012.

6. Adam Scott
Almost Index score: 20.2
PGA and European Tour wins: 13
Top-10s in majors: 6
T-2 at Masters last year

Long putter in tow, Adam Scott picked up his best finish in a major championship last year at the Masters, a tie for second. Before last year at Augusta, Scott had played 16 majors without even a top-10 finish. If said long putter is working as well as it was last year, Scott could be in the mix again; he was tied for third in the field in total putts last year en route to a pair of weekend 67s.

5. Luke Donald
Almost Index score: 20.3
PGA and European Tour wins: 10
Top-10s in majors: 6
Three top-8 finishes in majors since 2009

He's been arguably one of the two best players in the world over the past 36 months. If he's not No. 1 on the list, the man who nearly won the Masters in 2011, McIlroy, would have to be. Luke Donald's past 30 starts on the PGA and European Tours read like this: five wins, 11 top-3s and 19 top-10s. And he finished tied for fourth at Augusta a year ago. If anyone is poised to take home his first major, it's the current world No. 1.

4. Dustin Johnson
Almost Index score: 21.0
PGA and European Tour wins: 5
Top-10s in majors: 4
Held outright 54-hole lead at 2010 U.S. Open

His major championship struggles over the past few years are hard to wrap your hands around. A front-nine breakdown Sunday at Pebble Beach in 2010, the world's most famous club-grounding penalty later that year at the PGA and a shot out of bounds from the fairway last year on Sunday at the British Open. Still, Johnson has as many PGA Tour wins (five) as anybody in their 20s, and he has four top-10 finishes in majors -- all in the previous three years.

3. Steve Stricker
Almost Index score: 24.9
PGA and European Tour wins: 12
Top-10s in majors: 9
No top-5 finishes in majors since 1999 U.S. Open

For a man with as much PGA Tour success as Steve Stricker has had (eight wins since 2009), breaking through in majors has been incredibly difficult. At the Masters, he has just two top-10 finishes in 11 career starts, missing the cut five times. Stricker's lone lead after 54 holes in a major came at the 1998 PGA Championship, when he was tied with eventual winner Vijay Singh.

Trivia answer

Question: Since 2000, two players have won multiple times on the PGA Tour that season before going on to win the Masters. Tiger Woods did it twice. Who is the other player?

Answer: Mike Weir (2003)

2. Lee Westwood
Almost Index score: 31.8
PGA and European Tour wins: 23
Top-10s in majors: 12
Six top-3 finishes in majors since 2008

Despite not winning a major, few players around the world can come close to the career résumé of Lee Westwood. Twice, he's been ranked No. 1 in the world. He's won 21 times on the European Tour and 37 times worldwide. He's finished in the top 10 a staggering 12 times in majors, and in five of his past nine major starts, he's finished T-3 or better.

1. Sergio Garcia
Almost Index score: 34.2
PGA and European Tour wins: 16
Top-10s in majors: 17
T-12 or better in each of past 3 majors

With 17 career top-10 finishes in major championships, Sergio Garcia once again tops the "Almost Index." Garcia made the cut in all four majors a year ago, finishing in the top 10 at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Since 2000, Garcia has been T-3 or better entering the final round of a major championship six times. In five of those final rounds, he scored over par for a combined score of 15-over. Garcia has not finished better than T-35 at the Masters since 2004, so don't expect a breakthrough this week.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

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