Taking a look at the Almost Index

July, 16, 2013

This week's Open Championship venue, Muirfield, has a tournament history rivaled by few courses in the history of the sport.

There have been 10 Opens played at Muirfield in the last century. Of the nine different players to win those 10 championships, eight of them won at least three major titles in their careers.

That group of nine players -- a group that includes Walter Hagen, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson, among others -- racked up a combined 66 major championships in their careers. But recent history says it might not be one of the titans of the sport to hold the Claret Jug on Sunday.

Since the 2009 U.S. Open, there have been 17 majors played. Fourteen of those tournaments were won by players who had never won a major title before. That includes both 32-year-old winners this year: Adam Scott at the Masters, and Justin Rose at last month's U.S. Open.

A few years back, we at Numbers Game created a mathematical formula attempting to deduce the best player to have not yet won a major championship. The formula takes into account PGA and European Tour success, high finishes in majors, and even if a player has held a share of a 54-hole lead in a major championship.

For full disclosure, here's the formula in its entirety:

(2 + [PGA Tour top 10 pct.]) + (1 + [European Tour top 10 pct.]) + PGA Tour wins + (European Tour wins x 0.5) + ([Top 10 pct. in majors x 100] x 0.25) + ("major points" x 0.1) = Almost Index

So can one of these major-less players break through this week for a career-altering title? Here are the top-five players in this week's Open field without a major to their credit yet:

5. Jason Day
Almost Index score: 19.2
Four top-3 finishes in majors since 2011

He's only 25 years old and has just a single PGA Tour victory in his career, but Day's near-triumphs in majors the past three years have made him one of the biggest names in the sport. Day has finished either second or third in four of his last nine major starts, including each of the first two held in 2013.

Day will be making his third career Open Championship start this week at Muirfield. He was a combined +12 in his starts in 2010 and 2011.

4. Dustin Johnson
Almost Index score: 19.3
Seven PGA Tour victories since 2008

With seven wins on tour in the past six years, Dustin Johnson is unquestionably one of golf's biggest young superstars. DJ finished tied for second at the Open in 2011, held the 54-hole lead at the '10 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and has five top-10 finishes in majors in all.

Is Johnson a good pick this week? Consider this: Dustin has finished in the top-15 each of the past three years at the Open. No other player has even done that the past two years.

3. Luke Donald
Almost Index score: 20.7
Former world No. 1 player

He's been the world's No. 1 player, won the PGA and European Tour money titles in the same year and amassed double-digit victories as a professional. Unfortunately, Donald is pegged by many as the best player in the game today without a major title.

Can Donald break through at Muirfield? Two of the previous four Opens, he finished inside the top five. Donald was 2 shots back entering the final round at Merion this June at the U.S. Open, but a Sunday 75 left him tied for eighth.

2. Lee Westwood
Almost Index score: 31.0
Seven top-3 finishes in majors (all since 2008)

Though he's No. 2 according to the formula, Westwood might be the quintessential "almost" player in major championships.

Westwood has a staggering seven top-three finishes in majors, and zero titles to his name. Since the Masters began in 1934, that's the most such finishes without a win. The most incredible part though? All seven of those top-3's have come since the 2008 U.S. Open.

1. Sergio Garcia
Almost Index score: 32.1
18 career top 10's in majors (0 wins)

Sergio Garcia has made more headlines for his shortcomings in recent years than for his successes. Still, his staggering total of 18 top 10's in majors is a pretty remarkable feat. It's the same total as peers Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Ian Poulter and Nick Watney have in their careers combined.

Garcia has four top 10's at the Open since 2005, but why hasn't he broken through for a win? In that same span, Garcia is a combined 15-under in rounds one through three. He's 4-over in the final round.